The Kenai River personal-use dip net fishery opened Sunday on a high point. Not only was the weather sunny and warm, but unusually high numbers of sockeye salmon greeted participants of the resident-only fishery.
For the last several years, the highest daily counts of late-run sockeye salmon entering the river have arrived toward the end of July. But this year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sonar counter has been tallying high numbers of fish as soon as it started recording late-run sockeye. Between July 1 and Sunday, four days saw counts exceeding 30,000 fish. The cumulative count by Sunday doubled the count as of July 10 last year.
Jason Pawluk, with Fish and Game’s Sportfish Division in Soldotna, said biologists don’t yet know if the high numbers are an indication of a bigger-than-anticipated run or an earlier-than-anticipate run. Either way, the high counts make this a good time to run for the river.
“We’re really kinda surprised at the daily passage rates we’re seeing on the Kenai right now for this time of year,” Pawluk said. If these daily passage rates continue, there could be some good dip-netting on the Kenai.”
Dip-netting has been open on the Kasilof River since June 25. Sockeye returns there have been lagging, and the cumulative count so far this year is lower than it has been by July 10 in the previous three years. But Alaskans are still having success fishing, even if they’re having to put in extra time to fill their coolers.
Alisha Beach is a trooper with the Division of Wildlife.
“It’s not hot and heavy yet,” Beach said. “They come in spurts too. So the bigger run should hit somewhere around July 14, so we’re working on it.”
She cautions dip-netters to carry their Alaska fishing license with them, carry and fill out their personal-use dip-net permit while fishing, and clip both sides of the tail fin before removing a salmon from the beach. One king salmon may be retained in the Kenai fishery, while no kings may be kept at the Kasilof dip-net fishery.
“Most of the people are pretty good. We run into problems,” Beach said. “Especially when people don’t have permits on them. Before you conceal your fish, write down how many you took out whether it was cohos, pinks and so on and so forth.”
Dip-netting is open at the mouth of the Kenai River from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily until July 31, and 24 hours a day at the Kasilof River until Aug. 7.