Alaska Fishing with Mark Glassmaker: 2005 Year in Review
Once Again another wonderful fishing season has come to an end. A lot of water has passed by in the last five months and 2005 was a unique and rewarding season in many regards. What follows is my recount of this past season:
Amidst falling leaves, harvest moons and northern lights, Alaska welcomes the fall with same awe and splendor it greets all seasons. With reckless regard it instinctively sheds the lush green foliage for a wash of yellow and orange, soon replaced by empty branches covered with crystals of ice and snow.
This season began much like many in the past, in hot pursuit of May Kings on the Kasilof River. Starting May 16 with the opening day of bait, we drifted the chalky green river daily. Fishing success was good and improved consistently throughout the remainder of the month. In the last few days of May and the first few days of June, a noticeable spike in the number of fish was obvious. Instead of working 2-3 holes to find the biters, aggressive fish seemed to be everywhere. Certain strategic traveling lanes were literal jackpots just after high tide with hoards of wild and hatchery fish returning in force.
The ability of anglers to continue fishing after retaining a salmon was well received this season on the Kasilof as it allowed the fortunate ones to keep their lines in the water. Another new Kasilof rule allowed retention of “wild” fish on Tuesdays and Saturdays and the ability to keep both hatchery and wild fish on these days was nice. Although the ratio of hatchery fish to wild or natural fish seemed to change as the season progressed, before the first week of June, the majority of the fish seemed to be wild (unclipped) kings. There were a number of days where we caught and released several fish without finding a single hatchery fish. After the first of June this ratio changed considerably and the majority of our catch had clipped fins.
New hatchery fish arrived daily and proceeded to flood the river over the next week to ten days of June. Even during this period of abundant hatchery fish, there were still a significant number of wild fish present , a good sign for the wild component of this early Kasilof king return. In 2008, Board of Fisheries will reconsider harvest opportunities for these wild fish and if this run remains strong, perhaps the ability to retain one wild king will be increased beyond two days a week.
This run remained consistent into the second week of June before the swell of hatchery fish subsided. Fishing was decent for residual early run kings and an occasional late run fish but stayed relatively slow into the first two weeks of July.
On the mighty Kenai, May had been a very consistent pursuit with good fishing starting in the third week of May and extending into mid-June. The best fishing was by far the lower portion of the river where fish seemed more numerous and aggressive.
Fishing stayed steady until mid month and then slowed some as the number of fish entering the river dipped in the third week of June. Despite the deflated fish counts, strong numbers the week prior prompted managers to project enough fish to meet escapement goals and ADF&G issued an emergency order on June 18 allowing bait on the Kenai River (below the Moose River). This gave fishing on the lower Kenai a considerable spike for several days but unfortunately, the higher number of fish entering the week prior to the emergency order did not sustain itself. Daily counts in the third week of June were back down to around 200 fish per day and even with the unusual addition of bait in June, fishing was only average. Then in the final days of June, a swarm of late-run king salmon arrived in the lower river and like someone flipped a switch, the lower Kenai lit up like a Christmas tree.
Ironically, the last day of June was as good as it would be all season, and that is not to say there wasn’t some excellent fishing still to come throughout the month. The infamous section of river just above Beaver Creek literally exploded with fish for a couple of days and catch rates were dramatic. With an unseasonable sunny and dry spring, the Kenai was several degrees warmer than normal and this seemed to hold the fish in the lower, tidal sections of the river. Whereas we normally see July fishing success transfer upriver to waters just above the Soldotna Bridge, this year the bulk of the late-run or at least the best fishing action, remained in the lower river.
The late-run provided plenty of action throughout the month and into the last days of the season, although fishing success was definitely dependent on the intensity of commercial fishing activity in nearby Cook Inlet. Late run returns of sockeye salmon were excessive this season prompting managers to allow commercial netting to the maximum extent allowable under current management plans. When gill nets inundate the beaches and the offshore waters of Cook Inlet, the in river result is much slower fishing.
By the last few days of the season, the late-run of Kenai kings is normally past its seasonal peak but this year the fishing was outstanding right up to the last hour of the season. Looking back, the fish gods allowed us many memorable moments this past July and the lower Kenai River was as good as it gets on a number of days. The extreme numbers of king salmon still pouring into the lower river during the last few days of July seemed to indicated a significant portion of the return would make its way into the legendary salmon river after the close of the season on Aug 1 and allow a considerable number of fish to pass onto the spawning beds unimpeded.
As king season faded into the early days of August, it was becoming more and more apparent that the late run of sockeye was far from over. Typically the Kenai sees sporadic bursts of reds into the first week of August but this year the river was getting peak numbers of sockeye well into mid August. This unexpected flood of late returning red salmon was a welcome opportunity to stock up on this coveted game fish and it provided welcome action at a time we would normally be targeting cohos.
