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Photos: Opening weekend on the Russian and Kenai rivers for early run sockeye

Iain Brown helps his son, Harlan, 5, fish for sockeye salmon in the Russian River in Cooper Landing on Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

COOPER LANDING –– Even with a low fish count for the Russian River early sockeye salmon run, people were excited to spend the warm summer weekend in their waders with friends and family.

Initial counts for the first two days were 80 fish, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Weekend visitation at the river as been steady but slow, said staff with Alaska Recreational Management, which manages facilities here.

“They’ll be coming when the fish get here,” Jacob Laumbattus said as he worked at the Russian River Ferry terminal Sunday.

A 2009 photograph, hanging at the Russian River Ferry terminal, shows a large crowd of fishermen fishing along the Kenai River. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
A woman fishes the Russian River on Sunday. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Small groups of anglers easily found spots in the water but struggled to catch fish.

“I’m surprised it’s this relaxed,” Victoria Florey said while fishing with her husband, Iain Brown, and their young children. “I was a little nervous, kind of dreaded the crowds that I was visualizing.”

She and Brown took turns having their kids, Teagan Brown, 4, and Harlan Brown, 5, cast the line. Eventually Teagan and Harlan found more excitement toward the shore, playing with grass in the water.

Harlan Brown, 5, and his sister, Teagan Brown, 4, play along the edge of the Russian River while their parents fish for sockeye salmon nearby. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
The Russian River glistens in the background as ferns grow along the shore. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
Ken Wehly and Jim Shipman, visiting from Oklahoma, walk along the Russian River. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Just downstream, the Russian River opens up and meets the Kenai River. Away from the shade, the sun beamed down and reflected off of the aquamarine water. Gulls dotted the river at the confluence where salmon scraps bobbed in the shallow water as rafters passed by.

Further down the Kenai River, swallows darted overhead and searched for insects as a handful of anglers at a time loaded onto the ferry.

Karen and Steve Anderson depart the Russian River Ferry to fish for sockeye salmon in the Kenai River. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
Jordan Laumbattus, captain of the Russian River Ferry, waves to a passing vessel. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Deckhand Vincent Hogarth and Captain Jordan Laumbattus worked the ferry back and forth Sunday. The roughly 30-foot boat is powered solely by the river and runs along a cable.

For Jan McCurtain, the Russian River campground host coordinator, things are feeling “normal” again –– a sentiment echoed by Alex Browning as he sat in the sun on a rock and watched his friend fish.

People fish for sockeye salmon in the Russian River on Sunday. (Emily Mesner / ADN)