2010 Year in Review
With the final days of 2010 now behind us, it’s once again time to circle down river and re-live some of the many memories of another season gone by. 2010 will likely be best remembered for less than stellar king salmon returns. After twenty seasons guiding the Kenai River, seeing the good and bad years has become just something to expect. They happen in cycles, much as the salmon have existed for centuries, even millenniums. While Kenai king runs have seen better seasons, they have also seen far worse. There were still a good number of days where the magical Kenai river revealed what it’s most famous for: big, hard-fighting, king salmon!
While we spend the majority of our salmon season on the Kenai River, we typically begin our summer on the smaller Kasilof River. The Kasilof is south of the Kenai by about ten miles. It receives a mixed return of both hatchery and naturally produced king salmon. This run starts in mid May and builds into the third week of June.
Rules are more liberal on the Kasilof with a limit of two king salmon (one natural and one hatchery or two hatchery fish) and unlike the Kenai where you must hang up your rod once you keep a king salmon, you are allowed to keep fishing on the Kasilof. We are also allowed to use multiple hooks and bait (salmon eggs and sardines) and this helps solicit more action. This season on the Kasilof began much as it has in year’s past with a few isolated pockets of fish here and there on the opening day of bait (May 16). After that, there were a handful of opportunities daily , but with the run just beginning, persistence and patience were definitely required.
With the end of May in sight and June just around the corner, fishing success ramped up dramatically and the first big push of Kasilof king salmon were arriving on just about every tide. The ratio of hatchery vs. natural fish seemed to be more equal than in the past. Typically we see more wild/natural fish in the first segment of the run, with the bulk of the hatchery fish arriving a week to ten days later. This year they seemed to be arriving in unison and this concert of king salmon was music to visiting anglers ears. Drags were screaming and water was splashing as many beautiful Kasilof kings came to the net.
Meanwhile, the early run on the Kenai was largely a no show. Sonar counts in the lower river were sputtering along at record low levels when unseasonably cool spring temperatures reversed course and it suddenly became unseasonably warm for several days. This caused the Kenai Mountains to shed the majority of their winter snow pack in a mere few days and the river turned the color of chocolate milk. It swelled from relative creek like conditions to a raging river. The cloudy water rendered the sonar essentially inoperable and with counts already super low, managers were forced to close the Kenai River to all king salmon fishing on June 5.
With nearly all of the king salmon pressure now focused on the Kasilof, many wondered if the run would be able to shoulder the additional participation. Fortunately, this all occurred as the Kasilof run was at full strength and with remarkable resilience, the Kasilof put meat in the freezer and smiles on the faces of many visiting anglers (not to mention guides).
As we fished the Kasilof daily into the second week of June, water conditions were subsiding and improving rapidly on the Kenai and counts were improving as well. By June 10, the daily numbers had more than tripled and on June 12 managers reopened the Kenai to catch and release. Fishing improved daily but was far from hot. Counts were improving as well and by June 19, managers felt enough fish had entered the river to reopen the fishery completely and also allow the use of bait. Fishing was noticeably better for a few days and then was just steady from there on. Needless to say, it was a roller coaster early run, highlighted by some decent king fishing in mid to late June.
Certainly the biggest star of June 2010 was the Kasilof. Day in and day out, it continued to reward persistent anglers with nice bright king salmon. The Kenai certainly had its moments and we did see a number of very nice June king salmon come to the net. That said, it was an up and down early run and many were looking forward to the late run in July with renewed excitement.
Early July started off slow but steady with a certain number of opportunities each day and enough action to keep you on your toes. The fishing was improving and new fish were arriving with each passing tide. As July continued, the river rose considerably with warmer weather and also rain. This made water clarity poor at times and slowed the bite, but as it cleared up mid month, the fish were moving fast and were very aggressive. We saw lots of very nice kings through mid July and it looked as though we were poised for a text book final week to ten days of the season. Alas, this was not to be. A very large sockeye salmon run and an overall average king return both coincided and the result was a disappointing end for the 2010 Kenai king season. Commercial mangers allowed back to back openers for both the drift and set gillnet fleets and along with the “excess” sockeye salmon they prevented from entering the river, so went the remaining late run king salmon that had yet to return. We worked hard for all of our fish in that last week of the season and extra effort did pay off on many days. On the neighboring Kasilof, July fishing was very productive, with many groups seeing limit catches in the final week to ten days of the season.
