ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has doubled the bag and possession limits for anglers seeking red salmon on a popular section of the Kenai River.
Beginning Wednesday, anglers can keep six red salmon per day and have 12 in possession in the Russian/Kenai River fly fishing-only area.
The area covered extends from Jim's Landing upstream to Fish and Game markers about 300 yards upstream of the public boat launch at Sportsman's Landing, and from the mouth of the Russian River to about 600 yards downstream form the Russian River Falls.
More than 19,000 reds have passed the fish-counting weir below Lower Russian Lake.
State biologists expect to exceed the 37,000-fish maximum escapement goal.
Anglers are rushing to the area, but biologists wonder how long the bounty will last.
"I've seen runs come in early and full-bore and scale off quickly," Jason Pawluk, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told the Anchorage Daily News. "For all we know, it could drop off the table tomorrow. But all indications are, we're going over our escapement goal."
The largest escapement for Russian River red salmon was 85,900 in 2000. Nearly that many made it upstream in 2006.
"There's been a lot over over-escapement during the last 10 years," Pawluk allowed.
Biologists analyzed conditions in the lower Kenai River and other spots before doubling the bag limit.
"Might it slow down?" Pawluk asked. "Yes it could. But we've got time on our side. There's still a month of the early run left."
Biologists could lower the bag limit if the run slows before its July 15 end.
The increase in the bag limit may also enhance problems wildlife officials have had in getting anglers to either gut their fish in the Kenai River or pack them out whole.
The voluntary effort was instituted to limit bear attractants.
But with the increased limit, some anglers could be carrying 50 pounds of fish if they pack them out whole.
"We're still pushing the message and asking people to take them out whole - or use the tables at the confluence," Pawluk said.
Fish and Game was considering installing more fish cleaning tables at Jim's Landing on the Kenai River.