My Alaska First - Sockeye Salmon Run

PetesSockeyeOh yes. It's a beauty! This sockeye salmon was caught on the Lower Kenai River. Photo by Beth LeschperAfter living in the Last Frontier for just over two years, I found myself in a staff meeting where my boss asked me, “Pete, how long have you been in Alaska?” and immediately followed with, “...and how many salmon have you caught?”

He knew full well how long my boots have been planted on Alaska soil. He also knew the answer to his second question—“Zero."

It was right then and there I decided it’s not only time, it’s well past time to make this right.

The annual migration of sockeye salmon starts to enter the fresh waters of Kenai Peninsula rivers in mid-June. Some come early. A few come later, but as sure as the days are long, the majority of these creatures will be flowing thick as molasses through the rivers starting around July 15. My meeting where the boss called me out was the week before the run was expected to go full swing.

Kenai River Vert 200 pxHere is the view from the dock along the Lower Kenai River on an awesome day for fishing. Photo by Pete Menutes

As luck and a little planning would have it, I was due to spend a few days in Kenai while the salmon were making their way to their spawning grounds. I planned to take full advantage of our long days and hit the river fast and furious after work. Also landing squarely in my favor was the fact that my boss schedules this week off every year and rents a cabin out on the Lower Kenai River. He invited me out to share his dock and I was really looking forward to it.

I took him up on the opportunity to get some fine coaching on the art of salmon fishing, and set out to at least catch one—but not-so-secretly hoped to haul in my three-fish-per-day limit.

Little did I realize my first day on the dock that the Alaska Department of FIsh and Game had counted about 250,000+ fish entering the Kenai River. Not only were my chances pretty darn good, they were almost guaranteed.

After a little coaching, my first fly hit the water. It started off slowly at first.

These fish aren’t anything like the pike or smallmouth bass I’m used to fishing in the Midwest. And unlike my sportfishing outings—which were more about “fishing” and not so much about catching fish—fishing for salmon here is about putting meals on the table for the rest of the year and, hopefully, beyond. Folks here take it very seriously.

Within 15-20 minutes, my first fish yanked the line and, with cheering, some direction from my fishing coach and a fantastic landing-net operator, that first Alaska sockeye landed on the dock. He was a monster by any standard—especially mine. The next two sockeye were lying on the dock within the next 30 minutes and, in less than an hour, I had limited out. I arranged three beautiful female sockeye on the stringer and then it was

Stringer Day2 300pxDay 2 stringer photo. Photo by Pete Menutestime for my next lesson—cleaning and appropriately disposing of the waste. This was bear country, after all, and, if not done properly, could turn out problematic, to say the least.

My second day on the river, it took even less time to meet my limit of three fish. I was done in fewer than 30 minutes. This day, all three fish were males—“hogs,” as my boss called them—and my smile was no less large.

Grudgingly, I had to head back to Anchorage early and leave the throngs of souls waging fishing combat along the Kenai, but I planned on coming back the same weekend.

My weekend trip wasn’t as fruitfull as my first few days. I only managed to snag a few improperly and had to throw them back to face the gauntlet of other fishermen’s hooks.

The sockeye run was very good.

Not only did I manage to hook a few fish (and have them filleted into portion sizes, all ready for the freezer), I was hooked—hooked on a staple of Alaskana, meeting the salmon run with open arms, sharp hooks and a waiting cooler.

Now I’m looking forward to the silvers that will start coming up into freshwater in August. With any luck, I’ll need to buy a larger freezer.

Pete N Lee StringerDay 1 limit with my coach, Lee Leschper.
Photo by Beth Leschper

 

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