Anglers get more chance at Kenai sockeye

The Kenai River is seeing less sockeye in recent days but more fishing opportunity starting July 22.

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Dip-netters line the north shore of the Kenai River. (Photo by Jenny Neyman, KBBI - Homer)
Dip-netters line the north shore of the Kenai River. (Photo by Jenny Neyman, KBBI – Homer)

The good news for anglers hoping to catch sockeye salmon in the Kenai River is they have more opportunity to do so, with fishing restrictions liberalized July 22.

Starting at 12:01 a.m., the daily limit for sockeye in the river up to the outlet of Skilak Lake increases to six per day, with 12 in possession. And the personal-use dip-net fishery at the mouth of the river will open to fishing 24 hours a day starting at 11 p.m.

The bad news is, fishing success has been low.

“Right now fishing in the river with rod and reel, and then the dip-net fishery, is very slow — very slow,” said Jason Pawluk with Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Sportfish Division.

He says that numbers of sockeye entering the river have dropped off in recent days — below 20,000 fish per day past the sonar counter.

“With numbers like that it’s not really catchable at that point. You can fish but you’d be hard pressed to really hook into a fish with rod and reel, and the dip-netters, same thing,” Pawluk said.

Current water conditions also aren’t conducive to sockeye fishing success. The Kenai has been running warm and clear lately, pushing the fish farther from hopeful hooks.

“When you get water clarity like that it tends to push the fish, especially the sockeye, farther offshore as they run up the river. Typically with dirtier water they’ll hug really close to the shoreline as they migrate upstream.”

But the situation is expected to turn around. Fish and Game is still predicting a decent-sized sockeye run to the Kenai. It just looks to be arriving a little late.

“Based on our projections — in season and then also what the forecast called for — there’s still a lot of fish out there. They’re just entering the river like they did last year. We never really had a really peak three or four days where over 75,000 fish came in per day. It was more of a long, slow bleed into the river, if you will, of fish. And it looks like that’s what we’re seeing again this year,” Pawluk said.

Managers can liberalize fishing if the run looks like it will exceed 2.3 million fish counted in river. That’s still the expectation, even if it’s a slow-but-steady return, rather than a spike of high-number days.

The city of Kenai is expecting dip-netters to take advantage of the 24-hour opportunity, even though fishing has been slow lately. That will mean higher activity for city workers, says Kenai City Manager Rick Koch.

“It does present a challenge to us when they go 24 hours. Normally we have 7 hours by which to bring heavy equipment onto the beach and undertake our maintenance activities,” Koch said.

The fishery usually closes from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., which is when city crews empty trash bins, restock restrooms and rake fish carcasses below the tide line. That work still needs to be done, it’ll just have to happen with dip-netters on the beach.

“It takes more care on the part of our employees just when there are a lot of people around. We do send spotters down that we may not otherwise have on the beach when fishery goes 24 hours to try and ensure the safety of fishery participants,” Koch said.

Dip netting on the Kenai closes July 31. For fishing regulations, fish counts and more information, visit Fish and Game’s website at www.adfg.alaska.gov.