2008 Year in Review
Now that the 2008 fishing season has come and gone, it is finally time to take a deep breath and look back on another eventful summer here on the Kenai Peninsula. It is truly amazing just how many individual memories combine to sew together just one Alaska fishing season. This year will resonate in my memory as being a roller coaster ride of surprises. We had unusually early runs and unusually late runs. We had super strong runs and a few weak runs. Through it all, it proved to be a very successful season with many, many prosperous days afield.
Spring came with a bit of reluctance in 2008 and both water temperatures and water levels remained well below normal for most of the early season. Despite the less than ideal conditions, the first king salmon of the season could be found in their usual hangouts like “The Peoples Hole” on the Kasilof or in a select few holes on the lower Kenai. As with any early season king salmon pursuit, the fishing can be slow and tedious at times, but the reward of a sea lice covered silver missile in low water is enough for most to invest their time. These are arguably the most impressive fighters and the most beautiful kings of the entire summer. We began our pursuit of these early arriving chinook on the Kasilof in mid May and we were greeted with a very cold, low flowing river with persistent snow and ice still clinging to its shoreline in places. Being a somewhat shallow river, the first kings on the Kasilof hold in only a handful of deep holes, and this year was no exception. As the river opened to fishing with bait on May 16, pressure was light. Although a few fish were taken, the late spring seemed to have the fish a week or so off their normal schedule. The same was true on the Kenai where low water and cold temps seemed to slow the true arrival of summer. Alas by early June, both the weather and the fishing seemed to be more in the normal range as excellent early run king fishing was occurring on both the Kenai and the Kasilof. The Kasilof was productive throughout late May and then became very good into the first two weeks of June. The run consisted mostly of wild kings at first, but catches became more mixed with adipose clipped, hatchery fish by mid month. A good number of hatchery fish arrived late as well.
On the Kenai River, June offered some of the most consistent and action packed king fishing of the entire season. Beginning early in the month, good numbers of aggressive chromers were in front of the boat everyday and many could not resist the offerings we presented. With colder than normal weather conditions, the river remained in shape for a good portion of the early run and this helped catch rates without question. Solid fish counts also prompted fish and game to open the river to the use of bait on June 1 and this also gave the fishing success a (temporary) boost as well. It was a June to remember on the Kenai and the Kasilof with bigger than normal kings and lots of them. The excellent fishing lasted into the third week of June until it finally slowed and began its seasonal transition into the late run fishery.
Our June fly out fishing was affected this season by the late spring and one of our favorite locations, Big River Lake, did not see dependable sockeye fishing until mid June. The lake and adjoining Wolverine Creek were both very low and though fish were trying to move in, the low clear water kept them in the deeper lake water longer than normal. Eventually the water came up and in came the fish and lots of them. The Wolverine Creek sockeye return lasted well into July and not only were there plenty of fish, but also a lot of bears, noticeably more than last season.
The other June fly out fishery that we usually frequent is the Chuit for king salmon. A large snow pack and late run off kept this river high and muddy until the final days of the season. This run was able to move upriver with little or no fishing pressure and when we fished it in August for silvers there were plenty of big kings making nests in the gravel.
Unlike the tributary bound early run Kenai kings, the larger run of July king salmon spawns largely in the main stem of the river. The majority of the fishing success takes place in the lower 10-15 miles of the river and from mid July to the end of the month, there is no other place to pursue these huge salmon. While the king salmon fishing provided lots of action and remained productive, the late run of Kenai sockeye never materialized and prompted restrictions to both the sport and commercial fisheries. This actually helped the king salmon fishing on the river as the commercial set and drift nets were restricted in Cook Inlet and less incidental kings were taken in gill nets. The sockeye sport fishery was closed below the Soldotna bridge (mile 19) on Aug 1 and reduced to a one fish limit above the bridge beginning Aug 6.
The silver salmon and trout fishing provided a welcome consolation as we immediately shifted our angling focus on these two species. The early run of silver salmon on the Kenai saw an unfamiliar open passage to the river with the commercial fishery idle. They, along with their humpbacked cousins, the pink salmon, proceeded to literally fill the lower Kenai river in the first week of August.
