By Lee Leschper
They showed up after all.
What was shaping up as the worst sockeye run in several decades is now building to what Alaskan anglers expect and count on. That is, daily new surges of 50,000 or more salmon per day, so both dip netting and sport fishing are productive.
Whether that continues for this weekend or weeks to come, only time will tell.
If you and your family want reds in your freezer this year, drop everything and go fishing now, while the fish are in the river and the commercial nets are out of the water.
In the past five days, a growing number of sockeye or red salmon have entered the river. There were about 72,000 counted Wednesday, another 66,000 Thursday. This is finally giving sport fishermen and dip netter some hope for salvaging what had been a miserable season.
One of my fishing friends and a companion get 48 reds in three hours Thursday, dipnetting from a board near the river’s mouth.
The early low returns were exacerbated by commercial fishing openers, allowing both drift and set net commercial fishermen to catch the clear majority of returning salmon. As a result, there was wide spread concern that the river would not meet its minimum lower escapement goal.
When ADF&G responded to those terrible early counts by shutting down the netters, to build escapement, the fish responded almost immediately. As recently as last Thursday, the Reds into the Kenai was less than half the historical norm for the same day.
Total in-river fish to date is 581,000—still a long way from the lower escapement goal. This time last year there’d been 802,000 fish counted.
In large part, it’s not a matter of more fish, but of no commercial fishermen to intercept the salmon before they can reach the river. Late last week ADF&G fisheries managers pulled commercial fishing to a screeching halt, as the run was in real risk of not meeting minimum escapement goals.
Before that closure, the commercial fleet was taking more than 100,000 reds a day in most 12-hour fishing session.
The best day so far for fish into the Kenai was Wednesday, some 72,000 reds, was less than the number of fish killed most days by the commercial fishermen. So, it’s the purest form of allocation–no nets give the salmon a chance of entering the river, and perhaps even spawning.
Only time will tell if more waves of fish will come in and fill the river, or if the fix is too little too late.
For today, it’s time to catch the Reds if you want them. This run historically slows down precipitously by the second week in August. And the personal use dip net fishery closes July 31.
It could be a later run, like 2015, when almost 1.8 million reds entered the river. That year the early numbers were relatively low and surges of 20,000 or more reds per day entered the river until August 25. We should be so lucky.
We will keep you posted on how the run progresses, and when the nets get back between anglers and fish. Right now, the next commercial fishing period is predicted for early next week, so make the most of this weekend.