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Red salmon are coming -- or are they teasing us again?

Craig Medred

Once more there is a storm of red salmon reported to be moving up the turbid and gushing Copper River, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. But this time the dipnetters who flock to meet the fish in Wood Canyon downstream from Chitina near the Alaska-Canada border aren't rushing toward the fishery.

Why? Back in early June an Anchorage newspaper said, "Record run of red salmon swarms the Copper River."  Dipnetters from the state's largest city and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley drove more than 200 miles across the state to get in on the action -- only to find poor prospects. State Fish and Game was later put on the spot to explain exactly what happened to the record return of fish.

High water was widely blamed, but there never was a good explanation. That has Fish and Game somewhat cautious about the latest big bump in salmon numbers, based on a sonar that counts fish invisible in the murky, fast-flowing slurry of the glacial river.

“If the river cooperates, it should be good fishing,” area fisheries management biologist Mark Somerville told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "(But) I was down there (Monday) night and it was real spotty. The water was so high guys couldn’t even fish under the (McCarthy Road) bridge.”

The water was not nearly that high at the start of June, but Fish and Game biologists at the time argued it might have been high enough to cause the salmon to slow their migration for days. Some were left wondering whether the early run of Copper River red salmon, all of which are wild fish, might simply be weaker than the late run Copper River red salmon that peaks in July. Many of the latter are hatchery fish.