Eighty-nine-year-old angler Charles Conides of Anchorage has fished for red salmon in the Russian River since 1961. He estimates that back in the day, even at the height of the first of two red salmon runs to the Kenai Peninsula stream, only 100 people fished the mouth.
Progress changed that.
"They put that parking lot in there and now it's like Times Square," Conides said.
Now, Conides fishes shoulder-to-shoulder with other anglers in a riverside mob. But despite his age and the crowds, Conides is still bringing home plenty of tasty salmon fillets. Last month, his caught his limit of six fish in just four hours.
"It was very good," Conides said. "It always has been. I've always liked the area."
He's not alone. In response to a strong run, thousands of anglers have flocked to the Russian and Kenai rivers just below the confluence of the two streams. At one point early in the season, the fishery was so popular that traffic backed up in a serpentine line from the entrance to the Russian River campground out onto the Sterling Highway as anglers waited on parking spots.
The swarm of anglers has not, however, slowed the run of fish all that much.
Already, more than 38,000 reds have made it from the Pacific Ocean, up the mighty Kenai, into the gin-clear waters of the Russian, past the thousands of flies thrown at them by people, over the Russian River Falls, through a state fish counting weir and into Lower Russian Lake on their way to spawning streams, where all they'll have left to worry about is being eaten by bears before they spawn and die.
Nearly 38,000 first-run reds is a lot. In fact, this is the biggest early run of Russian River sockeye since 2006, when 51,227 reds were counted by June 29. At this rate, the early run is on pace to exceed the 18-year average of 44,000 sockeye.
In the face of such a bounty, state biologists have doubled anglers' limits to six fish per day and 12 in possession.
But there are rules. The Russian River and a section of the Kenai River below the mouth of the Russian are fly-fishing-only areas where anglers are restricted to a single-hook artificial fly, with the gap between the shank and hook point no more than 3/8-inch. Any weight added to keep your fly low in the water column must be at least 18 inches from your fly.
Contact Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By MIKE CAMPBELL