The Kasilof River dipnet opening yields anglers from all over the state on June 25, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)

The Kasilof River dipnet opening yields anglers from all over the state on June 25, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)

Kasilof River dipnetting opens Sunday; strong sockeye run forecast

The fishable area was expanded by the Department of Fish and Game on Thursday

The Kasilof River personal use sockeye salmon dipnetting fishery will open on Sunday. Dipnetting will be allowed at all times until Aug. 7.

The fishable area was expanded by the Department of Fish and Game on Thursday, days before the opening. An advisory announcement from the department says that dipnetting will be allowed from markers on Cook Inlet beaches upstream to the Sterling Highway Bridge on the Kasilof River.

Prior to the announcement, only the mouth of the Kasilof River would be permitted for fishing. The change was made “in an effort to allow dipnetters more opportunity to harvest their household limits of sockeye salmon on the Kasilof River,” the announcement reads. The change comes as high numbers of sockeye salmon are being counted by sonar on the Kasilof River.

Fish counts available from the department show the number of sockeye salmon in the Kasilof River counted are, as of Thursday, outpacing each of the last four years.

The optimal escapement goal for sockeye salmon in the Kasilof River, set by the Board of Fisheries, is between 140,000 and 370,000 sockeye. In each of those last four years, the goal has been exceeded. Last year, 970,000 sockeye escaped.

As of Thursday, 38,000 sockeye have been counted this year, compared to 28,000 at the same point last year. More fish have been counted at the South Bank each day this year than the North Bank.

Cook Inlet Sport Fish Coordinator Matt Miller said Thursday that “pretty good numbers of sockeye are coming in,” and that the department anticipates the escapement goal will be surpassed — as it was in each of the last four years.

It’s possible, he said, that this is a big surge of fish that won’t be sustained through the season, but forecasts are strong — and the fishable area was expanded in anticipation of those strong returns.

The department is “encouraging folks to get out and fill their freezers,” he said.

According to the Department of Fish and Game’s website, the peak harvest days for sockeye salmon on the Kasilof River are between July 11 and 21. It also notes that the fishery is managed by emergency order, meaning that regulations can change and the fishery can be closed “at any time.” Updated information should be acquired before going fishing.

Miller said most anglers look to fish on the incoming tide — in part because the mouth of the Kasilof River gets pretty muddy. They’ll stick around through the slack, maybe even as the tide starts to go out.

Only Alaska residents can participate in a personal use fishery. Any angler 18 years old or older must possess a valid sport fishing license. A permit, which is effective for an entire household, must also be acquired before fishing. The department says permits can be obtained from private vendors or at their offices — like the Fish and Game office in Soldotna. A list of private vendors can be found on the department website.

Viewed on the department’s online store, a sport fishing license costs $20, while the Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use Salmon Permit is free.

On the permit, the date, location and harvest by species must be filled in each time an angler fishes — even if no fish are caught. All reporting must be submitted via the department’s harvest reporting webpage by Aug. 15, even if the permit was left unused or if no fish were caught for the season. Failure to report by the deadline will result in the loss of personal use fishing privilege in the next year, the department says.

The bag limit for Upper Cook Inlet personal use salmon fisheries — which include not just the Kasilof but also the Kenai River and Fish Creek — is 25 salmon and 10 flounder for the holder and 10 additional salmon for each additional household member. Each caught salmon must be “marked” by clipping both ends of the tail fin using scissors or shears. Marking must be done “before the salmon is concealed from plain view” or the angler may be subject to fines.

No king salmon may be kept in the Kasilof River dipnet fishery.

The north shore of the Kasilof River can be accessed via Kasilof Beach Road, off the south end of Kalifornsky Beach Road. The department warns against driving through private property signs at the cannery and parking on the sand dunes — which damages the beach grass. It recommends using four-wheel drive when parking cars off of the road because of the softness of the sand in the area.

The south shore can be accessed via North Cohoe Loop Road off the Sterling Highway. The department says that when the pavement turns left towards the south, anglers should continue straight to the west on the unpaved dirt road. The mouth of the Kasilof will be around a quarter-mile north along the beach.

“Four-wheel-drive is necessary” to access the south shore, it says. “Don’t drive anything you can’t get unstuck.”

Dipnetting from a boat is also allowed in the same area, with the same requirements for permitting, limits and marking. All caught fish must be recorded on the permit and have clipped tail fins before leaving the area or anglers may be subject to a fine. The department notes that there are no nearby public boat launches — the closest is upstream of the Sterling Highway bridge.

Vehicles may not be used to cross the dunes on either side of the river, and there are no trash or toilet services provided — anglers will need to remove everything they bring to the area.

More information about fishing regulations and availability can be found at adfg.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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