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Sockeye bag limit increased for late Russian River run

Russian River Anglers 2
Riley Board
Anglers fish the Russian River during the first salmon run in late June.

With high numbers of sockeye salmon returning to the Russian River, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is increasing the bag limit there from three fish to six for the remainder of the late run.

The limits increased at 12:01 a.m. this morning and extend through the end of the sockeye fishing season on Aug. 20.

Colton Lipka, area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the run has already met the lower end of the department’s sustainable escapement goal of 44,000 to 85,000 fish, so it’s time to let anglers catch more fish. As of Monday, the department counted 47,644 sockeye at the weir on Lower Russian Lake.

“General reports are that fishing is at least fair right now. The fish are running a bit pulsy, so expect to spend a little bit of time up there," he said.

Lipka said this late run isn’t as exceptional as the early run, which far exceeded escapement expectations. He said fishermen should budget some extra time to catch their limits.

In addition to a six-a-day bag limit, anglers can be in possession of 12 fish. Lipka said only one of those can be a coho.

The increased limits apply to the Russian River, Russian River confluence and the Kenai River main stem downstream of Sportsman’s Landing until Kenai Lake. If a Russian River angler has more than six sockeye salmon in their possession, they are not allowed to fish in other waters that have a bag limit of three or a possession limit of six fish.

This summer, those hoping to fish the Russian do need to look out for the Russian River Campground closure, planned to start August 15. The U.S. Forest Service is conducting a road resurfacing and hillside reinforcement project that will limit access on the campground road from mid-August all the way until the beginning of next June.

Lipka said for the last four days of the sockeye season this month, the only access to the river will be via the Russian River Ferry or the boat launch at Sportsman's Landing. Lipka said ferry operators are planning to operate through Labor Day, offering plenty of chances for anglers to get out before the Aug. 20 season close.

Once the sockeye fishing season is over, those same access changes will apply to those fishing for coho or rainbow trout.

“This is some much needed maintenance. so we appreciate everyone’s patience," Lipka said.

A Fish and Game advisory reminds anglers to remove fish carcasses from the Russian River clear water, and to only dump small, chopped-up pieces into deep, flowing waters. Lipka said the reminder is part of an ongoing effort by the Forest Service to keep the Russian River clean and avoid attracting bears to popular fishing areas — which he said hasn’t always been the case.

“Every downed tree that was in the water would just look like a Christmas tree of downed fish carcasses," Lipka said. "And there were some eddies that you could step into and it would just be knee or thigh deep with rotting fish.” 

Fish and Game also asks folks to stay on trails and approved walkways to protect fish habitats.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL. A recent graduate of Middlebury College, where she studied linguistics, English literature and German, Board was editor-in-chief of The Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper, and completed work as a Kellogg Fellow, doing independent linguistics research. She has interned at the Burlington Free Press, covering the early days of the pandemic’s effects on Vermont communities, and at Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife, where she wrote about culture and folklife in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Board hails from Sarasota, Florida.
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