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Red one day, silver the next

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A strong, late run of sockeye salmon had Kenai River anglers seeing red in July.

Now they are seeing silver.

The silver salmon run is picking up on the Kenai after a sluggish beginning, guides and biologists say.

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“We had our limit in a little more than an hour,” Cody Dutcher, a guide with Widespread Fishing, said of the action Wednesday morning at The Pillars. “It was really just a matter of getting your line in the water.”

That’s a welcome report considering the king salmon season is over and late-run sockeye are petering out in many places.

The silver fishing has been noticeably better, Dutcher said, since the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the setnet commercial season for the Kenai, Kasilof River and East Forelands on Sunday — more than a week before the scheduled Aug. 15 closure.

Dutcher recommended that anglers fish incoming tides in the lower portion of the Kenai with plugs or salmon eggs.

“When they pulled those nets, it really picked up,” Dutcher said, adding timing is important when fishing for silvers. “We’ve been living and dying by the incoming tides.”

Jason Pawluk, an assistant area management biologist with Fish and Game, also was optimistic about the remainder of the silver run.

Pawluk said the department’s netting program yielded 25 silvers on Tuesday, which was more than it had produced in one day all season.

Reports from sport fishermen, Pawluk added, also were strong Tuesday on the lower Kenai.

“We had some good news yesterday,” Pawluk said Wednesday. “This might be the start of our traditional mid-August push of silvers. Hopefully it’s the beginning, and hopefully it keeps up.”

The daily limit for silvers is two. The limit for sockeye remains at six except on the Russian River and in fly-fishing only zones on the Kenai, but anglers are only allowed four sockeye if they have two silvers in the bag.

There also is a new regulation this season that prohibits anglers from removing silvers from the water if they plan to release them. If a silver salmon comes out of the water, it must be kept.

Pawluk recommended fishing below the bridge in Soldotna or at Swiftwater Campground in Soldotna.

Meanwhile, sockeye fishing is tapering off in the Kenai and remains slow in the Russian.

Most of the large Kenai reds are nearing or have already reached their spawning grounds, Pawluk said. That’s not to say the fishing is dead on the lower river, but anglers should be prepared to put in their time.

Dutcher and Pawluk suggested Bings Landing or Skilak Lake for those in pursuit of last-minute sockeye.

“I hate to say it’s over, but it’s scratch fishing,” Pawluk said. “I basically tell people that they should expect to put in some hours if they expect to catch them.”

For the Russian, Pawluk described the sockeye run as slow.

The season passage was 17,346 as of Tuesday — compared to 15,539 on the same day last year — but those numbers are considerably lower than runs of the past. By this time in 2009, 45,163 sockeye had entered the Russian. 

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that fish entered at a higher rate this week than they had all season. On Monday, 1,187 sockeye passed the weir, and 1,195 more passed Tuesday. Those were the first 1,000-plus days since July 31.

Fish and Game conducted an angler survey at the river Monday and reported 26 fish on stringers with 52 people fishing.

Pawluk said many of the fish were bright but small, meaning they are probably 4-year-olds. The late run on the Russian is generally made up of a combination of 4-, 5- and 6-year-old fish, with older fish being bigger.

“For whatever reason, the 4-year-olds seem to be returning in higher abundance this year, which could bode well for next year and the year to follow,” Pawluk said. “We’re watching it closely, but it looks like another slow run this year.”

With sockeye beginning to spawn, rainbow trout fishing figures to improve.

To the south, silvers are beginning to enter the Ninilchik and Anchor rivers, Deep Creek and Stariski Creek.

Carolyn Bunker, with Fish and Game, said the action is slowly improving in all four bodies of water but has yet to peak. She suggested fishing with salmon-roe clusters or herring, but said spinner and fly-fishing gear work as well.

“Fishing has been slow over the last week, but should improve over the next couple weeks,” Bunker said.

There also will be good clamming tides Thursday through Monday.

Razor clams can be found on the sandy beaches from Kasilof to Homer and are exposed on minus tides, Bunker said, and littleneck and butter clams can be found on in a variety of habitats from Jakolof Bay to Bear Cove. Try exploring new beaches for success. 

Remember, however, that an emergency order was issued to reduce the possession limits for littleneck and butter clams in Cook Inlet and Resurrection Bay from 1,000 littlenecks and 700 butters to a combined limit of 80 clams.

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