How Abundant are Sockeye Salmon in Alaska?

How Abundant are Sockeye Salmon in Alaska?

February 19, 2023 by

How Common are Red or Sockeye Salmon?

Sockeye Salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka, or what we here in Alaska call Red's, are a pacific salmon that returns every year to river systems up and down the west coast. Sometimes traveling nearly a thousand miles upriver to places like Red Fish Lake in Idaho, regions such as Bristol Bay, or one of the many famed rivers across the region such as the Kenai just to name a few. Uniquely Sockeye salmon only return to rivers fueled by a lake.

The Unique Characteristics and Life Cycle of Sockeye Salmon

The primary spawning and rearing grounds for these fish, typically averaging in size around 6lbs and upwards of 10-12, returning back in just a few short years. While in the ocean they are bright silver with blueish color backs, and as they enter the fresh water and get ready to spawn they turn a brilliant red color with a green head, colors more predominate in males. What makes them stand out the most among other salmon is the bright red meat that not only looks fantastic on ice at your local grocer but equally fantastic on the dinner table.

Red's are the third most abundant salmon species, and in many rivers such as the Kenai they return in the millions. Many rivers are closely monitored to provide what we call in Alaska as the MSY (maximum sustainable yield) which is achieved by an SEG (sustainable escapement. In the case of the Kenai that SEG is between roughly 1 million and 3 million fish depending upon the previous year’s escapements, which long story short provide the MSY. Fish politics aside 1 million or more fish entering a system in more or less 1 months time is a target rich environment. Red's however, are not as aggressive as other species of salmon, so methods vary greatly when targeting them.

An Angler’s Paradise for Targeting Reds

As the fish enter the lower stretches of the system they have one mission in mind, that is to get to the spawning grounds and stake their territory. Fish move at various speeds but it is often thought on the Kenai that they will avg around 7 miles a day. That can put them up around Skilak lake (River Mile 50) in just about 8 days and around the Russian river (River Mile 80) in roughly 12 days from the mouth in Cook Inlet. To move that amount of distance they are always moving, they travel the path of least resistance generally just a few feet from shore. This in turn makes them an easy target for the many anglers that line the shore lines of the swift flowing Kenai River.

With many local and state managed access points it is an anglers paradise for targeting reds. It is made famous by post cards sent back home of 100's of anglers lined up and down the shore line standing shoulder to shoulder. While that is not as pristine as one may think when they have an image of "A river runs through it" in their head, it is equally fascinating and fun. The challenge and friendly banter amongst anglers from all over the world makes it fun to either jump in or sit back and soak it all in. Many great friendships have been created on the shores from year to year.

The Thrill of the Catch: How to Easily Catch Sockeye Salmon

Sounds pretty easy to pick up and do it yourself, doesn't it? Well you’re right. In fact, minimal gear is needed, skill level basic, and with hundreds of anglers roaming the streets finding a good spot is as easy as asking or just looking around. There are no real secrets when it comes to it. Find an area, sit back and watch for a few minutes and mimic the person who is catching or hooking into a fish the most. Then walk down to the river and do exactly what they are doing.

Here are the simple gear and tactics needed for landing your massive fish:

  • Fly rod with 20lb mono, or a 9' MH casting rod (Lamiglass X11 LX908-4 or Lamiglass LX90MCGH) are the first key components
  • Leader length of about 6' with a 1-2oz trolling sinker, and a 3/0 octopus style hook is all a person needs (check current regulations for gear restrictions)
  • Chest waders are nice but not necessary, hip boots work well for water below knee-level
  • When you hook into one of these acrobatic fish, hold on and keep the rod tip low to the water to avoid getting hit, fight the fish at a 45-degree angle and drag it toward shore

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