On our fly out trips to the West Side of Cook Inlet, August was an awesome month for silvers and all the returns were strong and very consistent. In particular the Kustatan and Buchatna Creek saw very large runs and both these rivers had coho in them as early as mid July! This really is some of the most prolific silver salmon fishing available statewide.
Back on the Kenai, the first blast of silver salmon was strong and healthy with lots of big coho. By mid month the run was well up to Skilak Lake and beyond, and yet still arriving in the lower river. The early run eventually tapered off in late August.
Alas, it was not long before the first late run silvers were filling fish boxes with their trademark thick backs and bulging bellies. The pink return was as it has been in recent semi-annual cycles…enormous!!! Literally 3-5 million pink salmon blanketed the Kenai at their peak and this occurred from mid August until well into September. Arriving only on even numbered years, pinks and their overwhelming numbers can be both a blessing and a curse. While fishing for the far less numerous silvers, a realistic Kenai caster can expect multiple pink salmon interceptions in route to a silver salmon limit. For people that have always wanted to catch a fish on every cast or for kids that want to experience guaranteed catching, pink salmon are a dependable quarry.
The late run of Kenai Silver Salmon was strong as usual this year and despite the mob of pinks, it was still relatively easy to find fresh pods of coho throughout the month of September. Fresh silvers continued to arrive into October and as the water dropped, it revealed coho were present in abundance and a healthy spawn seemed assured.
It was the third week of September before most of the pinks had expired and decaying carcasses lined the river banks for miles. At the peak of the pink spawn, trout fishing became very challenging, simply because the amount of real food in the water was impossible to compete with. The trout were gorged in a blizzard of pink eggs. Once the trout become accustomed to eating at this pace and volume, they are not happy when it goes away. After the peak of the pink spawn is buried in gravel, a well presented single egg pattern is more than the average trout can ignore. This season, starting around the third week of September, it was game on for big, fat rainbows and lots of them. This continued deep into the fall with October and November offering excellent fishing for those willing to brave the elements.
Thanks to everyone that helped make 2008 such a special year. For us, the summer goes by all too quickly, but we hope the memories you created will last a lifetime. We are greatly looking forward to another epic season in 2009 and sincerely hope you can join us.
2008 Fishing Reports
Mark’s Fishing Report, August 13, 2008
Late July fishing on the Kenai was a mix of disappointment and elation. The late run of Kenai river sockeye salmon never fully materialized and after an initial big push of fish in Mid July the run was merely steady for the remainder of the month. Due to low numbers and the less than likely chances that the run would meet minimum escapement goals the fishery was closed in late July below the Soldotna bridge and limited to one fish above the bridge. The commercial sockeye fishery was also severely restricted and ultimately closed and this allowed ample numbers of both king salmon and silver salmon to enter the river making the last week of July a very productive time on the lower Kenai. King salmon fishing in the last week of July was merely OK compared to some seasons but compared to the earlier weeks this season, fishing was considered excellent. Our boats had no problem providing ample opportunities for anglers and most boats scored limit or near limit catches in the final days of the season. Overall it was a mediocre late run king return this season on the Kenai but certainly not the worst return we have seen and there was plenty of action for those that were persistent and fished multiple days.
The early run of Kenai silver salmon arrived with a fury as the commercial sockeye fishery was closed to allow more fish to enter the river. This safe passage proved very rewarding for silver anglers as limit catches began the day after the king salmon season closed and have continued for the most part all the way to the writing of this report. The best fishing has been around the tides in the lower river but good number of coho have also been reported in the water below Skilak lake. The water below Skilak has been very clear and this has made the fishing for the silvers an early morning affair but after the silver action wanes, trout fishing has made for a good way to fill the remainder of the day. Pink salmon have made a modest appearance in the lower river with only moderate numbers so far and no where near the overwhelming numbers one can usually expect from this typically 2-3 million, semi-annual return.
All the remotes silver fisheries began in earnest in late July and remains excellent to date. The silver runs across the state arrived early and appear to be extremely strong. In addition to the silver salmon fishing, bear viewing at Big River Lake has been very good with multiple bears present including several sets of sows and cubs. Both brown and black bears have been regular visitors to Wolverine Creek.
