By Lee Leschper
So many fish, so little time…
These next two weeks, until the end of July, are the fishing days we Alaskans live for and plan our year around.
Pity the poor souls who are working. For the rest of us, the hardest part is picking.
So, here’s a quick look at what’s hot and not this weekend.
Both sport fishermen and dip netters are eagerly awaiting the first big push of sockeyes into the Kenai. They’re not there yet. Recent sockeye counts are behind last year by two thirds and more than 200,000 fish.
Historically this weekend, or by July 17 at least, the late run of sockeye salmon is peaking on the lower Kenai. That has not been the norm the last two years, with a huge surge in 2015 and none in 2016. But ADF&G’s offshore test boat has been hitting large schools of fish earlier this week, which should be hitting the Kenai sometime between Saturday and Tuesday next week. If that trend continues, we could be back to that historic trend, with sockeye fishing building from this weekend through the end of the month.
The upper and middle Kenai’s have not seen many second run fish yet, but the usual pinch points should start paying off this weekend too.
The Russian and upper river were better, longer this summer but have wound down until the new late run fish start arriving. That said, if this is your only option, just plan on putting in the time and looking for small holes holding the last bright first run fish.
Second run king salmon on the lower Kenai continues strong and with the use of bait and no size limits on the lower river, anyone targeting the big fish is doing well. The early and now late king runs are shaping up to be the best in a decade, albeit still far below the glory days.
King salmon are pretty well winding down everywhere else.
Anchorage’s Ship Creek king fishery has been extended until July 31 and the daily limit bumped to two per day, but that’s not an indication of more fish in the creek. It is because the hatchery upstream has far more kings that it needs for this year’s production, so any remaining kings coming into the creek can go to anglers. The question mark for Ship is when and how many silvers will arrive this year. A few early silvers have been caught, but it’s too early to tell if this will be another disappointing silver year, like 2016, or if it’s just a matter of time until those fish start arriving.
As of Friday, July 14, Ship is opening to fishing 24 hours a day.
The Eklutna Tailrace, because of low water levels early in the summer, got a very late start with king salmon but has finished strong and is the likeliest place to still catch a king near Anchorage. No reports of silver salmon here yet.
Another end of season king opportunity is snagging the remaining kings in the fishing hole on the Homer Spit, which opens to snagging July 15-17. We fished the hole over the July 4 holiday and there were quite a few reddish kings cruising there. The one we managed to catch was still in fine condition.
The surest thing, if that’s possible, seems to be silver salmon in Seward’s Resurrection Bay. All the big silvers that never showed up in 2016 are back in force this year. The popular mid-season spots like Pony Cove have been hold huge schools of silvers for two weeks and the general question has not been whether you can catch a limit, but how fast. Mixed in with the silvers are tons of very big pink salmon as well, so be sure what you’re putting in the box when the action gets hot.
The silvers have yet to appear closer to the Seward harbor but it’s just a matter of time and this fishery should only continue to improve until the annual silver salmon derby in August.
Halibut fishing is a solid bet and the consensus seems to be that the flatfish are bigger and healthier this season. Fish of more than 200 pounds are leading all the popular halibut derbies, but what’s impressive is that most charter operators in Seward, Homer, Valdez and Ninilchik are finding lots of solid 50- to 100-pound keeper halibut any day the weather cooperates.
Lingcod season opened July 1 and anglers willing to target those big aggressive bottom fish have done well, especially from Seward and Whittier.
For trout fishermen, the Kenai rainbows and dollies have been a bit stubborn as is the norm between the June opener and late season, but are consistent if you’re willing to put in the time.
Interior grayling fishing had been superb in early July but recent heavy rainfall hurt most creeks with higher muddy water. That should return to normal as soon as the water drops and clears.
So there are no bad choices, except not going fishing at all.