Looking back, the early and late runs of king salmon on the Kenai returned in unpredictable patterns. This was not a “normal” year by any means but nonetheless it yielded many great fishing memories and more action than one can truly recount.
August arrived with a welcome wind of change and we hung up all the king gear for another year and focused our angling attention on sockeye and newly arriving silvers. We also began pursuing trophy rainbows on a daily basis as well as taking a number of silver salmon trips via floatplane to the west side of Cook Inlet.
August is always a refreshing time as we transition from the more technical and competitive king salmon fishery and begin to explore Alaska’s abundant fall fisheries. Silver runs this year were excellent. From mid August well into late September, good numbers of bright coho could be found throughout the river.
We did see the normal lull between early and late runs in late August and early September, but it was short-lived. Runs on the west side of Cook Inlet were earlier than those here on the Kenai, but equally strong. This was also a pink salmon year on the Kenai River. As usual they stormed into the lower river in the first week of August and by the end of the month, they numbered in the millions! On the lower Kenai we caught pinks by the hundreds daily but also intercepted some very nice limits of fresh silvers. Normally we like to pursue the silvers farther upriver where we can also trout fish in the same trip, but the silvers just took their time getting up river this season. For most of August, we found the most predictable silver action to be on the lower river. This changed later in the month as the fish filled the holes below Skilak Lake. We rounded out the month up there where we found good silver salmon and rainbow trout fishing into the first week of September.
By late August and early September, it was obvious the early run was all but complete and with each passing tide, more and more late run silvers were beginning to arrive. These fish are noticeably larger and thicker than their August cousins . They are also very aggressive and hard fighting, almost like mini king salmon. Normally we will head lower on the river to intercept these huge silvers as they first enter from the salt and this season we spent a good portion of mid September fishing the tides above Beaver Creek . Our success was excellent on most days an the bigger fish really provided a lot of action. With a limit of three silvers in September, this is definitely a great time to stock up the freezer with some very high quality salmon.
We wrapped up the season with a mix of both silver and trout season and the weather was very cooperative. We had a classic Indian summer and enjoyed some beautiful fall weather well into October. Of course that never lasts forever here in the Last Frontier and winter finally knocked on the door in early November.
The landscape has been a sea of white ever since and now with 2011 upon us, the river is all but completely frozen over. The contrast on the river between the busy summer season and the utter stillness of winter is startling. Most will never experience the Kenai in its winter slumber but it exists with the same unique and wild beauty that the river exhibits in the summer. It represents the perfect time to remember, respect and reflect upon the many great memories the Kenai has shared with so many. It’s a perfect time to predict and look forward to another legendary season and we sincerely hope you will consider joining us.
A special note of gratitude to everyone that has contributed to our success through the years and we look forward to many more great seasons fishing the Kenai Peninsula and beyond!
2010 Fishing Reports:
Mark’s Fishing Report, October 3, 2010
The late run of Kenai silver salmon has been very strong throughout September with the peak of the run occurring in the second half of the month. Even into early October; fresh, large, sea-lice covered silver salmon are entering the river daily and for those getting out on the river, fishing success has been excellent. Water conditions have been low and clear for most of Sept. but after heavy rains in the past few days, the Kenai is now on the rise and off color from the confluence of the Killey River and Wally’s Creek downriver to the mouth at Cook Inlet. The majority of the pink run is now deceased and this rise in water will help wash away and distribute the piles of carcasses left over from this enormous bi-annual return. Trout fishing is always very good in late fall after a pink run as the resident species are very full from gorging on salmon eggs and flesh and as eventually less food becomes available and winter nears, they become particularly aggressive. Expect very good rainbow trout fishing for the next 30-45 days on the Kenai River.
