A boat motors down the Kenai Rier just upstream of Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

A boat motors down the Kenai Rier just upstream of Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Sockeye reopen on Kenai with late run

Evening on the Kenai River these days takes the sun down earlier but brings the salmon up to the surface early.

From the boardwalk at Soldotna’s Swiftwater Park, the dark backs of salmon popped through the surface of the river every few seconds. From ten yards away, silver and pink salmon are indistinguishable, but the tug on the rod tells an angler right away which type of salmon it is.

Reds are still mixed in, too, and effective Thursday morning, anglers on the Kenai can catch them again. The fishery had been closed since Aug. 4, when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order closing the sockeye salmon fishery on the Kenai except around the Russian River. Now, the closures are reversed: the Russian River and the Kenai River around the confluence closed to sockeye fishing by regulation on Monday and the Kenai reopens for the rest of the season.

As of Tuesday, 943,922 sockeye had passed the sonar on the Kenai River, with 17,005 passing the sonar on that day. That’s well within Fish and Game’s inriver escapement goal of 900,000–1.1 million fish and within the sustainable escapement goal of 700,000–1.2 million sockeye.

Fish and Game stopped counting sockeye salmon on the Kasilof River for the season Aug. 14, but 1,227 fish passed the sonar that day and 3,651 the day before. An emergency order issued in early August doubled the bag and possession limits for sockeye on the Kasilof through the end of the season as well, with six fish per day and 12 in possession with no more being coho salmon. With 394,288 fish past the sonar, the escapement is above Fish and Game’s goal for the season.

With sockeye runs improving late in the summer, Fish and Game also opened commercial drift gillnetting in Area 1 for a 12 hour period Thursday to harvest more of the sockeye. Modeling shows that the Kenai River sockeye run is coming in about 9 days late, according to an emergency order issued Wednesday.

“This unprecedented late return of Kenai River sockeye salmon in the month of August has occurred in only one other year (2006),” the emergency order states.

Later in the season, sockeye begin to blush with their bright red and green spawning colors, especially as they spend more time in the freshwater.

Anglers are reporting a lot of pink salmon mixed in with the silver salmon in the Kenai River, with some anglers pulling in silver salmon in the 15-pound range. Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden fishing on the Kenai River also heats up in the fall as the trout begin feeding on salmon eggs in earnest. Anglers often use bead lures in an arrangement meant to imitate eggs to catch trout.

In the freshwater streams on the lower peninsula, coho salmon reportedly slowed in the past week but rain could bring water levels up and the coho with it, according to the Lower Cook Inlet fishing report issued Tuesday. Dolly Varden fishing has also reportedly been good and steelhead should improve as the fall progresses, according to the report.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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