A late surge of red salmon up the Russian River has allowed the clear-water stream that flows into the Kenai River to meet its minimum escapement goal for the fish that fuels a frenzy among anglers each summer.
Less that two weeks ago, that looked like a pipe dream.
But through Wednesday, 32,188 red salmon had passed the fish-counting weir near Lower Russian Lake, above the 30,000 minimum that state biologists seek to ensure healthy future runs.
Less than two weeks ago, when state biologists closed the Russian and the adjoining fly-fishing-only area in the Kenai River, both for the season, prospects of attaining that goal appeared dim. The run seemed to be waning and biologists were only halfway to their escapement goal.
But 41 percent of return has passed the weir in the last 10 days.
Few have witnessed it.
Without red salmon anglers, the Russian has morphed from Alaska's best-know combat fishery to a lovely, uncrowded rainbow trout stream.
"No fish, no people," said Dianne Owen, general manager of Alaska Recreation Management, which operates the Russian River Ferry across the Kenai. That ferry continues to operate until Labor Day
"We don't have to run it much," Owen said. "But it's still available."
Expect the escapement number to continue growing.
"The river's still full of fish," Owen said. "I think they just hung out in Skilak Lake (downstream of the Russian on the Kenai River). There's a ribbon of red all the way up the (Kenai) river."
Counting at the weir continues for the rest of the month.
Reach reporter Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4329.