Russian River fishing slow, opportunities on Kasilof River

The early run of sockeye salmon to the Russian River is much smaller than it was this time last year, with fewer than 1,100 fish moving through the weir each day.

By June 21 last year, almost 26,000 fish had moved through the weir, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s records. Anglers are still reporting slow fishing in the area; at this point, it looks like it will be a small run this year, said assistant area management biologist Jason Pawluk with the Division of Sportfish in Soldotna.

“Catch rates are not going to be what they have been in the past few years,” Pawluk said. “It could be tough… based on our data right now, it looks like it’s going to be a smaller run.”

If the number of fish coming in does not pick up soon, Fish and Game will look at management actions on the early run such as lowering the bag limit, Pawluk said.

Water levels in the Kenai and Russian River are also above normal for this time of year, steadily rising throughout this week, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s daily stream data on the two rivers.

Fish and Game opened up the Kenai River for king salmon retention last week downstream of a marker near the mouth of Slikok Creek, so anglers can keep one per day with one in possession as long as it is less than 42 inches or greater than 55 inches long. However, just after Fish and Game opened up the river, nature intervened and sent a lot of material down the Killey River and clouded up the Kenai River, making it virtually impossible to catch anything on the Kenai, Pawluk said.

“A few more people picked up fish on Saturday, but basically no one caught anything,” he said. “Water conditions are about the same now as they were (Saturday).”

The highlight fishery of the week has been the Kasilof River, though. Fish and Game loosened a pre-season restriction on the Kasilof to allow anglers to keep naturally-produced king salmon on Thursdays as well as Tuesdays and Saturdays, and anglers can now use multiple hooks and bait. Catch rates for kings improved dramatically, Pawluk said.

Sockeye fishing is also starting to pick up on the Kasilof River, though it is still slower than it has been in previous years. Fish and Game’s weir beneath the Sterling Highway Bridge counted 23,504 sockeye passing as of June 20. The personal use gillnet fishery on the beaches to the north and south of the Kasilof River’s mouth close at 11 p.m. Friday, and the Kasilof River personal use dipnet fishery opens Saturday on a 24/7 schedule.

The Kasilof River dipnet fishery runs from June 25 through August 7. The second biggest personal use fishery on the peninsula, Alaskans from all over the state crowd the beaches of the Kasilof River for a chance at the sockeye running there, either from the bank or from a boat. However, king salmon are off-limits — fishermen have to throw back any kings they catch.

If the sockeye count on the Kasilof River passes 50,000 fish, the commercial setnet fishery near Kasilof will open early. Otherwise, it also opens up on Monday at 7 a.m.

On the lower peninsula, fishermen have open season for hatchery-produced king salmon on the Ninilchik River. Fish and Game opened up the fishery beginning last weekend to give anglers more chances to take hatchery-produced king salmon in the two miles of the river upstream of the mouth, as the hatchery-wild population split there is about 60-40.

In general, more anglers fished on the Anchor River during its last opening weekend and on its final open Wednesday, June 22, than on the Ninilchik, said Carol Kerkvliet, the area management biologists for the Division of Sportfish in Homer.

“However, some hatchery kings have been harvested from the Ninilchik,” Kerkvliet said in an email. “I suspect more anglers will now start fishing for hatchery kings on the Ninilchik for the rest of this month when the Anchor River and Deep Creek are closed to fishing.”

King salmon are being caught in the marine fishery on the south side of Kachemak Bay and from Bluff Point north, with feeder kings mixed with some Cook Inlet kings making their way back to rivers to spawn. Fish are still returning to the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on the Homer Spit, with fishing success being reported as good. Kings are arriving at Seldovia Lagoon as well, with the best success coming in at incoming tide. Some small schools of king salmon have been reported in Halibut Cove Lagoon, but little angler effort and success has been reported yet.

Clamming tides will run through June 24, and halibut fishing is still improving as more fish move from their overwintering waters back to their summer feeding waters. Snagging in marine waters opens on June 24 in Kachemak Bay east of a line from Anchor Point to Point Pogibshi, but remains prohibited year-round in the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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