King fishing no longer allowed on Kenai River this month

People in aders in a large river fishing with poles
Fishermen on the Kenai River in July, 2021. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

King fishing is no longer allowed in the Kenai River this month.

That’s following an announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that it will be closing the early-run fishery to anglers effective Wednesday, amid very low king salmon counts.

The fishery opened last Wednesday under catch and release restrictions.

But Fish and Game Sportfish Area Manager Colton Lipka said the run’s been underperforming.

“When numbers didn’t improve through the weekend, we deemed it necessary to close the sport fishery,” he said.

That’s a step the department takes when the run does not look like it will make its escapement goal. That’s the goalposts it sets for the run.

As of Monday, only 265 large king salmon had passed through the sonar. Last year, over 900 kings had passed through the sonar by this time. It’s historically the time that about a third of the run has passed through.

“These are some pretty low counts for this date,” Lipka said. “If we were going to be looking at something that was going to make the goal we’d need a pretty significant bump in fish to come in.”

He said that’s not out of the question. Water conditions have been slightly abnormal so far this season, for example.

“But as for now what we’re looking at, the closure is necessary to get every king that we can upstream to spawn,” Lipka said.

He said this run so far is reminiscent of the 2020 king salmon run, which was late and small. The department closed the fishery that year on June 10.

Fish and Game is also restricting the Kasilof River king salmon fishery to no bait. Only hatchery-produced king salmon can be caught in that fishery.

“What we do when we have to restrict the Kenai or close the Kenai, we anticipate that there will be anglers that will then redirect their efforts toward the Kasilof,” Lipka said. “So anticipating that increase in effort, we will then need to restrict some of the actions on the Kasilof so we don’t put too much effort, or harvest, that direction.

He said that restriction is also necessary because one lagging king run is indicative that there might be others elsewhere. That’s certainly true for runs across Cook Inlet, Lipka said, where the department is seeing most king runs lagging behind.

The late Kenai king run, which starts July 1 and is the more popular of the king sport fisheries, is currently set to open under catch-and-release downstream of the Slikok Creek marker. Upstream of that marker, the fishery will remain closed along with the early run fishery.

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