Mark’s Fishing Report, September 1, 2010
August has come and gone on the Kenai River and overall it was a very eventful month for both silver salmon, pink salmon and trout. The early run of silver salmon took a while to hit full stride but after mid month it was very consistent fishing. We saw excellent silver action on both the lower river and in the later part of the month, the fishing success transferred upriver where we are still seeing good limits of silvers as well as excellent trophy trout fishing. We are also starting to see an occasional late run silver salmon in the net and with September upon us, we will be seeing more and more of these larger, brighter fish entering the system. Trout fishing in the last week has improved dramatically with a number of larger fish making their way upriver. We are beginning to see a significant number of king salmon spawning as well as some of the pink salmon dropping eggs and this always makes the trout fishing that much more exciting as the fish congregate in select locations and become more aggressive. Fishing for late run silver salmon and trophy rainbows should only continue to improve as fall begins here on the Kenai Peninsula.
Mark’s Fishing Report, August 17, 2010
Silver fishing has steadily improved since the first week of August with limit catches for those being in the right place at the right time. The major pushes of Pink Salmon have definitely arrived in force and avoiding the masses of humpbacks in search of coho remains integral to retaining a silver limit. We have been doing quite well in the lower portion of the Kenai as the bulk of the silver run has yet to make it up to the upper river where we normally silver fish and trout fish in the same trip. For those more interested in trout, we have been doing very well in the waters between Bing’s Landing and Skilak Lake. We are also finding a fair number of silvers and sockeye in this section of river but again getting a limit in this part of the Kenai has been more of a challenge. This should change soon as more silvers make their way from the lower Kenai upriver.
Our fly out silver action has been very steady with limit catches being the rule in most West Side Cook Inlet locations. Big River Lake and the Kustatan have been the most consistent fisheries thus far as rivers such as the Chuit and Buchatna Creek have been flowing far too high due to excessive rain. These fisheries should continue to provide excellent silver action for the next week to ten days and the smaller river will hopefully come into shape if our wet weather ever subsides.
Mark’s Fishing Report, August 4, 2010
King Salmon season on the Kenai ended much like it began, with a whimper. Though we did see some decent fishing in the second and third week of the month, overall the run was below average. The king run also arrived at the same time as an exceptionally large return of late run sockeye and with this run easily meeting its escapement goals, commercial netting became a huge factor. Since all the late run fisheries in the Kenai are managed under a sockeye salmon priority, their numbers dictate the ebb and flow of fish passage into the river. When we have a huge run of sockeye, managers employ back to back commercial netting periods to prevent what they term “overescapement” or fear of allowing too many fish into the river. Meanwhile, the sockeye targeting drift and set gill nets also snare a disproportionate number of our late run kings. After July 15, commercial gill netting was allowed as follows:
OPEN COMMERCIAL GILL NETTING:
This aggressive netting cycle continues now until the end of their season: roughly Aug.10. This not only made for slow king salmon fishing in late July but it has limited the number of early arriving silver salmon as well.
This season, ADF&G introduced new sonar technology for counting sockeye salmon but Kenai king salmon continue to be counted using an outdated and largely inaccurate split beam sonar system. This resulted in highly inflated king salmon numbers being recorded daily when in-river angler success clearly indicated the contrary. Even ADF&G posted daily counts are footnoted by : “biased high by unknown amount.”
Most reputable Kenai River guides estimate these numbers are inflated by at least 50%, meaning the late run escapement goal for Kemai river kings was not achieved and therefore excessive commercial netting to prevent “overescapement” of sockeye should not have been allowed. This injustice will be pursued through a number of avenues this fall and winter we will keep concernned sport anglers informed as we travel down the path of more bilogically sound and fair allocation of Kenai river salmon between commercial and sport user groups.
Despite this unfortunate mismanagement of our July king salmon run, the season was not without its special moments and our hard working guides did manage to provide many exciting moments for our visiting anglers. We did have a number of very sucessful days on the water and many trophy king salmon were brought to the net. The best fishing occured between July 10 and July 20 this year and even though we did see some good action in the final week, it was clear that the run had definitley peaked earlier in the month.
