Anchorage — Last weekend there was an invasion of anglers, campers, dipnetters and tourists to the Kenai River. Every parking space at most businesses, campgrounds, hotels and waysides were filled with anglers in pursuit of Kenai reds. Getting a bag of ice anywhere along the highway from Girdwood to Kenai was impossible. Getting a tank of gas or supplies at any convenience store was a test of patience.
Sportfishing is huge in Alaska -- particularly on the Kenai Peninsula during the fishing season. The crowds last weekend were a true testament of the economic multiplier of sportfishing to the economy.
Seeing all of the traffic on the highway and the crowds at the gas pumps and grocery stores, I remembered the '80s and '90s when it was that way from the first of June to the end of the king season July 31. King fishing drove the economy.
Now, the economic impact is two weekends. After the dipnet season, Kenai-Soldotna goes back to a ghost town.
The sad-but-true reality is the greatest run of king salmon is dwindling before our eyes, and we are feeling the economic ramifications. The returns drive small and medium-sized businesses on the Kenai Peninsula, and this year we probably will not make the lowered escapement of our beloved world-class kings on the Kenai. Think about that for a while.
On a brighter note, the Catch Share Plan for halibut has been extended to Aug. 26 -- apparently Sen. Mark Begich expressed disappointment in the short comment period issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
If you have any interest in protecting your ability to retain a second halibut, submit a comment at www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=NOAA-NMFS-2011-0180-2207
Here's the latest fishing report from the field.
The latest total sonar counts for sockeye as of Tuesday were 1,058,423 fish. Although the numbers are pretty good, the caveat is that commercial openings can change the fishing day to day. Tuesday counts were 24,900, down significantly from the highs of July 17th (214,410) and July 16 (246,393). Like the saying goes, you should have been there last week.
The Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery will be open 24 hours a day until 11:59 p.m., Wednesday, July 31; check the Alaska Department of Fish & Game website for details.
Some dipnetters did poorly last weekend, so check the current reports on the ADFG website before heading to the river. Having sonar information will increase your odds of catching fish, as will paying attention to the commercial openings.
I spoke with Rod Berg of Rod and Real Charters at length Tuesday concerning king fishing on the Kenai. He said that although the sockeye fishing has been steady, the king bite has been dead.
Berg has been fishing near Beaver Creek and said that he saw less than a dozen kings landed in the first hour Tuesday, but catching was non-existent the rest of the day.
As of Tuesday there have been only 8,291 kings counted. Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, an emergency order goes into place for catch and release of all kings over 20 inches and under 55 inches; check the ADFG website for more details.
The offshore Deep Creek and Anchor Point fisheries have been consistent for halibut. Anglers have been limiting on halibut in the smaller range from 15 to 25 pounds, with the occasional larger fish. The tides should fish better this weekend with longer fishing periods.
I spoke with Dave Morris of Bob's Trophy Charters on Tuesday and he said fishing has been consistent for halibut. He said he had more anglers than boats available Tuesday; he had 59 anglers he could not find charters for.
Morris clients have also been limiting on salmon charters. He said his last trip had limit catches of kings, silvers and some pinks. He's been spending most of his salmon trips trolling with good success. One of his boats has done well with watermelon-colored Krocodile Spoons.
The ling cod and rockfish fishing has remained good out east toward Gore Point.
The Nick Dudiak Lagoon has been fair, with anglers catching a few silvers on incoming tides. Best bets are to fish the entrance on the east side during the incoming tides. Jumpers can be seen on the flats adjacent to the entrance, so the fish are there, but not in the lagoon.
The fishing in Seward was a little spotty for silvers last weekend, with weather being the great equalizer. My buddy caught a ton of pinks, some silvers and even landed two kings near Cheval and Pony Cove. Both kings were small with one of the fish blushed with spawning colors.
The outer 20-mile toward Pony and Cheval were fishing well 'till the weather kicked up; there was a small-craft advisory in Resurrection Bay on Saturday. Most of the fish are still not in the main portion of Resurrection Bay.
Try out east for silvers; fish are being caught from Day Harbor to Cape Junken.
Halibut fishing out east from Junken to Montague has been steady, weather permitting. The marine forecast looks good for this weekend.
The Parks Highway streams have been fishing fair at the mouths, with good trout fishing above the Parks Highway. With the hot weather, most of the best fishing has been in the evening and early morning.
Willow has a fair number of pinks, chums and a few silvers. Anglers that drift the river from the bridge down should have better luck.
Montana and Little Willow creeks are fishing fair for salmon at the mouths. Try Vibraxes or salmon flies in the pink, red and chartreuse combinations.
Clear Creek and the Talkeetna fisheries are still producing good catches of chums, and the trout fishing in Clear Creek is fair. For trout, try fishing beads or flesh imitations.
