While many salmon-crazed Alaskans in Southcentral will descend upon beaches at the mouth of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers this month, some cagey dipnetters will opt to head north.
Bright red salmon flesh may be their reward, if they're willing to put in the time.
Though a surge of Copper River red salmon passed a sonar fish counter at Miles Lake little more than a week ago, the water level is the highest it's been all summer, making success sporadic, according to reports from the Department of Fish and Game, as well as Hem Charters in Chitina.
Anglers who spend the whole day dipnetting are catching their limits, Fish and Game said. Those who don't put in long hours aren't as successful. Mark Hem of Hem Charters predicts large crowds but sporadic success at least through Saturday, when the high water might subside.
If the river cooperates, the fish should be there.
An average of about 23,000 reds a day passed the Miles Lake sonar July 7 to 14. Those fish need two to three weeks to reach Chitina from Miles Lake, said Fish and Game biologist Mark Somerville in Glennallen.
That's a high number, high enough for a supplemental harvest period beginning Monday and running through Aug. 1, and probably high enough for another supplemental period the week of Aug. 2 to 8, Somerville said.
A supplemental period occurs when there is a surplus of 50,000 or more fish over the projected Miles Lake sonar passage for the week.
Dipnetters are allowed to catch an extra 10 reds on top of the normal bag limit during a supplemental period. Any kings caught can't be kept.
While the surge of fish should mean great dipnetting the next week or two, fishing last week and this week zig-zagged between exceptional and slow, according to Hem, who said high water is holding down harvests.
Netters are urged to check water levels before heading to the river.
"What can I say?" Hem said. "That's fishing."
The flood of fish past the sonar is likely the result of a large return of Gulkana hatchery fish, which was forecast by biologists, Somerville said. If that's the case, it should translate into excellent red salmon fishing in the Gulkana River in the next few weeks, he said.
VALDEZ SILVER DERBY
The Valdez Silver Salmon Derby starts Saturday, a full three weeks ahead of Seward's big silver derby.
Last year, local angler Chuck Gard earned the $15,000 top prize with his 19.42-pounder, the only derby fish over 19 pounds. Young Danielle Grubb of Eagle River was second with a an 18.92-pounder, earning her a $5,000 check. Ted Bear of Soldotna was third with an 18.78-pounder.
Two years ago, Valdez angler Derek Werder took the biggest silver in Valdez Derby history, a 22.14-pounder.
The derby runs through Sept. 5.
Reach reporter Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4329. Tim Mowry of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner contributed to this report.
CHITINA HOTLINE: Hem Charters Copper River hotline, 1-907-823-2200
CHITINA INFORMATION: Including water levels, escapements and dipnetting groups: http://home.gci.net/ ~reetz/copper/index.htmPhotos: Alaska fishing
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By MIKE CAMPBELL