Now into the first week of August, silver salmon action has been slow so far but we are seeing a limited number of silvers arrive with each tide along with increasing numbers of fresh pink salmon. We still have a good number of sockeye also in the syatem, so the options are varied and with persistence, anglers are finding good action throughout the river for a variety of species.
The Kasilof also peaked around the same time as the Kenai, with good to excellent fishing for kings in mid July. With this river also managed for a sockeye salmon priority, excessive commercial gill netting also hampered returning numbers late in the month, and by late July, fishing was definitely more of a challenge.
On our fly out trips to the west side of Cook Inlet, we have been seeing very good action for silver salmon since the third week of July. Both the Kustatan and Big River Lake have been very consistent so far with each fishery providing limit catches on a daily basis. This should continue to be the case well into late August.
Mark’s Fishing Report, July 18, 2010
July is upon us here on the Kenai River and many of our late run fisheries are beginning to hit full stride. Kenai King fishing is definitely on the upswing as we begin to see more favorable tides and also improving river conditions. The river has risen considerable in the last week to ten days as the result of both rain and warmer temps melting both snow and glaciers. During this influx, the water clarity became poor for several days as glacially turbid tributaries unloaded huge deposits of silt into the main stem. This lack of clarity and rising water curbed fishing success, though we still did see a handful of opportunities daily. Now the river seems to be stabilizing in both water levels and clarity and the last few days of this week were very good for king salmon angling. This coming week holds much promise as we enter the seasonal peak of the late run along with favorable tides and hopefully more consistent and stable river conditions.
The sockeye salmon run has been steady and fishing so far has been favorable. In recent days fish counts have gone from 5-10K a day to over 20K a day and fishing success has followed suit. Those putting in their time and employing proper techniques have been seeing limit catches. This run is far from over and should remain a viable option as reports from Cook Inlet indicate many fish are still in the salt water heading our way.
The Kasilof river has been very productive for late run King Salmon with only moderate pressure. Our groups fishing the Kasilof have seen many excellent days and a number of limit catches. This should continue through the remainder of the month.
Big River Lakes continues to produce limit catches of ocean fresh sockeye salmon. Bear viewing has also been very consistent as both brown and black bears have been making regular appearances at Wolverine Creek. We are also beginning to see silver salmon arrive and this is an added bonus to fishing this location at this time of the summer.
The Kustatan River is also seeing silver salmon arriving in good numbers already and several groups have taken limit catches form this fishery already. This river should only improve over the next 3-4 weeks.
The Chuit River is also seeing good silver action for those who like wade fishing a smaller river. This an excellent choice for fly anglers willing to hike and fish small pocket water.
Halibut fishing has remained very consistent with limit catches being the rule. We have had a number of “blow-off” days where high wind has prevented our boats from getting onto the water. This is very typical for this time of the season.
Seward halibut fishing has also been very consistent and good numbers of silver salmon are also starting to show up in Resurrection Bay. This fishery should hot full stride in the next 2-3 weeks as a number of our guests enjoy multi-species outings for both flatfish and salmon.
Mark’s Fishing Report, July 5, 2010
The end of June on the Kenai was its typical fickle self with good days and bad but overall it did provide a number of memorable experiences. Late June is always a transition time between the early and late run but this is also a time where we see some very high quality kings entering the river. We averaged 1-4 fish a day for the remainder of the month and continue to see similar catch rates as we enter early July.
Trout fishing on the Kenai has been superb and a number of fish in the 28-32 inch range and been released in the last week. We have also seen a huge increase in the number of sea run dolly varden in the system and they only supplement the great rainbow fishing. Early July is always a special time for Kenai river trout.
The Kasilof has also seen a season dip between late June and early July but there was a number of quality fish taken in this period . Many of the fish are brand new, early arriving, late run fish of larger stature and no doubt not the cooker cutter hatchery clones we see so much of in late May and mid June. The Kasilof continues to provide good action for those willing to put the time into fishing this “in between runs” time period.
