Tag Archives: situk river sockeye

And we made it to August

Here we are…  the lull between sockeye and silvers.  Also known as humpy season…

We finished our commercial fishing season on the Akwe a week ago because the pinks were really taking over.  Sunday,  we were running about 50:50 pound-wise and since pinks are a little over half the size of sockeye,  the week wasn’t starting off very good.  By Monday and Tuesday,  the pinks slowed dramatically and we were back to being nearly all sockeye.  A few chum and two silvers were added to the mix,  but no kings.  Not quite a salmon grand slam.

So with the pinks coming in in big numbers (10’s of thousands going into the Italio),  we called it a season.  This past weekend,  we did go out again for a couple days to close things out,  pull the boat out of the water and put the nets away.  Gorgeous sunny weather,  so we went swimming and goofing off before we pulled the boat.  And it looks like we should have fished another week…  The humpies in the Akwe dried up and we were back to nearly all sockeye.  Oh well.  We had already put the gear away.

Back in town,  Fish and Game raised the bag limit on sockeye to 6.  Still seeing 1-2,000 sockeye passing through the weir every day and have exceeded 80,000 fish so far.  Fish and Game expects to pull the weir on August 12th and at this rate,  we may see 100,000 escapement by that time.

Pinks are coming in between 10,000 and 20,000 daily.  Yikes!  A cool change this year…  Fish and Game are listing all species on the weir counts page,  so we get to see they are already over 90,000 humpies past the weir.  They officially have 94 silvers and a whopping 30 chum.

The real news though is that we have 826 large kings through.  The past two days have seen 76 and 54 respectively!  It is hard to justify continuing the closure of the Rodeo Hole now that they are nearly double the minimum escapement goal,  so I’d expect them to lift the restriction closing the holes immediately below the weir in the next few days.

LOTS of silvers in the bay,  with the charter boats able to get their limits for going on a month now…  Still some kings out there too.  So…  we have ridiculous numbers of fish right now and very few people here to fish them.  It’ll be pretty dead for the next three weeks,  till the silver season begins in earnest and we get crowded again.

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What it Takes for a Perfect Photo

This was just sent to me and is worth sharing…  Dominica holding a deep red buck for a perfect photo:

Dominica Schaaf1

Beautiful sunny day,  big buck in spawning colors in the upper river.  But what did it really take to get this?

Dominica Schaaf2

We have all been there-done that…  Fish flopping all over kingdom come right when you snap the shutter.  They had a great trip with a variety of weather (including a rare sunny day) and loads of fresh fish.  Here are a couple more of the keepers:

Thanks Dominica for sharing these and sharing the fun moment with us.

The Start of Our Season

Tanis and I head out to the Akwe River tomorrow to open up the cabin and get ready for our commercial fishing season.  As we flew home from Juneau last week,  it was high tide – sun glare in my eyes – wind whipping whitecaps on the river,  so I could not see any fish in the Akwe,  or New Italio.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t fish,  but that I couldn’t see…

The Situk run is still going gangbusters though.  The commercial fishery opened last Sunday there and it definitely took the edge off the number of fish in the lower river.  Sunday was still great,  but by Monday and Tuesday,  the fish were few and far between.  The best fishing right now is in the middle river from the cabins down. Although 33,000 fish have been through the weir as of Monday,  they haven’t made it up to 9 Mile in any great numbers yet.  So that’s 33,000 sockeye between the bridge and the weir…  WOW!

I talked to the fish plant manager yesterday and he said the fish are huge.  As in 10lb sockeye…  He said loading fish boxes was like silver season.  That plays into my delusional fantasy that last year’s dismal run is also coming this year…  Sockeye can be a 4 year or a 5 year fish.  Possibly if conditions were bad last summer,  the 4 year olds could have decided to be 5 year olds…  That’s my hope anyway,  since last year’s Akwe run was horrible.

