There is no worse feeling of anxiety as that of a fisherman to be stuck at work while your social media is being blanketed by pictures of salmon being and happy people hitting their limits. This is pretty much how the first big push of fishermen happens. There are a few options close to Anchorage for this first run of sockeye salmon and a few options to catch these fish.
The first big push of sockeye happens in the saltwater flats and beaches of Seward, Alaska. The Seward fishery, like most other Alaskan fisheries, is a tidal fishery. Although you can catch fish on pretty much any part of the tide, the best fishing occurs during the outgoing tide. The salmon run partially up the mouth of 4th Of July Creek (which is located down Nash Road) during high tide and when the tide starts pushing back out they stack up in the creek to either push upstream or to head back out into the bay. It is pretty much shooting fish in a barrel. Seward is also one of the only places where snagging is legal on the Kenai Peninsula. The typical setup is a rod and reel with some heavy line, such as a braided line with a barrel swivel tied onto the end of it, and a snagging hook. A snagging hook is generally a treble hook with some lead molded in the middle of the hook. During low tide there are schools of fish that swim around close to the shore of the beach. You can go down to the beach and cast out as far as you can cast and start the reeling and jerking motion to catch fish during this time. There usually is a lot of people fishing during this time so that is a lot of weighted hooks flying through the air. You have to be careful and respectful of the people around you and your surroundings. It’s very easy to get a hook buried into your skin or hit with lead flying through the air. The limit in Seward for sockeye is six fish per person with a double bag limit allowed. This means you can stay for multiple days and have up to 12 fish in your cooler. One other option in Seward is behind the RV park next to the Boat Harbor right in downtown Seward. It’s the same type of fishing with a chance to catch a King Salmon this way as well. First run sockeye in Seward is definitely a great way to get a good start on filling the freezer.
On June 11, the world famous Russian River located in Cooper Landing, Alaska opens up for first run sockeye as well. Typically the first run sockeye that travel up the Kenai River are destined for the Russian. There are designated areas that you are allowed to fish. The confluence where the Russian dumps into the Kenai is closed for the first few days of the opener to allow some of the fish to travel upstream to meet the escapement goals for future years. Sockeye from the Kenai and the Russian are only allowed to be kept if they are fair-hooked in the mouth. All snagged fish MUST be released or you face a fine from the game warden. The setup for fishing for sockeye in this area is usually about a 3-to-4-foot leader with a barrel swivel on the top with some weight attached and at the other end either a Russian River fly or some yarn and a hook. The technique is you figure out the right amount of weight to use so you are just barely ticking off the bottom. You cast upstream at about 2 o’ clock and let your hook sink and drift downstream. The fish are facing upstream with their mouths opening to breathe, and the line between your weight and your hook runs through their mouth and when you feel your line stop you set the hook. This pulls the line through their mouths and then the hook sets into the side of their mouth otherwise known as “‘flossing.’ Sockeye is the only salmon you should do this with on the Kenai and Russian because studies show that about 1 in 10,000 sockeye actually will bite and with such large runs of fish and subsistence fishing important to most families in Alaska it’s important that escapement numbers are met. With such a large run of salmon on such a small stream, humans are not the only thing fishing for these fish. The Russian River has a large population of brown and black bears. People need to be very aware of their surroundings. I carry bear mace attached to my wading belt that has easy access in case I come across an angry bear. It’s also important to make noise and be somewhat loud when walking through forest areas to let the bears know you are there. Stay very clear away from any cubs you see. Momma bear will do anything to protect her offspring. A lot of bear attacks happen this way. Also DO NOT leave anything unattended, including your fish. Bears learn that fish on a stringer will provide an easy meal. Kenai Cache right down the road from the Russian River Campground supplies all the tackle you will need to fish.
Cheers to a good first run of sockeye!