This season’s early run of Kenai silvers was sporadic at best for the first two weeks of August so the red hot sockeye fishing was welcome filler for the mediocre coho. Supplemented with nonstop trout action, the late flurry of reds filled many August fishing days. An estimated 1.4 million sockeye made it into the Kenai this season, an average of 26,000 coming into the river each day in July. Over 500,000 sockeye entered the river in the first three weeks of August alone.
By the third week of August, steady numbers of silver salmon had finally replaced the late waves of red salmon and it was business as usual for the remainder of the month. Limits of fresh coho were routine as anglers enjoyed new rules allowing them to continue fishing above the Moose River after retaining their two fish limit of silvers. This allowed us to trout fish the entire stretch of river from Bings to Skilak Lake after retaining a limit of silver salmon. This helped distribute the pressure and it also gave the guides a number of options as to where they could fish and when. The end result for the angler was light pressure with lots of action and some very well-rounded days of fall fishing on the middle Kenai River.
As we reached September, a distinct pause in the fishery caused us to shift our focus to trout as the late-run of silvers seems to be taking its time to arrive in any sheer numbers. Much like the early-run, the late-run seemed belated with sporadic groups providing well deserved action for persistent anglers. Finally by late September, strong numbers of silvers were again present throughout the river. We enjoyed excellent silver fishing for the remainder of September and into October but as temperatures dipped below freezing, the temptation to make one more cast began to wane. The wash of colored leaves that once painted the river banks was now withered and fallen and soon the season had officially come to a close.
Each season is unique in a number of ways and this season is certainly no exception. The summer of 05 will be best remembered for its amazing warm weather and abundant returns of fish. We sincerely hope that everyone that visited us this past season enjoyed their own personal experience in Alaska and will decide to return and join us again. We were blessed to see many old friends as well as a number of new guests. We have also been very fortunate to retain the same staff of assistant guides that have been with us for several seasons. Both Brent and Sean will be back next year and we all look forward to fishing with you again very soon.
2005 Alaska Fishing Reports:
Mark’s Fishing Report, June 12, 2005:
Jeanne Beezhold proudly displays and 35lb. Kenai King she caught on Tuesday June 7.
As of Sunday 6/12, many, if not all of South-Central June fisheries are in full swing. Beginning on the Kenai River, Early Run King Salmon numbers have seen a significant spike in the past week with between 400 and 700 ER king salmon passing the lower river sonar counter daily. The last available count as of this fishing report was Saturday June 11 when 555 kings were recorded bringing the cumulative total of ER Kenai King Salmon to 5,638 fish. It seems this run is on tract to meet or exceed escapement goals. Fishing on the Kenai River has been hit and miss as increasing water levels and have affected angler success. While many boats were seeing between 4-6 fish per day over a week ago, more recent catch rates have dropped to 1-3 fish per boat. There have been a number of very large fish moving through the Kenai system and several trophy class fish weighing well over 70lbs. have been recorded. On Wed. June 8, my boat hooked a Kenai Monster just below Eagle Rock on the lower Kenai River ad fought the fish for nearly 45 minutes without even seeing it. After well over an hour, we finally were able to bring the giant to the net and after carefully taping it at nearly 53 inches long, we successfully released the fish to continue its epic journey. We estimated the fish to weigh between 70 and 75 lbs. The non-retention slot of 44-55 inches has been very effective in preserving these genetically unique trophy class Kenai Kings and letting this fish go was rewarding beyond what words can describe. Currently, the Kenai River continues to rise as snow melt and rain in the Kenai mountains puts more and more water into the system. Water clarity is less than ideal at the time of this report although conditions should improve by early next week with little rain in the forecast.
Good numbers of Russian River Red salmon are being reported throughout the Kenai River as this fishery opens today near Cooper Landing. Anglers should expect plenty of fish and crowds as this tiny mountain tributary of the Kenai sees the first substantial pushes of sockeye for the season. We will have more information regarding fishing success and run numbers once this fishery has been under way for a few days. Look for a more detailed report very soon.
Troy Johnson with a nice Kasilof King also taken on June 11.
Kali Johnson with one of many Kasilof Kings she landed on Saturday June 11.
On the Kasilof River, the ER of King Salmon has seen a new push of fish after a very high tide cycle over the past week slowed the numbers of fish entering the river. The last 2-3 days has seen a significant spike for both naturally produced and hatchery origin Crooked Creek Kings and fishing has definitely followed suit. Many anglers are retaining their one fish limit and guided trips are yielding double digit hook-ups in recent days. The ration of hatchery fish to wild fish has improved to as high as 3 to 1 and this run should continue to produce very good fishing over the next week to ten days. Anglers are reminded that wild kings may only be retained on Tuesdays and Saturdays with retention of hatchery fish only during the remaining days of the week. Given the improved ratio of hatchery versus wild fish currently in the system, the Kasilof offers a very good chance for retaining the daily one fish limit of king salmon. Water conditions are very good although the river is getting higher by the day.