Last year,  Tanis and I set our nets and immediately caught a nice big king (that I dropped and didn’t land).  That was the only fish we saw for the week!  Not even a dolly for dinner!  I had never had a zero fish week before.  The next two weeks,  we managed to land about 1200lbs of sockeye total with both nets.  Fish and Game shut us down for the season after that.  The Akwe has been having issues in recent years anyway.  The glacier no longer comes into Akwe Lake (it used to hang over a huge cliff and drain into the lake cooling the water).  Now the Akwe is just foreland drainage.  On an overcast day,  the water is 73 degrees F.  The majority of the sockeye just hang out in the New Italio/Akwe confluence hole for weeks and eventually they give up on the deadly Akwe temperature water an go up the Italio at a cozy low-40’s temp.  Sockeye are extremely temperature sensitive,  so they need cooler water.

The past couple years,  we have had warm summers.  In the Situk/Ahrnklin Inlet,  the water along the edge warms more than the deeper center.  The nets are usually along the edge,  so we have seen decent weir counts only because all the fish bypassed the warmer edges of the inlet and swam past the nets.  Not so this past week,  where the commercial guys had a really good opening week.  They also did really well out in the bay.  Lots of fish out there in the ocean moving slowly up the coast.

I’ll have a proper first-hand report from out at the Akwe for the guy renting the Ryman cabin on Tuesday.  In the meantime,  spectacular fishing on the Situk with not a whole lot of people out fishing.

Needing an Update

Yes,  I have been a little busy…  Sorry for the lack of posts…  Especially since we are having a TREMENDOUS sockeye run right now.  Last year,  we had 73 fish total through the weir.  As of two days ago,  we have over 25,000.  And basically no one here.  Is the run really strong,  or just really early…  no way to tell till it happens.  But boy,  the run is really on fire.  The parent year reached 118,000 fish and as of this date had 16,000 fish through.  We’re blowing the lid off that year.

And if you remember,  I predicted we’d see a 10,000 steelhead count…  Um…  it seems to be leveling off at right around 6,000…  In my defense,  we had a good storm right as the bulk of the steelhead were done spawning that flooded the river and made the weir non-fish tight for 4 days.  I’m going to say 4,000 fish escaped when the counters weren’t looking just because I want to be right and I have no other basis to prop up my argument…  It sure felt like a stronger run than that!

In other news…  I have my plane back finally.  It had been sitting in Sitka for the past 10 months,  after receiving a $17,000 annual that I couldn’t pay for till recently.  But she is back and we’re ready to go spend some time at the Italio cabin.  Speaking of which…

This has been a challenging year so far and so we are making a few changes.  My health problems over the past two months have taught me I need a day off occasionally…  We opened the fly shop 10 years ago this season working long hours without many days off for 9 months straight.  This summer,  we are going to be closed Sunday and Monday.  We’ll be back to 7 days a week in mid-August when silver season starts,  but in the meantime,  I’ll closing the doors two days a week to get a break.  Granted,  that probably means I’ll be out commercial fishing the Akwe with the family,  but if it isn’t a physical break,  it is a mental break from the fly shop and things I have to do around here.

It is hard living in your place of business.  You have no escape.  The phone rings 24/7,  customers come and go at all hours of the day and night…  In the past,  we said to just pull up and honk if we were closed and we’d come running downstairs to help.  I just can’t do that anymore…  Sorry.

And maybe I’ll even get a chance to fly fish for some sockeye again!  Haven’t done that in three years,  since I first showed Chris how.

Fishin’s Good

Once again,  I’m apologizing for the lack of posts…  I really planned to get back on track a couple weeks ago,  then all heck broke loose around here.  Most of it not in a productive way…  But…

As of midnight last night,  Fish and Game doubled the bag limit because the run seems to be catching back up to itself.  To give you an idea about how quickly things change,  let’s compare to last year:

We were running a couple weeks late on this sockeye run,  but now we’re literally neck-to-neck with last year.  As of yesterday’s July 13th count,  we hit 47,156 so far.  Last year at the same date,  we had 50,057 under our belt.  Last year’s total count exceeded 100,000 fish,  so this is shaping up to be a decent run.  Too bad that doesn’t extend to the kings as well,  but we can’t have it all…