Mark’s Fishing Report, June 30, 2008
As the last days of June fade away and we enter the month of July, fishing on the Kenai River has remained remarkably consistent. This is the point in the season when we see the bulk of our early run fish move well upriver and begin to see the first late run fish enter the mouth. So far it seems like we are still seeing late arriving early run kings and thus far only a few late run fish have arrived. Fish counts have been holding steady at between 200-300 fish daily and although the fishing success has varied from day to day, there has still been lots of action. Again, over the next week to ten days we should see a noticeable decline in early run kings and begin to see increased numbers of late run Kenai King salmon.
Despite being well past the typical peak for early run kings on the Kasilof, fishing has remained remarkably good for both native and hatchery fish. Multiple fish days have remained the rule and water levels remain considerably lower than normal. Crooked Creek, the main tributary that early run kings are headed for, remains very low and while in most year the fish have left the main stem Kasilof and headed up the creek, this year the fish have largely remained in the main river and have yet to enter Crooked Creek in any significant numbers. This may help explain why the fishing has remained so consistent but the number of dark fish is increasing by the day and with fewer fresh kings entering the river, this fishery should slow considerably over the next week.
Big River Lake:
Fishing for sockeye at the mouth of Wolverine Creek has gotten better and better by the day. Currently thousands of ocean bright red salmon are massing at the mouth of the creek and limits have been the rule for the last week to ten days. Despite lower than normal lake levels, fish have committed to the clear waters around Redoubt Bay and the outlet of Wolverine Creek and along with a few brown and black bears, anglers are doing very, very well. This fishery should remain very productive well into July until it transitions to silver salmon in early August.
The Chuit finally cleared enough to fish and reports indicate a fair number of bright kings are available. Largely due to high flows and poor visibility, this river saw little or no pressure for the majority of June and many of the kings made their way well upriver unimpeded.
Despite a slow start, the Nushagak saw some exceptional spikes in the number of kings entering the river in the last week. June 26 and 27 saw a combined 26,000 kings pour into this huge western Alaska river, well know for hosting the largest return of king salmon statewide. Counts did drop back down to just 2,500 fish on June 28 but more large pulses should be on the way. Fishing success reportedly swelled considerably with the huge numbers of fish entering the river and this week should prove to be very productive.
Halibut fishing has remained very consistent. Limits of tasty halibut in the 20-40# range have been the rule with a fair number of fish in the 80-100# class being reported. This fishery should remain a good bet well into July and early August.
Mark’s Fishing Report, June 22, 2008
The Kenai River went through its seasonal rise in water volume as a spell of warm weather melted our excessive snow pack and tributaries such as Funny River, Killey River and Wally’s Creek all contributed greatly to the main stem’s elevated flows. With the added water, so also came more turbidity and the river muddied up for a few days this past week and is still currently running high and off color. This did affect fishing success to a certain extent but despite the higher, murky water, good King Salmon fishing still prevailed. This past week yielded many excellent fishing days and though sonar counts indicated the number of kings entering the river had slowed, good numbers were still being caught. As this is the seasonal peak time for the early run, one should expect fishing success to slow somewhat as the early run comes to a close and the late run begins to build. We do have years where both runs mesh very well and good fishing prevails but many years we see a noticeable decline in success as the transitions between the two runs become evident. This coming week will reveal just how this transition will be.
Trout fishing on the Kenai River has gotten off to a mediocre start as many fish are still in spawning mode and super clear water above the snow/glacier tributaries has hampered the fishing success. Despite the less than ideal conditions we have had 35-50 fish days and as the summer progresses this fishery will improve dramatically.
Though we have largely shifted the majority of our king effort to the Kenai River, the Kasilof has reportedly remained a viable option with a number of boats seeing multiple fish days. This is very late for this run to still be producing fresh early run kings but statewide runs have been later than normal. This return is certainly due to slow down but overall it was a very productive year on the Kasilof river.
The sockeye have finally nosed into the outlet of Wolverine Creek and lake levels have finally started to rise. Big River Lake remains very low but fishing has been very good and the bears are also starting to make their annual appearance at the outlet of the creek.