The Deshka has been very slow. Most of the fish are still holding in the Susitna, waiting for cooler water and weather. The last count of silvers through the weir on the Deshka was 95 fish.
The bright spot in the Valley has been the Little Susitna. The silver run has been picking up in the lower river, with reports of a few anglers limiting on silvers. I spoke with Kyle Hudson of Three Rivers Fly & Tackle on Tuesday and he said most fish have been caught on Vibraxes 4 and 6 in silver and orange.
Dipnetting reportedly slowed over the weekend, and dipnetters are spending more time to catch limits. The river is high right now; up-to-date information can be found at the Chitina Dipnetters Association website.
An emergency order released this week amends the schedule for the personal-use dipnet salmon fishery in the Chitina Subdistrict of the upper Copper River, which will run from 12:01 a.m. Monday through 11:59 p.m., Aug. 31. The emergency order established a supplemental permit for 10 additional sockeyes for the week of July 29-Aug. 4. Check the ADFG website for information.
The dipnet fishery is closed to the retention of king salmon. Kings taken incidentally may not be retained and must be released immediately and returned to the water unharmed.
Fishing in the Gulkana River could be productive with high numbers of sockeye distributed throughout the river. The water level is normal and the visibility is good. Earlier this month the daily bag and possession limit of sockeye was increased from three fish to six for the remainder of the season for the Copper River drainage.
The Gulkana River, the Klutina River upstream of mile marker 19.2, and the Tonsina River upstream of the Alyeska pipeline access bridge were closed July 19th for king salmon fishing.
I spoke with Stan Grove of Grove's Campground on Tuesday and he said the Klutina River is still off-color from a slide at mile 5 on the river. Grove is no longer running his jet boat due to low water and recommends that anglers try floating with a raft for king and sockeye fishing above the bridge. Grove said sockeye fishing has slowed, but persistent anglers are catching fish.
Lake Louise and Susitna, Tyone, Paxson, Summit and Crosswind lakes should continue to produce good catches of lake trout. As summer temperatures rise, anglers targeting lake trout should try fishing deep -- try downriggers or deep trolling gear. Most fish will be in the 100-foot range or deeper.
I got a call from a reliable source who said fishing was great in Valdez last weekend. There were lots of silvers staging offshore near Goose Island, and the bottom fishing was pretty good.
That apparently was a good omen for the 300 kids who fished the Valdez 6th Annual Kids Pink Salmon Derby. Saturday's biggest catch was a 5.38-pound pink caught by Kyle Eames of Anchorage.
The day after the kids slayed salmon, Jim Culley of Fairbanks brought in a 325-pound halibut to claim the lead in the Valdez Halibut Derby, which ends Sept. 2.
Culley told KYAK radio that until last weekend, the largest flatfish he had ever caught was a 60-pounder. "Sunday I caught an 80-pounder, then a 325," he said. Culley was fishing by Hinchinbrook Lighthouse and gave credit to Capt. Dave Wiley for putting him on the fish.
The Valdez Silver Salmon Derby started Saturday, and among the string of pink salmon caught by anglers young and old were some bright silver salmon. Michael Freerksen of Valdez is the early derby leader with a 12.12-pounder caught aboard a private boat. Freerksen is currently in the lead for the overall derby.
The silver derby ends Sept. 1.
Ship Creek has been fishing pretty well for pinks, but the silver fishing remains slow. I spoke with Dustin Slinker on Tuesday and he said a few anglers are having success on the low tide. He recommends flies or yarn flies for the silvers.
Bird Creek has been fair for pinks. Anglers fishing the low incoming tides are doing better than anglers fishing the high tide.
Some pinks have returned to Resurrection Creek at Hope, and fishing should start to improve by the weekend and into August.
I got a text Tuesday from Kristen Labrecque of Saltwater Excursions. Here's her report word for word:
"Thursday fishing was a bit slow. Friday fishing was fair; Saturday was a weather day due to small craft advisory. Sunday fishing was pretty good -- we limited out on some nice halibut plus a few silvers and Monday fishing was on fire. Silvers are hogs this year, caught some nice rockfish and Yelloweye too. The fishing actually got better with the ripping tides. Seiners are now out, but be aware of gear and nets in the water. Lots of breaching whales. Fishing deep 265-315, and the halibut bellies full of herring and candlefish."
Tony Weaver has fished all over Alaska for more than 40 years. He is the host of Wolf Outdoors, which airs on FM-96.3 Saturday mornings. He worked as chief technical editor for Fish Alaska and has written for Fish and Fly, Flyfisher and Flyfisherman magazines. He is a photographer and author of "Topwater: Fly Fishing the Last Frontier Alaska."