15 Aug Alaska Fishing Report: August 15, 2019
Its’ very hard to believe we are already halfway through August with less than two months left in our 2019 season. It has been a very busy season thus far with many twists and turns in our various fisheries. In our last report we were just beginning to enter the month of July and were coming off an outstanding June. We saw record numbers of Russian River bound sockeye and were hoping the late run Kenai River sockeye return would be equally impressive. That run indeed proved to be a blockbuster and continues to offer great fishing even now in mid-August. The run began in the first week of July with somewhat modest numbers for the first week to ten days of the month. On July 8, we saw the first 20K + day and after that the run continued to build. By mid-July we had well over 225k sockeye passed the sonar counter, more than double the number of fish we saw on the same date in 2018. Fishing was very good with consistent three fish limits for all of early July but soon would improve greatly. The counts ramped up considerably in the last ten days of July with the highest daily count coming on July 28 (99,038) and well over 400K fish arriving in just a five-day span. This glut of fish prompted ADF&G to increase the sportfish limit from three to six fish per person on July 26. Limit catches became the rule for late July and well into August as the run just continued to pour into the river. By August 10, over 1,650,000 sockeye had entered the Kenai and the daily count still continued to exceed 20K a day. Indeed, it was the year of the sockeye in 2019 and that helped foster many successful fishing trips, fill many fish boxes and as of this report, we are still seeing excellent sockeye salmon action daily.
Unfortunately, the late run of Kenai King salmon was not nearly as robust. With extensive commercial activity in nearby Cook Inlet targeting the abundant sockeye, a less than stellar late run of kings struggled to make it back to the river. The run was restricted starting July 1 to no bait and fishing success was mediocre at best. We ran very few Kenai king trips but on the few we did do; we did see some very nice fish come to the net. We released the great majority of the kings we landed this July on the Kenai and again just did not feel right fishing for them with much frequency due to the low numbers. The much more prolific run of sockeye was a far more productive option both for catching and for keeping fish to take home. As of August 13, only 11,074 kings had been recorded on the sonar counter and of those approximately 600+ were harvested. That means fewer than 10,500 kings will make it to the spawning grounds thus far, falling well short of the minimum escapement goal of 13,500 fish. Herein lies the always difficult job ADF&G managers face with mixed stock fisheries and the Kenai River late run sockeye and king runs are a prime example of this challenge. Trying to prevent too many sockeye from entering the river vs allowing enough kings in to make the minimum escapement goals has always been the greatest challenge facing our local fisheries management. With this year’s king salmon projection not coming to fruition and the run not being able to make minimum sustainability goals, one can only hope managers learn the valuable lesson of not counting your chickens before they hatch. Too many sockeye in the river should never take precedence over not enough kings and commercial fishing should take a back seat to the importance of meeting actual real fish numbers in river before they are allowed to fish. Unfortunately, money, politics, and a historical sockeye salmon priority within our management plans has prevented this delicate balance from erring on the side of caution, something we hope to change at the next Alaska Board of Fisheries meetings for upper Cook Inlet that take place this coming February.
The low numbers of late run king salmon returning to the Kenai prompted ADF&G to restrict the river to no bait from Aug 6 through Aug 15 and this along with extensive commercial drift gill netting activity aimed at the large return of Kenai sockeye has resulted in a very slow start to our early run of Kenai Silver salmon. With the abundance of sockeye, we have concentrated the majority of our angling effort on sockeye and are seeing a handful of silvers mixed in with our sockeye catch. Typically, by Aug 10 we have transitioned away from the sockeye and start fishing silvers daily but the few trips we have run thus far for silver have not been productive. With bait re-opening on Aug 16, we are hopeful this will improve silver fishing and as the sockeye run begins to dwindle, we will eventually turn our full attention to both the early and eventual late runs (Sept) of silver salmon on the Kenai River.
Trout fishing on the Kenai has been very good in late July and into August both in the section of the river close to our lodge and in the water below Skilak Lake. Both flesh and single egg patterns have been productive and several very nice rainbows and dolly varden have been caught and released by our guests. As we enter our fall fishing season, we look forward to lots of great trout action to come.
Fly Out fishing for silvers on the west side of Cook Inlet has been very good this season with Big River Lake, the Kustatan and the Chuit all seeing very good numbers of silver salmon arriving daily. With the unseasonable warn temperature we have seen this season, bear sightings at Big River Lake have not been nearly as frequent as the animals seem to be moving less in the heat of the day. Nonetheless, these trips have been very productive for our guests and visiting these truly beautiful and remote locations via floatplane is always a great experience. We still have several weeks left in our fly out fishing season and look forward to more great action on these epic adventures.
Stay tuned for a late season report with lots of epic silver, trout and eventually steelhead fishing along with spectacular scenery as we enter fall and the leaves begin to change. Meanwhile, enjoy all the great pictures below and thank you to everyone that have helped make 2019 yet another incredible fishing season!