Despite the sunshine, the surface of Resurrection Creek was dark — an enormous school of pink and silver salmon headed up the creek colored the water black with their dark backs.
A line of anglers along the banks of the muddy creek running alongside the small community of Hope regularly pulled salmon out of the water, some for fun and others packing out coolers full of fish. Every 10 minutes or so, someone pulled a salmon to shore, either unhooking it and letting it wriggle back into the water column or quickly dispatching it if it was legally caught.
Pink salmon, also known as humpies, can flood the Resurrection Creek in the late summer, but as there’s no official enumeration project on the creek, it’s hard to say exactly how large the run is. Silver, sockeye and chum salmon can also be caught in the river, as well as Dolly Varden, a type of char, according to a 2000 study conducted by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist.
Pink salmon are a popular sportfishing species as well as an important commercial species across Alaska. Typically, they run on a two-year cycle, alternating weak and strong years — in Upper Cook Inlet’s stream systems, the strong runs usually show up in even-numbered years. However, this year, anglers have been reporting relatively strong presence of pink salmon in stream systems including the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.
On the Kenai, though, most of the effort is on sockeye salmon and silver salmon. Though the peak of the sockeye salmon run passed in late July, anglers in the middle river are still walking away with fish after putting in a little time. At the Soldotna Creek Park boardwalk, McKay Mills landed a hefty male sockeye on Wednesday afternoon, still bright despite the 20 miles of river it had swum through.
Visiting from Show Low, Arizona, he said his group had limited out the day before, but it was his first sockeye of the day on the river Wednesday.
Other anglers still waiting for a bite flipped for fish up and down the river. About half a mile downstream, silver salmon jumped defiantly just out of the reach of some anglers’ hooks on the fishing platform near Centennial Park. Silver salmon, also called coho, are one of the most highly sought-after sportfish in the river, and the run is starting to noticeably ramp up after a trickling start.
Silver salmon catch rates have improved dramatically in the last week, judging from fishing guide logbook data, said Jason Pawluk, the assistant area management biologists for the Division of Sportfish in Soldotna. Anglers in guide boats are generally catching their limits of silver salmon — and judging from the catch success this early in the general run timing, plus the indications that the run is late, the silver salmon run may be large this year, he said.
“Considering the time of the month, we’re ahead of the game,” he said. “…If we’re this good now in mid-August, I would think fishing would get really good (later in the month).”
Silvers tend to run in the Kenai from early August through September and trickling in throughout the fall. Near Big Eddy, a bend in the river lined with fish camps and lodges, boats loaded with kids attending the annual Kenai River Junior Classic nosed into the Harry Gaines Fish Camp, loaded up with mixtures of mostly silver and red salmon. Kids from Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula held up their salmon catches for photos before jumping out to duck out of the summer shower that started as they landed.
The annual event, organized by the Soldotna-based sportfishing advocacy organization the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, offers kids a chance to get out on boats with professional guides volunteering for the afternoon and learn about fisheries, ecology and boating safety for the day. The Kenai Peninsula Boy Scouts joined in for the day, giving the boys a chance to get out on the river, which some of them may have never done, said Jon Wohlers, one of the Boy Scouts troop leaders at the event.
“It’s a pretty amazing opportunity to get kids out on the river,” he said. “You know, (kids may) grow up in Kenai, but (they) don’t always get to get out on the river.”
Some of the kids came home with coho, but others came home with sockeye. The run is tapering off on the Kenai, with 30,000 fish or less passing Fish and Game’s sonar at river mile 19 every day since Aug. 8. However, even with relatively small daily escapements, Fish and Game has met its inriver escapement goal of 1 million to 1.3 million sockeye on the Kenai River, with 1.1 million sockeye past the sonar as of Tuesday. The Kasilof slightly exceeded the goal at the sonar count, with 342,522 fish past the sonar on the last day of counts on Tuesday, with a goal of between 160,000 and 340,000 sockeye, according to Fish and Game.
Other systems have also reached their sockeye salmon goals for the year. The Russian River has already passed the lower end of its escapement goal of 30,000–110,000 fish, with 30,102 sockeye through the weir on Lower Russian Lake as of Aug. 15. Fishing for resident species on the Kenai River, including Dolly Varden and rainbow trout, will starting picking up as salmon begin spawning in the tributaries, and anglers will likely be targeting them with beads, Pawluk said.
“The first species to really hit the spawning period is the king salmon,” he said. People are targeting rainbows and (Dolly Varden) with king bead patterns.”
Water levels are low on the Kenai River for this time of year as well. Usually, late summer and early fall are the highest-water time of year, with the maximum snowmelt and rainfall beginning to pick up, but the Kenai River is in the lower quartile for normal water levels, Pawluk said.
Personal-use dipnet fishery permits were due Tuesday for Upper Cook Inlet. This year, fishermen could report their harvests online for the first time, saving them the effort of physically dropping off a permit with recorded harvest at the Fish and Game offices. Even if fishermen forgot to return their permits by the deadline, Pawluk said the department encourages people to return their permits to help Fish and Game estimate harvest in the fisheries this summer.