There is a trend of early and strong runs this year in Lower Cook Inlet.
“It’s shaping up to be a very good season here," says Glenn Hollowell, area management biologist for Fish and Game. "We’ve got a lot of areas open. We’ve met our goals early in the season in a lot of places. We have the fleet very spread out. These guys are working to catch fish.”
During a July 23rd flyover of Kamishak Bay, Hollowell says he saw a strong return of fish to the Bruin Bay system.
“We observed about 40,000 fish in the river, which is significantly more than we generally see there,” says Hollowell.
As of July 24th, the run should have about four percent of the total fish in fresh water that it’s going to have.
“That projects out to be a return to that system of over half a million fish, which we’ve done in the past a few times since about 1980," says Hollowell. "But, it is a really nice unusual run there. We also flew a number of the systems south of there and saw really nice numbers of sockeye salmon coming back, in addition to chum in some of the more southern systems like the Kamishak River and Douglas River.”
2013 was a banner year for sockeye in the Southern District with a total harvest of 35,376 fish. The 10-year average for reds is about 27,043. There have been about 26,000 harvested so far this year. That means it’s pretty much in keeping with the 10-year trend. Hollowell says sockeye runs are good throughout the entire Lower Cook Inlet Management System.
“It seems that some systems are doing really, really well. Delight Lake over in McCarty Fjord has had over 20,000 fish go into it this year," says Hollowell. "For the last few years, we’ve put anywhere from a third to maybe half that number into it.”
There have also been strong returns to the hatchery at Tutka Bay.
Other systems, like the English Bay River, have had only modest to good returns, without the abundance seen in other areas.
“We’ve had just enough fish coming back to English Bay to meet our sustainable escapement goal, but not enough to really sustain a commercial fishery," says Hollowell. "We’ve been having a subsistence fishery going on there consistently, all season long, but the return that’s made it to the lakes has just barely been enough to meet our escapement goals which are enough fish to reproduce and make enough fry for future generations of adults to come back.”
2013 was also a blockbuster year for pink salmon. Fishermen picked up about two million pinks in the Outer District alone.
“Last year the hotspot for pink salmon was Port Dick," says Hollowell. "We actually set a record for the number of pink salmon caught in the outer district last year since we started keeping records 40 or 50 years ago.”
It's still a little early to call this year’s pink returns. But, he says, they’ve been a bit above average so far in the Kachemak Bay area near Port Graham and Seldovia.
“Chum salmon however, are significantly above the 10-year average," says Hollowell. "We’ve caught about twice the number of chums this year as we did last year at this time and last year was a pretty good chum return. The number that we’ve caught this year is about double the 10-year average.”
The Outer District is also doing well for chums. Windy Bay met its escapement goals significantly earlier than usual this year and Rocky Bay is nearing its goals.
It’s still too early for coho salmon, but those fish should start arriving at the end of July or early August.