Cook Inlet Halibut:
Fishing for halibut has been excellent with many fish in the 50 – 100# class being taken daily. This fishery is always very consistent and should only improve daily as more and more big fish move into Cook Inlet form the Gulf of Alaska.
Mark’s Fishing Report, June 11, 2008
Over the last week to ten days, king salmon fishing on the Kasilof has improved dramatically. After a colder than normal spring and a relatively late start, the Kasilof is now seeing strong and regular pulses of kings entering the river daily. Catch rates have been very consistent with most boats getting between 2 and 10 kings a day. The return has been mostly natural fish but we are now seeing more hatchery origin kings and the run seems to be getting better by the day. I would expect this return to peak over the next week with excellent fishing into the third week of June.
The Kenai River is also seeing excellent fishing for king salmon as the early run inches toward its historical mid June peak. Good numbers of fresh kings have been arriving daily and catch rates have been very good. The fishing should hold steady for the next week to ten days. Water conditions are still lower and clearer than normal but this should change as we get rain and also warmer temperatures which will both boost runoff.
Big River Lake:
The late spring has delayed the arrival of Big River Lake/Wolverine Creek Sockeye and lake levels are far lower than we have seen in recent memory. While this run is usually seeing good numbers of fish by this date in June, it looks like it will at least a week to ten days before catchable numbers of red salmon are available. Warmer temperatures are need to create glacial melt and this will bring the lake up and also encourage more fish to settle into Redoubt Bay and the entrance to Wolverine Creek.
The Chuit is currently very high and muddy due to excessive runoff from a very robust snow pack in its headwaters. It is estimated it will be at least 2-3 days before this river is fishable and once it begins to clear, fishing for king salmon should be very good.
Mark’s Fishing Report, June 1, 2008
The season is off to a relatively slow start on the Kasilof River with only decent numbers of natural fish present and very few hatchery origin kings in the system. More consistent numbers of king salmon are now arriving on each tide and although fishing success has been sporadic at best, moderate numbers of king salmon are being taken daily on both cured salmon eggs and sardine wrapped Kwikfish. Due to colder than normal temperatures and an overall late spring, river levels and water temperatures are below seasonal norms and this can certainly help explain the modest beginning to the 2008 season. The next week should see things improve dramatically as we inch closer to the historical peak for this early run king salmon return. Currently our boats are averaging 2-5 fish per trip which is not blockbuster but is certainly in the ballpark for a good day of king salmon fishing during any time of the season. Hopefully those numbers will spike with more fish arriving in the next week to ten days.
The Kenai River has experienced a similar start to the Kasilof with colder than normal water temps and low water conditions. However, sonar counts for king salmon have been encouraging and beginning today, the river was open to the use of bait via Emergency Order from ADF&G:
By Staff Report | Peninsula Clarion
Due to sufficient numbers of early run king salmon entering the Kenai River, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that anglers may fish with bait from a point approximately 100 yards downstream of the confluence of the Moose and Kenai Rivers beginning at 12:01 a.m. today.
On Friday alone, 267 king salmon were recorded entering the Kenai River by the sonar station located 8.6 miles from the mouth of the river, for a cumulative 2,229 kings so far in the early-run. The “Kenai River and Kasilof River Early-Run King Salmon Management Plan” directs Fish and Game to achieve a spawning escapement goal of 5,300-9,000 king salmon. Fish and Game is currently projecting a total in-river run of early-run king salmon of approximately 11,000 to 19,000 fish and a spawning escapement within the escapement goal.
All other Kenai River special provisions, methods and means, and bag and possession limits remain in effect. Anglers may only use one single-pointed hook. Anglers may keep only those king salmon that are less than 46 inches in length or 55 inches or greater in length. All other king salmon must be released immediately.
For additional information, contact Robert Begich, Fish and Game Area Management Biologist, at 907-262-9368.
Fishing success has not mirrored the sonar counts and anglers are seeing only sporadic success so far with less than a one fish per boat average. The cold water may be contributing to the low success but the introduction of bait should improve success considerably, at least in the short term. Next week should yield better conditions and more action as more fish continue to arrive and we add bait to the fishery.
