If you’re in Alaskan and wanting salmon, get your butt to the Kenai River.
After four straight days with Cook Inlet closed to commercial nets because of a faltering sockeye salmon return, the fish have hit Alaska’s most popular river. The first indications they were back in force came late Sunday and by Monday, things were starting to seriously pick up.
Personal-use dipnetters at the mouth of the river yesterday reported good catches, and the sonar counter at river mile 19 on Monday backed up indications a serious migration of fish into the river is underway. The counter ended the day Monday with a tally of 48,000 sockeye.
It was by far the biggest surge of fish into the river this year.
Even though the tide stage at 9:30 a.m. today wasn’t the best for personal-use dipnetting and only a half-dozen to a dozen dipnetters were walking the line on the other times crowded north Kenai beach, the sockeye surge appeared to be continuing. People were again catching fish.
Anglers, meanwhile, should be able to find sizable schools of fish strung out between the popular fishing hole at Centennial Campground, river mile 20.5, and upstream from there to Swiftwater and other public access sites above.
Locations, maps and more can be found in this handout from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
It’s harder to say what is downstream from the sonar a couple of miles below the Soldotna bridge, but with no commercial gillnets in the water, the big numbers that started Monday are expected to continue.
Certainly biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are hoping so. Despite Monday’s good day, the total return to the Kenai still lags well behind what would be expected for this time of year.
State fishery managers have yet to announce their plan for a scheduled Thursday opening of the commercial fisheries. There were indications in an emergency order closing the regular Monday period that biologists were thinking about closing the regular Thursday period as well, but a flood of fish can change thinking.
A commercial opening Thursday can be expected to slow the entry of fish into the river, making the dipnetting worse. But it will not has as much influence upstream. The big slug of fish headed upriver will generally stay together. The trick, as always, is finding big schools as the sockeye spread out in the river.
It’s hard to catch them with rod and reel unless they are concentrated.
Alaska visitors are reminded that the dipnet fishery is open only to Alaska residents, but everyone is welcome to go at with rod and reel in the river that largley paralells the Sterling Highway for more than 40 miles from about 105 miles south of Anchorage to Cook Inlet.