Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Incredible Journey

Salmon fishing in Alaska is an education in one of nature's most amazing events. Each species of salmon utilizes the various rivers and streams in completely different ways. The 5 different types of salmon one meets in Alaska are the Chinook (King), Coho (Silver), Pink (Humpback), Sockeye (Red) and Chum (Dog). The Kenai river has all five however the Chum are quite rare. Each species utilizes different calendar times and sections of the river that are quite unique. When the salmon enter the river to spawn, it is referred to a run. Reds, Kings, and Silvers have 2 distinct runs with the early run fish utilizing the upper stretches of the rivers and tributaries and the later runs utilize the lower part of the rivers. Kings come in with the first run in early June. By the end of June the run is done however the second an larger run is right behind starting about the end of the first week in July. Red's first run occurs right around the middle of June with their second run starting the 3rd week of July. Silvers start showing up around the first week in August peaking around the 15th with the second run starting the first of September. The Pinks only make one huge run and this occurs only on the even years, like this year 2008. And what a run it is! It is estimated that 3 - 4 million salmon enter the Kenai every year in a 6 week period from mid July to the end of August. The run timing is important for planning your trip as the first time we went we arrived the last week in June and about the only thing going in our area was the Red's on the Russian River and this sure wasn't the Alaskan experience. You can go to the Alaskan Fish and Game site and get quite a bit of information including run timing charts like this:
There is basically 2 types of salmon fishing, open ocean fishing and freshwater fishing. The picture to the left are of the 12 salmon were caught in the ocean. They include silvers (bigger fish) and pinks (smaller ones) which were caught in a bay which a glacier feed river emptied into. Notice the fish are very bright and silver colored. This is referred to as chromed. All salmon basically look the same in the ocean, and except for size may be difficult to identify. When salmon enter fresh water however, they begin to change almost immediately. The below picture is a Pink that Greg caught and it is one of the best examples of this change. This fish enter the river looking like the fish on the far right of the 12 and within a number of days they completely change to this prehistoric looking thing.
The picture on the right are Red's in Quartz Creek, which one crosses on the way to Soldotna. Again the fish enter the river chrome and quickly change to a deep crimson color with an olive colored head. Usually once the fish have turned to their full spawning colors, the meat is no longer desirable as table fare. When these fish have finished spawning they die and become part of the ecosystem of the river nurishing the next hatching of all the salmon.
Salmon enter the rivers on the high tide so understanding this relationship is important. On our flyover trip with the bears at Polly Creek, low tide occurred about 11:00 in the morning. The next high tide that day was scheduled at 5:20 and be 25 feet higher than at low tide. At low tide the river ran crystal clear, which made it easy to see the resident Dolly Vardon trout that come into the rivers to feed on salmon eggs and spawn themselves. There were few salmon in this section of the river although we did catch a few pinks and had a nice Chum on the line. At our location the tide would eventually raise the river about 4 feet higher than it was at 11:00. As the tide came in the river current slowed considerably. The water was still clear as the fresh water was essentially dammed up by the incoming salt water. While I was standing on the bank watching the water come up a school of about 15 silvers swam by as if on cue. A quick cast of my spinner and the race was on to see which salmon was going to get at it first. I landed that fish only to have my cousins hollar "bear!" We had seen the bears earlier and decided to move downstream to group together. With fish in hand I was wading toward the guys when one shouts "Dave, it's coming towards you" I was at the edge of the river and could not see very far beyond the bank. Being somewhat nervous and with a fish in my grip I figured it was probably not a good idea to play waiter to a brown bear located somewhere above me. Bear's have a great sense of smell and I decided to let the fish go rather than draw attention to myself. It probably was a dumb move but I guess you would have had to been there! We went on to end the day with 6 beautiful chrome silvers along with having caught and released about 50 Dolly's. The magic time for the salmon occurred for about 1 hour before the high tide muddied the water considerably. The plane was somewhat late however the pilot was concerned about having enough beach to land on as the high tide was reversing. We loaded up having experienced the effect of the high tides first hand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great trip! When are you taking me fishing? ;-)

Also glad to see you at the Kramer Invitational.

Steve h