Tuesday night brought a ray of sunshine, a high tide and a fresh bloom of fish into the mouth of the Kasilof River, straight into the nets of the fishermen waiting for them.
The personal-use dipnet fishermen lined both the north and south shores of the mouth and hardly a minute passed without one or two bounding out of the water with a fish in the net. Most of them were sockeye, with the occasional pink salmon or arrowtooth flounder tossed in. Almost as soon as the dipnetter freed the salmon, bonked or gilled it and cut the tail fins to mark it as a personal-use fish, he or she went back into the water so as not to miss the pulse coming through the river.
For the Pate family, it was a group effort. When Michael or Onya Pate hauled in a salmon from the river, they’d be met on the beach by daughter Aliah Schouweiler and son Epic, offering a bonker or a set of hands to carry the fish up the beach while the parents headed back out into the water.
The Kasilof River dipnet fishery usually plays second fiddle to the Kenai River dipnet, where the sockeye run is typically much larger, but not this year. A particularly poor sockeye run to the Kenai led the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to close the dipnet fishery two days early and restrict the sport and commercial fisheries, hoping to boost sockeye salmon passage to the Kenai. Effective Saturday, sockeye fishing will be completely closed on the Kenai River, with the exception of the area around the confluence of the Russian River.
The Kasilof, meanwhile, is seeing enough sockeye at a steady pace to meet its escapement goal. As of Tuesday, 299,092 sockeye had passed Fish and Game’s sonar on the Kasilof, well into the goal range.
Though most of the mainstem Kenai is closed to sockeye fishing, the Russian River’s late run is just getting going. As of Tuesday, 19,232 fish had passed the weir on Lower Russian Lake, with daily passage rate of more than 1,000 fish since July 26. Fish and Game is projecting the run to be greater than 70,000 fish, according to an announcement issued Wednesday.
Silver salmon fishing is also getting going on the Kenai River. Fish and Game doesn’t count the silver salmon the Kenai River with a sonar, but they typically start showing up in the river in late July and August and continue running into September and October.
Ray DeBardelaben, guide and owner of Long Live the Kings, said the silver fishing was the best he’d seen it for Aug. 1 on the Kenai, despite the poor runs of sockeye and king salmon this season.
“There’s some silvers out there around to be caught,” he said. “I had some guys get close to the limit today.”
There are pink salmon to be had, too. Pink salmon are fairly numerous in the Kenai River, though also not enumerated, returning largely in late July and August. They aren’t as popular to fish for as sockeye, silvers and kings, but have a bag limit of six per day with six in possession for fish 16 inches or longer and 10 per day with 10 in possession for smaller fish, and the season is year-round. Trout fishing will heat up as the summer ages into fall, too, in both the central peninsula and lower peninsula streams and lakes.