Trout fishing opened on the Kenai river-wide today and action was expected to be very good. More detailed information regarding Kenai Trout fishing will be included in the next fishing report.
King salmon fishing on lower Kenai Peninsula Rivers will come to a close after this weekend, although good numbers of kings are still present and entering the Anchor, Ninilchik and Deep Creek. All of these smaller snow-fed streams have seen very solid king runs this season and angler success during weekend only, open days has been very high.
West Side Cook Inlet fly-out fisheries have also gotten off to a very good beginning with lots of sockeye and bears massing around the outlet of Wolverine Creek where it enters Big River Lake. Massive schools of sockeye salmon, fresh from Cook Inlet, can be seen circling the clear waters of Redoubt Bay and fishing pressure has been moderate. We have taken several trips to this popular West Side destination and have gotten limits of reds and have seen multiple brown and black bears on every trip. There has already been a significant push of sockeye up Wolverine Creek over this weekend although newly arriving fish continue to mass around the mouth of Wolverine Creek and large schools of newly arriving sockeye can been seen breaking the surface throughout Big River Lake. This run will continue to build through mid-July.
King salmon fishing on the Chuitna has not yet begun due to excessive snow melt and high and murky water conditions. This river is expected to come into fishing shape may mid week and angler success should be very high. With several trips planned for us in the near future, a detailed report will be available soon. The neighboring Theodore River has been high as well but it has been fishable and reports indicate very good catch and release king salmon fishing on this tiny, yet very exciting river. We also plan to visit the Theodore over the next week and will continue to update this report as we explore both of these very productive remote fisheries.
If you have any questions regarding any of the above Kenai Peninsula and West Side fisheries please fell free to email me anytime at email@example.com.
Good luck on the water and great fishing!
Mark’s Fishing Report, May 31, 2005:
Memorial Day weekend signifies the official start to many of the most popular Kenai Peninsula fisheries and in a number of primary locations, fishing was very consistent. Beginning on the Kenai, sonar counts remain quite low despite relatively steady fishing success. As of May 31, only 1031 Early-Run Kenai king salmon had passed the ADF&G sonar site on the lower Kenai River. Despite the low counts, fishing has been fair with most boats averaging 1-2 kings in an 8 hour charter. Typically this run peaks in the first two weeks of June, so the next week to ten days should see significant numbers of fish entering the river and catch rates should follow suit. River conditions are ideal with excellent color and moderate water levels. Rain in the Kenai Mountains is bringing the river up daily.
Will Sigsbee releases a 2005 naturally-produced early-run Kasilof King Salmon.
On the neighboring Kasilof, fishing has continued to build daily since Mid May. In the recent 3-4 days, the fishery has seen a significant burst of fresh kings and multiple hook-ups per boat are now the norm. This run offers mix of both hatchery and naturally produced early-run king salmon and anglers are reminded that only hatchery king salmon (marked by a clipped adipose fin) are allowed to be retaining with the exception of Tuesdays and Saturdays when both wild (natural) and hatchery king salmon may be kept. New rules which allow anglers to keep fishing once they retain a king salmon on the Kasilof have been very well received and have made this fishery a very attractive option for Kenai Peninsula anglers. This run should peak in the next week to ten days. Water levels are moderate and rising.
The Cook Inlet Marine fishery off Ninilchik/Deep Creek has been extremely productive for halibut and to a lesser degree, salt water king salmon. The halibut fishing has been very good even in the less than optimal tides. Near shore trolling for king salmon has been off and on as sporadic pushes of both feeder and river bound kings make their way through the area. In the last two days, high concentrations of mature kings have provided red hot action after a week of very hit and miss fishing. This recent push of fish may very well be the bulk of early run Kenai kings making their way north. This early run marine king salmon fishery normally peaks between the last week of May and the first week of June.
Patty Powers and nice hatchery king salmon from the Kasilof River.
Lower Kenai Peninsula streams such as Deep Creek, the Ninilchik River and the Anchor River are all seeing fair to strong return of king salmon and fishing pressure over the Memorial Day weekend was heavy. Perhaps the most productive of these rivers was the Anchor where low water and lots of fish made for good fishing around the high tide. Anglers are reminded these rivers are weekend only fisheries and fishing for salmon is limited to the lower, tidally influenced sections of these streams. Downstream steelhead (kelts) are also present in the Ninilchik, Deep Creek and the Anchor and are making their way back to Cook Inlet after being in the rivers since the fall/winter. Kenai Peninsula steelhead are not allowed to be removed from the water and should be handled with extreme caution to ensure their safe release.
Good luck on the water and great fishing!
Here are a few more photos of recent king salmon caught fishing on the Kasilof River.