And with that said…  we have good fish throughout the system now.  Good fishing just about anywhere.  Hopefully I’ll be able to post some of Chris’ experiences out guiding through the past couple weeks before I head back out to the Akwe.  In the fly shop,  we get comments and complaints every week that the fishing is poor while the nets are in.  Um…  here is the weir graph showing when the nets are in and when they aren’t:

CommFishingSockeye2015

As you can see,  we do see a dip on Tuesday pretty consistently,  however Sunday and Mondays are completely unaffected and the counts at the weir are right back up on Wednesday even when the nets are still in the water.  A fisherman at 9 Mile Bridge last week complained that the fishing up there was poor due to the nets…  It takes several days for the average sockeye to get to the bridge,  so even if the commercial guys were having a dramatic impact,  that “damage” would spread and diffuse as the fish progressed at varying rates upstream.

I guess if you need a justification as to why you are struggling to catch fish,  any excuse will do.  With the light rain that we have had pretty consistently through the past week,  flows are a little higher than ideal,  but far from flooded.  Showing 233 CFS right now,  which is still easily fishable for sockeye.  I think I’d rather be up above the West Fork though to have a little less flow coming in.  Water is still nice and clear,  so you can easily sight-fish.  Over-all,  conditions are really quite good right now on the Situk.

On the Akwe…  well…  not so much.  On Sunday,  Tanis and I started off catching pinks at a 4:1 ration to sockeye.  It improved a lot on the night tide to about 1:2 with sockeye winning out,  but we ended our week with about a 50:50 split on numbers.  The Akwe and Italio have an odd-year run of pinks,  so this year would be expected to be heavy.  Just not this heavy!  We should have caught about a dozen total for the week,  not a couple thousand pounds.  We only get paid 25 cents per pound for pinks.  That is right about my cost to fly them to town myself,  so we do a lot of picking for absolutely zero gain (other than a sore back).  Also three chum and one king.

But I get to be out there with Tanis,  playing with ATV’s and jet-boats.  I’m a fisherman,  so my job description includes endless complaints.  I just have to admit I have little bases for genuine whining…

Sockeyes are VERY Late and/or Poor

“…you have decided to let us guys “whistle in the wind” about the conditions of fishing in Yakutat…”

I know,  I know…  I’m sorry!  It has been hard to get too motivated to post fishing reports though,  since fishing has really bee terrible over the past month.  I’m saying the sockeye run is about 2 weeks late,  although I have no real evidence of that…  Just the lack of fish…  I did hear today from Greg who runs the Yakutat Seafoods fish plant.  He said Bristol Bay and other regions seem to be about 7-10 days behind schedule for their sockeye runs and that just now they hit some milestone to indicate the run is finally starting to arrive.  It has NOT on the Situk yet.

We went nearly another month without a drop of rain again,  so the flows dropped to only 113 CFS this week.  We did finally have a break from all this gorgeous weather,  with rain falling night before last and yesterday.  Flows came up to around 150,  which is definitely better,  but still low.  I was hoping the rain would give us a shot of fish with it,  but that hasn’t seemed to happen yet.

Only about 5,000 fish have passed the weir so far,  making for pretty thin fishing above.  5,000 spread between the weir and the lake is not very many fish.  The past few weeks,  all fishing pressure has been down below the weir,  so even without a lot of people,  it seemed VERY crowded down there.  We should have between 15,000 and 30,000 fish counted by now…  A handful of kings,  but nothing to indicate we’ll see an opening this season on the Situk.

We should have rain off and on throughout the week,  which will help to keep the flows a little higher.  I heard rumor that a showing of fish arrived at Cape Mandy a few days ago,  so maybe the run is starting to appear.  Just not in the rivers yet.

