Blink and you’ll miss one, but several thousand clouding the water is hard to miss.
The spring run of eulachon, or hooligan, have hit the southcentral Alaska rivers and hundreds of anglers have lined the shores of Cook Inlet near Anchorage, others have slogged through the muck in the Kenai River to net a portion of the mammoth runs.
“The worst part of catching these fish is carrying them out,” said Anchor Point resident Charlie Smith on Monday. Smith hoisted two five-gallon buckets up from the mud underneath the Warren Ames Bridge in Kenai and hauled them up to his truck. “This is a lot.”
All told, Smith estimates that he’s caught just over seven pounds of the oily fish in his 20-foot net this season. He’s been doing it for 35 years and he isn’t likely to quit anytime soon.
“Gotta stay in shape,” he said, a flashing a quick grin underneath the brim of his tan baseball cap.
The 76-year-old said he thinks the run came early in 2015. But, he still got enough to eat for the rest of the year.
“I cut all their heads off and smoke them until they’re crispy,” he said.
Fish and Game doesn’t know the exact numbers of the fish flooding the Kenai Peninsula’s waters, “innumerable,” comes to mind for sonar technician Brandon Key.
Key, whose sonar array is currently in the Kenai River to count early run chinook salmon, shows images clouded with thousands of hooligan during a Tuesday interview. While the fish static fills the screen, it’s still possible to see a large king salmon moving through water column amid the masses of tiny hooligan.
Key and research biologist Jim Miller said the hooligan are running strong currently and, based on previous years’ sonar data, could be expected to run through about June 2.
In salt water, hooligan can be taken from April 1-May 31, in fresh water, the season runs through June 15.
There are no bag or possession limits for the oily fish.
They can be taken by dipnet or drift gillnet by Fish and Game regulation. However, if you want to catch them in a drift gillnet — they may only be taken on the Kenai River.
On the river a drift gillnet cannot be more than 20 feet long and four feet deep and can only be used downstream of a Fish and Game regulatory marker at Cunningham Park, or river mile 6.6.