A sockeye salmon hooked by a lucky angler rests on the bank of the Kenai River downstream of the confluence with the Russian River on Sunday, June 11, 2017 near Cooper Landing. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Muddy, high water clouds fishing at the Russian River

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a misquoted word from Sportfish assistant area management biologist Jenny Gates.

It was a tale of two banks at the Russian River confluence on Monday — anglers on the south bank were frequently whipping out their nets to bag a fish, while anglers on the north side had little luck around the same time.

The fishing is fickle, though, and dependent on conditions. The water level on the upper Kenai River skyrocketed on Sunday and Monday, with mud cascading down the tributaries to cloud the water

“I have never seen it like that,” said Bruce McCurtain, the general manager of Alaska Recreational Management, the company that operates the Russian River Ferry.

Up the Russian River, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game measured the water level at 32 inches, more than the 18 inches the gauge measured on Friday. Fish and Game opened the fish pass to help the sockeye make their way up to Lower Russian Lake around the Russian River Falls amid the much higher water, said Sportfish Assistant Area Management Biologist Jenny Gates.

“This is uncharacteristic,” she said. “Usually it’s still clear water. That’s why the fishery is so good up there. We haven’t seen discharge like this in a long time.”

Fishing was reportedly good up until the water started rising. Enough sockeye have made it up the Russian River to the weir that Fish and Game decided to open the sanctuary — the waters immediately around the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers — to sportfishing early. The emergency order, issued Monday, opens the area through July 14, though that is subject to change by emergency order.

The Russian River is the main attraction to fish for returning salmon on Kenai Peninsula freshwater right now. Some sockeye are returning to the Kasilof River and the lower Kenai River, but those runs usually peak in July. Personal-use fishermen are currently fishing with set gillnets at the mouth of the Kasilof River for sockeye and kings before the personal-use dipnet fishery opens on the Kasilof on June 25.

King salmon fishing is restricted across the Kenai Peninsula. Poor run numbers have led Fish and Game to close the entire Kenai River to all king salmon angling through the rest of June, and to close the river between Skilak Lake and a marker about 300 yards downstream of Slikok Creek to king salmon fishing in July. Pending further announcements, the Kenai River will open under general regulations for king salmon fishing between the mouth and the marker at Slikok Creek on July 1.

The Anchor and Ninilchik rivers and Deep Creek are entirely closed, as is king salmon fishing in the nearshore marine waters from Bluff Point to the Ninilchik River. King salmon angling is currently allowed on the Kasilof River, but anglers can’t use bait and can only keep one hatchery-produced king salmon per day 20 inches or greater with one in possession.

Gates said the department is watching the king salmon run and further restrictions for the Kenai River late run will be based on discussions within the department.

“Based on poor performance of Cook Inlet stocks, I think we’re entertaining possible restrictions for the late run,” she said. “I would encourage people to sign up for the news release delivery order system on our website so they have emergency orders immediately.”

She also said anglers who are wading in the Russian River with the high water should be careful. When the mud clears depends on stream discharge and the long-term weather forecast, especially if more rain is in store.

“I think now based on water conditions, it may be a bit tough, but I would foresee people who put in their time would be able to get their limit,” she said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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