Despite several orders from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game modifying some salmon fisheries already, anglers have had ample opportunity to reel in a catch on the Russian River.
Drift boats were going in and out of the water all day on the Russian, just a few miles west of Cooper Landing. With early run king salmon fisheries shut down across the Kenai Peninsula, the Russian has been booming. It’s probably a safe bet that most of the lines and nets in the water here are intended for sockeye. The early run has been so strong that Fish and Game increased the bag limit to six and the possession limit to 12 here and on the Upper Kenai River.
Fish and Game issued an emergency order June 18th closing down sport fishing for kings on the Kenai, and prohibited bait and multiple hooks on the Kasilof River for hatchery kings. Rivers on the southern Kenai Peninsula were closed to king fishing almost as soon as the first ones came through back in May.
The battle waged over the winter to figure out who could fish, and when, during times of low king abundance is far from settled. Commercial setnetters will be looking to get into the water in a few weeks, but like last year, that will be determined by the projected strength of the king run.
Right now, it doesn’t look too strong. A total run of 1,500 to 2,500 fish is projected by the Department. As of June 16th, fewer than a thousand had been picked up by sonar counters. The optimal escapement goal is between 5,300 and 9,000 fish.
Sockeye are a different story, though. Numbers on the Russian have already hit levels seen last year, around 25,000 fish, about three weeks before the Department stops counting. Projections for the Kenai river run are down slightly from last year, at 4.4 million, but still well above the 20 year average.