Kasilof dipnet area expanded; Russian cut back due to low returns

An angler casts for sockeye salmon in the “sanctuary” area of the Russian River-Kenai River confluence on Sunday, June 28, 2020 near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Elizabeth Earl/KDLL)

There’s just under a week until the Kenai River dipnet opens on July 10. But if you want to get out and get some dipnetting done this weekend, there’s a little more space at the Kasilof River to do it.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that the Kasilof dipnet is open to shore fishing all the way from the mouth upstream to the Sterling Highway Bridge. Dipnetting from a boat is allowed, too, but only up to a marker around Mile 3 of the river. No king salmon can be kept, though.

As of Wednesday, the Kasilof River sonar had counted about 98,000 fish. That’s almost double what had passed the sonar on the same day last year. The lower end of the escapement goal there is 140,000 fish, and at this rate, Fish and Game is expecting to go over the goal. With average run-timing, this is about a quarter of the way through the run, according to Fish and Game. Commercial fishing was open Thursday as well.

While the sockeye run is looking good and merits some extra fishing space on the Kasilof, it’s not looking as good on the Russian River. Fish and Game closed the Russian River sanctuary area starting at 11 p.m. Friday night and lasts through July 14, which is the end of the early-run. Fish and Game opened up the sanctuary earlier than usual this year for fishing, saying foot surveys supported it, but the escapement at the weir has been anemic so far. As of Wednesday, just under 15,000 sockeye had passed the weir, about 7,000 fish below the lower end of the escapement goal.

Fish and Game says in the emergency order that the run didn’t materialize as expected, and low water levels affected it. Anglers are also a little too efficient at catching them, resulting in extra restrictions being necessary.

King fishing opened Wednesday as well on the Kenai River, but only from the mouth upstream to a marker just downstream of the mouth of Slikok Creek. The bag limit is one fish 34 inches or smaller per day, unless the fish are smaller than 20 inches. Those little fish, the ones smaller than 20 inches, have a bag limit of 10 per day. Bait is prohibited with a single hook only. Kasilof king salmon fishing is still open, but is restricted to no bait, single hook, artificial lure and a bag limit of one king per day.

The early run of Kenai River kings did not reach the escapement goal, even with no fishing, according to Fish and Game. Run timing was late, and four-ocean fish—which are one of the older age classes—were missing, possibly because their parents were the 2014 run, one of the lowest escapements on record, according to Fish and Game.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.