Monday, July 19, 2010

Kenai Red Sockeye Salmon Expedition

Kenai Reds Expedition

Judy and I went on an expedition to catch Kenai River Sockeye salmon this week. Kelly Walters talked us into it.

I've always avoided going down to the Kenai River at the peak of the Red run, because of the thousands of people who congregate to catch hundreds of thousands of fish. Judy and I were spoiled from our ten years on Prince William Sound. Initially, from 1973, I fished Area E (Prince William Sound, the Copper and Bering River deltas, and the northern tip of the Gulf of Alaska) commercially as a gillnetter, so we had all the Sockeye we needed. After 1979, I no longer gillnetted. However, during that time, we could take one of our boats to Coghill River, Eshamy River or Jackpot Bay for their Sockeye runs. Sometimes, at Coghill River, we might be the only people fishing from the shore, as thousands of Sockeye coursed up the river.

Kelly was persuasive, though. He talked up his trip there last year. My son Alex and Kelly had fished the Copper River canyon together in 2009. Alex told me Kelly was an awesome fishing partner, so I decided to convince Judy to come along too.

We left late Thursday evening, drove to the Kenai public boat launch ramp parking lot, and slept a bit. Then we launched our 17-foot Klamath early Thursday morning.

The fishing was a bit slow. Kelly had the appropriate net for Kenai. We had stuff for the Copper River, or homemade nets for the now-defunct Fish Creek dipnet fishery. Our stuff wasn't very effective. Kelly was catching almost all the fish. By 2:00 we had about 30 Reds.

About then, I found out that 2-cycle outboard motors, like my ancient Evinrude 35-HP kicker, are no longer allowed on the Kenai. I'd never been on the river with my boat, and didn't know that. I wanted to head back to the launch ramp, not wanting to be fined. On the way back, the fish hit.

About an hour before the low water change of tide, our nets - including Judy's - began to get hits. Lots of them. Judy started getting two fish at once; Kelly was sometimes getting three. Very quickly, we had a boat full of salmon.

And the fish were hitting everywhere around us. The change-of-tide waters were very disturbed, as wind, current and tide all collided, forming tall waves, spaced close together. The combination of these elements, plus the frenetic efforts of everyone to quickly clear their nets, to get them back into the river, was exhilirating. Judy, who had been frustrated by slow fishing earlier in the day, was now pumped up, enjoying how weirdly exciting all this action was.

As soon as the flood tide began, the fish stopped hitting. Not just our nets. Everyone's. The waters calmed. The current began flowing upstream. We picked up the nets and headed to the launch ramp.

Here are some more pictures:

Kelly in the bow

Fish on the floor boards

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