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Dipnetting, sport fishing red hot for Kenai reds


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John McGrath, of Chugiak, hoists a sockeye into a boat during the dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River.

MATT TUNSETH

There’s still plenty of time to head into winter with a freezer full of fish.

Last week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game opened Kenai River dipnet fishing 24 hours a day and raised the sport fishing limit to six per day. Huge numbers of sockeye have been pouring into the river, and because of limitations on commercial fishermen, the fish need to be caught to avoid over escapements. As of July 21, just under 700,000 sockeye had already been counted past the department’s in-river sonar. The department manages the river for an optimal escapement goal of between 700,000 and 1.4 million sockeye.

That means both dipping and sport fishing should remain strong through the end of the personal use dipnet fishery on Aug. 1.

On July 21, the department raised the daily bag limit on sockeye. According to a press release accompanying the emergency order, ADFG said the total return to the river is expected to be in excess of 2.3 million fish.

Restrictions have been placed on king salmon fishing in the river to protect a poor run of those fish. Sport king fishing has been shut down for most of July (as has the commercial set net fleet) due to poor king returns.

But the dipnet and sport sockeye fisheries are going full bore. However, it’s not a free-for-all.

The dipnet fishery is open to Alaska residents only. A current fishing license is also required. Under state law, each “head of household” is entitled to 25 sockeye, plus 10 each for every additional member of his or her family.

Shore-based dipnetting at the Kenai beach can be accessed on Spruce Drive in downtown Kenai or off of Cannery Road on the south side of the river. Expect to pay a $20 fee to park your vehicle. The drive from Eagle River to Kenai typically takes about three hours, although if you plan to go on the weekend expect heavy traffic.

The dipnet fishery can also be accessed by boat by launching at the Kenai City pier. However, the launch is closed within two hours of low tide because of low water, so plan accordingly.

Sport sockeye fishing is also reportedly strong at the Russian River near Cooper Landing.

Always check fishing regulations before you head out. The Department of Fish and Game has regulations and information about the fishery available on its website at www.adfg.alaska.gov.

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