Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to show that the bag and possession limit has been increased to 25 fish in the China Poot Bay personal-use dipnet fishery.
Anglers and boats of all sizes crowded the Kenai River on Saturday, cramming some last-minute king salmon fishing in or flipping for sockeye salmon from the bank.
Many of the hundreds of fishermen who lined the banks between Sterling and Kenai were landing sockeye Saturday afternoon, benefiting from the pulses of fish that hit the river after multiple days of commercial fishing closures. Fishing guides’ boats motored up and down the middle river, with several saying they had good luck fishing for king salmon. Downstream, near the mouth, the waters near the Kenai City Dock were lined with personal-use dipnet fishing boats, and those without boats lined the beaches with dipnets deep into the waters at the mouth of the Kenai.
Sockeye fishing, the dominant July fishery on the Kenai River, has reportedly slowed down in the past few days, though. After several days of more than 50,000 fish passing the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sonar, passage dropped off to 30,000 and below from Sunday through Tuesday. The 7 a.m. estimate for Kenai River sockeye salmon passage was 3,600 fish, according to the Wednesday commercial fisheries information recording.
The guides at Alaska Troutfitters in Cooper Landing have been seeing decent success with sockeye, said Al Spadafora, who works in the Troutfitters office.
“From what I’ve heard from the guides, they’ve been running good down in the middle river,” he said.
Anglers have been reporting good luck with sockeye on the Russian River recently as well, he said. The Russian River’s late run of sockeye salmon officially began on July 15 and has been relatively slow so far, with daily passage rates tending to stay between about 400 and about 650 fish per day though the weir on Lower Russian Lake, according to Fish and Game’s data. However, the passage increased on Tuesday, passing 1,000 fish for a seasonal cumulative of 10,078 so far.
Down near Soldotna, the sockeye fishing has slowed down from what it has been, said Kyla Voight, who works at Ken’s Alaskan Tackle in Soldotna. Anglers over the weekend were targeting kings and sockeye primarily, but some anglers have been catching silver salmon as well. In the last week at the personal-use dipnet fishery, some anglers were seeing pink salmon in their nets, too.
“It was a good kind of mix all around,” Voight said.
King salmon fishing ended officially Monday on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers for the season. So far, Fish and Game managers have estimated 14,350 large king salmon have passed the sonar, with historical run timing saying the run is about 62 percent complete as of Tuesday. Subtracting harvest above the sonar, managers are projecting a final escapement of about 21,000 large fish, smack in the middle of the escapement goal range of 13,500 to 27,000 large fish.
“Catch rates improved dramatically the last week of the fishery with conditions improving and higher numbers of fish entering the river,” Fish and Game’s inseason run summary for Tuesday states. “Chinook salmon captured in the netting program recently have been primarily older (larger) Chinook salmon.”
The Kasilof River personal-use dipnet fishery continues until Monday, Aug. 7. After increased passage last week to the fishery, passage has dropped off again, with 7,506 sockeye entering the river Monday and 3,912 on Tuesday, according to Fish and Game’s data.
At this point, inriver sport anglers will finish out the sockeye run and wait for the silver salmon to begin showing up. Fish and Game doesn’t count the silver salmon returning to the Kenai or Kasilof rivers, but the commercial fishermen have been seeing more of them in their harvests in the last few periods. During their Monday fishing period, the central district drift gillnet fishermen fished districtwide and harvested more coho than they did sockeye — 39,279 coho and 31,606 sockeye, according to Fish and Game commercial harvest information.
In the Homer area, silvers are returning to the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on the Homer Spit, which is stocked by Fish and Game every year, according to the Lower Cook Inlet weekly sportfishing report from Aug. 2. The fishing is expected to improve as more fish enter the lagoon, which is a terminal fishery, according to the report.
“Try salmon eggs or herring suspended under a bobber,” the report states. “Some anglers also have success with spinners. The best time to try for newly arriving fish would be as water starts flooding into the lagoon on the incoming tide.”
Fish and Game will host a youth-only fishing day at the lagoon on Saturday, when a portion of the lagoon is set aside for anglers 15 years old or younger. Fish and Game provides rods and tackle and free advice on fishing for coho in the lagoon, as well as lessons on typing egg loops, fishing knots and how to properly release fish.
Those who haven’t had their fill of dipnet fishing at the Kenai and Kasilof rivers still have a chance to dipnet if they head south across Kachemak Bay to the China Poot Bay dipnet fishery. The remote fishery is only accessible by boat in Kachemak Bay State Park at the head of China Poot Bay, fishable in China Poot Creek between two Fish and Game markers. The usual bag and possession limit is six fish, but effective Friday, Fish and Game increased the bag limit to 25 fish in an emergency order issued Wednesday. The emergency order also extends the season through Aug. 14.
“On August 1, 2017, a stream survey was conducted in the area open for personal use fishing and approximately 700 sockeye salmon were counted,” the emergency order states. “In order to maximize harvest opportunity of stocked sockeye salmon while minimally impacting wild pink salmon, it is justified to increase the bag and possession limit to 25 sockeye salmon and extend the season through August 14.”