The fishermen on the beach for the opening day of the Kenai River personal-use dipnet Tuesday got the benefit of a relatively uncrowded beach. However, there was a reason it wasn’t too crowded — fishing was relatively slow.
Anchorage resident Mike Wolford came down with a friend, who has experienced more frenzied dipnetting seasons.
“He tells me, the whole time, ‘There’s going to be lots of people. There’s going to be lots of people here.’ And there was no one here,” he said.
Instead of being packed, the beach had about seven people on it when they arrived Tuesday, morning, he said.
Although he was dipnetting in Kenai for the first time, he’s an experienced fisherman. Wolford dipnets regularly in his wife’s home village. He said he wasn’t expecting to make his limit in Kenai, but would enjoy his catch nonetheless.
“I got one. I’m happy,” he said.
For Lorna Brotherwood, participating in the opening day of the dipnetting season is tradition — her family has been coming down from Wasilla for the better part of a decade. The event is part subsistence — the family smokes and jars the salmon and relies on it during the winter — and part fun.
“It’s just part of family tradition. All the same people come. Everyone has their special spot where they fish,” she said.
For the Brotherwoods, that spot is at the intersection of the river and inlet, where fish come to rest in the shallows.
“This is the honey spot,” she said. “Because fish are coming from the ocean to go up the river. This is a (place to) rest.”
Even though the catch seemed to be paltry compared to last years, Brotherwood said as long as they caught a salmon for dinner that night she’d be happy. She said the family would come back to reach its quota later on. Alissa Brotherwood, who has grown from being the “fish banker” to holding her own net, said the most important part is having a good time.
“It’s cold and wet sometimes but i’s always fun,” Alissa said. “And then eating the first salmon is like a tradition. We’ll catch one and then we’ll cook it on the fire at night with lemon and onion.”
Javon Brotherwood said that while the run was so far small, he was happy to see “how excited everyone gets.”
The dipnet, which is only open to Alaska residents, runs from July 10–31 each year. The dipnet fisheries at the Kasilof River and China Poot Creek are also open, though the latter two stay open until Aug. 7.
So far, Kenai River sockeye have been relatively slow to show up, As of Tuesday, 47,981 sockeye had passed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sonar, as compared to 94,757 on the same date in 2017. ]
Upriver, it’s a different story. As of Tuesday, 42,931 sockeye salmon had passed the weir on Lower Russian Lake on the Russian River, more than the upper end of the 22,000–42,000 escapement goal Fish and Game has set for the early run of Russian River sockeye. Anglers are able to keep up to six per day with six in possession, and the area around the confluence — known as the sanctuary — is currently open.
King fishing is restricted on the Kenai River, with no fishing allowed upstream of a marker about 300 yards downstream of the mouth of Slikok Creek and no bait allowed between that marker and the mouth. However, anglers are still able to catch and harvest them in that lowermost section, even without bait. The count is still relatively low as compared to last year — 1,978 large kings had passed the sonar as of Tuesday, compared with 2,715 on the same date in 2017 — but slightly ahead of 2014, when 1,887 kings had passed the sonar as of July 10.
Fish and Game’s inseason run summary for late-run kings as of July 5 projected the escapement at about 18,000 kings, within the 13,500–27,000 sustainable escapement goal range.
In Lower Cook Inlet, king salmon trolling in marine waters has been reportedly spotty while sockeye are showing up in China Poot Bay and pink salmon are beginning to show up in Tutka Bay Lagoon, according to the Fish and Game sportfishing report for the area issued Wednesday.