And as always…  I also heard the rumor that there are thousands of fish in the mouth of the Akwe!  Tanis and I start commercial fishing tomorrow out there.  When there are no fish on the Situk,  the rumor that there are THOUSANDS on the Akwe always appears,  even if the fish don’t…  With the water so low and clear,  I bet they could see every single fish from the air,  but my hunch is the Akwe is just as late as the Situk and my expectations are low.  There have been a few day fly-outs to the Akwe and they did NOT report much.  A couple kings landed,  but not much in the way of sockeye.  I love rumors…  On Tuesday,  I’ll be able to confirm if there is anything worth fishing for out there.

OK,  I need to get packing and ready to fly out.  Chris will be in the shop through this opener.

Having a Good Memorial Day

Most people like to have sunny warm Memorial Days for the BBQs and parades.  We are having a wonderful respite from the sun,  with overcast and a chance of rain.  It has been two weeks since the last real rain drop fell in Yakutat,  so ANY overcast is a blessing and some rain will be a delight!  Flows right now are hovering at a parched 129 CFS,  making it a VERY slow float.

The flow chart since our last rain on May 11th - the triangles represent what we should be flowing at this time of year...

The flow chart since our last rain on May 11th – the triangles represent what we should be flowing at this time of year…

Are there still steelhead?  Yep.  Quite a few actually,  although more than 4,000 have exited through the weir now.  4,253 to be exact.  They have also officially counted 2 sockeye through the weir,  however a sockeye was caught a week ago by Aaron way upstream.  The weir folks admitted that it can be hard to differentiate between a smallish chrome-bright fresh steelhead and a sockeye when they are zipping by the camera.  A few more of that 70 incoming steelhead may have been sockeye as well.  But…

Red is 2015,  black is 2014 - earlier and departing at a much faster rate than any other recent year...

Red is 2015, black is 2014 – earlier and departing at a much faster rate than any other recent year…

There have been reports that there are sockeye starting to appear in better numbers in the lower river.  I haven’t heard if anyone is subsistence netting down in the estuary yet,  but people have been seeing sockeye jumpers out in the bay over the past week or two.  I think the sockeye are going to be early too,  so be prepared for that and possibly hitting the magic escapement goal for the increased bag limit earlier than normal.

With that said,  Gordy,  our commercial fishing ADFG biologist said we are expecting a good run of sockeye this year,  as all the regions are expecting good runs.  Good fishing,  but for those of us still dependent on gill-netting for feeding our families through our long Alaskan winter,  we’ll be getting a terrible price too.

I have a couple more photos from Sam that I didn't get posted last month

I have a couple more photos from Sam that I didn’t get posted last month

It is 11pm and I can still see by the light outside.  The days are getting longer and soon we won’t really have a night anymore.  At least for a few weeks…  I have had several more steelheaders send me photos to post and one video,  so I’ll get those posted in the next couple days.  This is our deathly slow time at the shop,  so I’ll try to get back in and get a little construction done on the hangar.  Maybe even get the water supply in properly,  so when you need to use the bathroom,  you can!  Cash flow is dead though,  so if you have any gear needs,  feel free to give me a call and we can get anything Simms and Sage drop-shipped directly to you with no shipping or tax charges…  As always…

There's Sam!

There’s Sam!

Yes,  we’ll be open tomorrow for most of the way,  but I plan to take the family out to the cemetery in the morning.  This is Memorial Day and I will make sure my kids understand its meaning.  Veterans Day is for all the men and women who serve our country and protect our freedoms.  Memorial Day is for those special ones who never get to return to their families and loved ones.  1.3 million Americans have paid that Last Full Measure of Devotion.  Never forget them.

Enjoy the BBQ,  but take a moment to think about why you have the right to have it.  Cherish your freedom and know it comes with tremendous sacrifice.

The 5 Sullivan brothers perished when the USS Juneau went down in the Solomons,  1942

The 5 Sullivan brothers perished when the USS Juneau went down in the Solomons, 1942

WWII propaganda from our collection intended for our southern friends...

WWII propaganda from our collection intended for our southern friends…

May they rest in peace and may we find it in their absence.