Mark’s Fishing Report, June 20, 2010
First, I want to say thanks to all our regular viewers and anglers who have been patiently waiting for our posted fishing reports. This has been a roller coaster season so far for us and we have been very busy on the water giving 150% effort to ensure all of our visiting anglers meet or exceed their expectations. We have had a very successful season overall despite some challenging fishing at times and much of our success is due to a great team of guides, my patient and dedicated family and most importantly, great customers willing to trust our advice and understanding of the varied fisheries we pursue. Together we have been able to bring many great fish to the net and in turn bring a number of smiles to our anglers faces.
Perhaps no other fishery we participate in has seen the ups and downs this season quite like the infamous Kenai River. A great number of factors have contributed to the topsy turvy May and June we have experienced and I will do my best to summarize these factors in the following report.
May began as it normally does on the Kenai with low water conditions and a limited number of king salmon entering the river on each daily tide. Fishing success was limited but also consistent with reasonable opportunities for those willing to put the time in. Boats in late May were seeing one to three fish per day at best and some boats failed to see the rod move in a full eight hours on the water. We had a very cold spring, with temperatures dipping into the freezing category overnight and very little runoff from the snow filled Kenai Range. As we entered early June, this all changed dramatically. For a period of a week, temperatures soared into the seventies with a hot, almost muggy climate enveloping the Kenai Peninsula. This “heat-wave” essentially melted the majority of our winter snow in just a few days and this caused the river to rise rapidly. The Kenai went from low and clear to high and muddy virtually over night and water temperatures dropped several degrees with the onslaught of cool, snow water. Fish counts that were already sputtering along, fell to historically low levels at the same time and on June 5, managers closed the Kenai to all Sportfishing for king salmon.
At the time of the closure, Kenai King escapement numbers were the lowest on record in some thirty years. Fortunately, the number of fish entering the river began a steady increase just after the closure and soon went from daily counts in the 100’s and 200’s to a number of 500+ days. This dramatic recovery allowed managers to reopen the fishery to catch and release on June 12. Fishing success was just ok with our boats averaging 1-5 fish per trip and only a limited number of opportunities each day. Despite the mediocre fishing, fish counts remained steadily in the 400-600 fish range and this prompted the river to open for the use of bait on June 19. The addition of cured eggs to the spin n’ glows and sardines to the Kwik Fish made a dramatic difference in angling success and all of our boats saw catch rates more than triple. As is often the case after the addition of bait to the fishery, many of the fish get caught and those remaining become more wise to the scent in the water but with the river closed on both Sunday and Monday, Tuesday fishing should be good. Only time will tell how the remainder of the early run plays out but despite the roller coaster ride the Kenai has seen this May and June, we feel very lucky to have had the success we have seen so far…
Trout fishing on the Kenai opened on June 12 and this fishery began as usual with good catch rates and a mix of post spawn rainbows, many bright fish and also a handful of dolly varden. This fishery will only continue to improve as the summer progresses and will reach it annual peak in the fall.
The Kasilof shouldered the burden of the Kenai closure with amazing grace and for well over a week was the only show in town. Despite the burden, the river remained relatively un-crowded and produced very predictable and exciting action for both hatchery and naturally produced king salmon. We began fishing the Kasilof in mid May and while the fishing was not red hot at the start, we did manage to put multiple fish in the net on nearly every trip. The run saw it’s season peak in the first and second week of June and even now continues to provide ample opportunities and bright kings. The run is definitely well past its peak and should soon start to see some larger, late run king salmon entering the system in the coming days.
Halibut fishing has been very steady and extremely productive all season. Most of the fish have been the perfect eating size and a handful have been considerably larger. This is perhaps our most predictable and consistent fishery and a special thanks to both Levi and Hunter Keogh for their professional and dedicated work on the salt.
We begin our fly out season with some very productive pike trips, awesome trips for grayling, dolly varden and lake trout and now we are seeing good numbers of sockeye salmon arrive to Big River Lake and Wolverine Creek. This run should continue to build and remain strong well into July. At the end of this week we will start to pursue king salmon on the Nushagak River and we look forward to these always exciting adventures to western Alaska.