Emergency Order Number 2-KS-1-07-08 May 30, 2008
As provided by 5 AAC 57.160 KENAI RIVER AND KASILOF RIVER EARLY-RUN KING
SALMON MANAGEMENT PLAN (d)(3), if the spawning escapement is projected to be within the optimal escapement goal, the commissioner shall, by emergency order, liberalize the sport fishery by allowing the use of bait if the department projects that the total harvest under the increased liberalization will not reduce the escapement to achieve the optimal escapement goal.
The Kenai River and Kasilof River Early-Run King Salmon Management Plan (5 AAC 57.160) directs the Department to achieve the optimal escapement goal of 5,300 to 9,000 king salmon. Through Thursday, May 29, the total inriver run is approximately 1,962 king salmon and the estimated total harvest is less than 100 king salmon below the Soldotna Bridge. The ADF&G Kenai River creel survey indicates the harvest of king salmon has been lower than usual due to the combination of low angler effort and poor water conditions.
The Department projects a total run of approximately 11,000 to 19,000 fish and a spawning escapement within the optimal escapement goal range of 5,300 to 9,000 fish. Therefore, it is warranted to liberalize this fishery.
The distribution list for this emergency order is on file at the Region 2 Office of Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish, 333 Raspberry Road, Anchorage, AK 99518, (907) 267-2218.
KENAI RIVER KING SALMON ESCAPEMENT
Emergency Order ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH & GAME Under Authority of AS 16.05.060
Emergency Order No. 2-KS-1-07-08 Issued at Soldotna: Friday, May 30, 2008 Effective Date: 12:01 a.m., Sunday, June 1, 2008 Expiration Date: 11:59 p.m., Monday, June 30, 2008, unless superseded by subsequent emergency order.
This emergency order allows the use of bait in flowing waters of the Kenai River drainage open to fishing for king salmon beginning 12:01 a.m. Sunday, June 1, 2008 through 11:59 p.m., Monday June 30, 2008. The waters in which bait may be used extends from the mouth of the Kenai River upstream to a point one hundred yards downstream of the confluence of the Moose and Kenai rivers. The slot limit remains in effect through June 30 below the Soldotna Bridge and through July 14 above the Soldotna Bridge. Only those king salmon less than 46 inches in length or 55 inches or greater in length may be retained while the slot limit is in effect.
The provisions of 5 AAC 57.121 SPECIAL PROVISIONS AND LOCALIZED ADDITIONS AND EXCEPTIONS TO THE SEASONS, BAG, POSSESSION, AND SIZE LIMITS, AND METHODS AND MEANS FOR THE LOWER SECTION OF THE KENAI RIVER DRAINAGE AREA (1) (A) are superceded by this emergency order. Under this emergency order, the following provisions are effective beginning at 12:01 a.m., Sunday, June 1, 2008 through 11:59 p.m., Monday June 30, 2008.
5 AAC 57.121 SPECIAL PROVISIONS AND LOCALIZED ADDITIONS AND EXCEPTIONS TO THE SEASONS, BAG, POSSESSION, AND SIZE LIMITS, AND METHODS AND MEANS FOR THE LOWER SECTION OF THE KENAI RIVER DRAINAGE AREA.
(1)(A) from January 1 – June 30, in the Kenai River, only one unbaited single-hook, artificial lure may be used, except that from June 1 to June 30, in the Kenai River upstream from its mouth to a point one hundred yards downstream of the confluence of the Moose and Kenai River, one single-hook may be used and the use of bait is allowed.
Denby S. Lloyd,
By delegation to:
Robert N. Begich
Area Management Biologist
Deep Creek/Ninilchik, Cook Inlet:
Fishing for kings in the salt water off Deep Creek has been very steady with most boats seeing 50-75% limits. Some days see better numbers of fish than others but overall the early season king fishing in the salt water has been very encouraging. Given many of these fish are headed for the Kenai and the Kasilof rivers, this should indicate good in-river success is imminent.
Halibut fishing got off to a slow start in early May as Cook Inlet water temps were colder than normal but recent reports indicate the halibut fishing has improved dramatically and anglers are having no problem obtaining their two fish limit of these tasty flatfish. Size of the halibut has averaged 20-40 pounds.