The annual stampede for Russian River sockeye kicked off on June 11 after a midnight opener saw several hundred people descend on the campgrounds for their first chance at area’s red salmon.
By 10 p.m., the Russian River campground was in “one-in-one-out,” mode, meaning anglers had to wait until someone left before they could park their cars and head down to the river. By 1:30 a.m. the morning of the opener, wait times were nearing two hours.
Haakon Johnson, of Anchorage, and an entourage that included his 13-year-old daughter Corinne Johnson, were part of the lucky few who got in early enough to begin fishing right at midnight. By 4 a.m., Corinne was cheerfully waving at her father and friends from the shore where she sipped on hot chocolate and waited for her feet to warm up.
But, she soon rallied and headed out to catch her third sockeye of the morning. It took fewer than five minutes for her to hook and land a healthy-sized red.
“I’m so proud of her, Haakon said before jumping up to net her fish.
For several hours in the early morning, the fish were biting. Many reported dozens of bites and lost fish before landing their limits.
John Mun, of Anchorage, got down into the water at about 3:30 a.m. and said he’d landed his first fish within a few minutes of hitting the water.
“I come down here every year,” he said.
He stood with 15 feet of at least 10 other fishermen — a typical sight for the Russian River’s combat fishing — and said he’d seen several people catch fish quickly.
Anglers fly-fished —the area is a fly fishing-only zone — and saw success with a variety of colors, including red and white or green and white coho flies.
By mid-morning, there were just as many fish carcasses in the clear, swift-moving waters of the Russian River as there were live fish trying to dodge anglers.
Pedro Ortiz, an Army veteran, said he fished for about an hour, starting at midnight, before limiting out. He didn’t rouse himself to clean his fish until about 3 a.m., and stood in the river carefully filleting into his catch while his son and a friend looked on.
“You want to be here first, you know? You don’t want to miss the first day of fishing,” he said.
As he cut into his fish, he said his group would head back to Anchorage in the evening, after having a few beers and enjoying the warm weather.
He paused, cut a piece from the fish and offered it around saying, “sushi?”
With no takers, Ortiz popped the raw fish into his mouth and went back to cutting as his son stood on the shore, mouth agape.
“Dad,” he said. “Did you just put that in your mouth?”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @litmuslens