Recreational Salmon Fishery on the Kenai River



The Kenai River supports the largest recreational fishery in Alaska. The river supports runs of king, silver, sockeye, and pink salmon, along with Dolly Varden char, and rainbow trout.

King Salmon: The Kenai River supports the largest freshwater king salmon fishery in Alaska. There are two distinct runs, early run usually begins to enter the river in mid-May, the peak is in mid-June and is complete by the end of June. The late run of Kings enter the river in early July and the best time to fish this run is from the middle to the end of the month of July.

Basic regulations which can change on emergency management action. Early Run King Salmon-1 daily fish over 16 inches. Late Run King Salmon-1 daily fish over 16 inches. Seasonal limit early and late run combined: 2 king salmon over 16 inches. King season closes July 31.

The name is quite appropriate as the world record king was taken in 1985 from the Kenai River and weighted in at 97 lb. 4 oz. Most Kenai Peninsula king salmon spend one year in fresh water, then migrate to sea. They can spend from one year to seven before returning to the river. A king that returns in one year only weighs a few pounds, a two year fish weighs from 10-20 pounds. The majority return after three to four years at sea, weighting 25 to 60 pounds. The five year ocean king is relatively common in the Kenai and are on average 60 to 90 lb.

The most popular method for fishing the kings is drifting. Anglers drift with the current, allowing the lure to bounce along the bottom at the speed of the current. The most common rigging for this type of fishing is a large spin-n-glow with eggs. Just enough weight is used about 18 inches ahead of the lure to keep it on the bottom.

The new technique used by some of the guides is "back bouncing." The boat is constantly under power and slowly backed down the river. The most popular lure is again a spin-n-glow rigged with two single hooks and fresh or preserved salmon eggs. The weight used is about 18 inches forward of the lure, but is relatively heavy. As the boat operator backs the boat through a hole or drift, the angler bounces the lure along the bottom of the river.

Coho Salmon (silver) also have two runs which enter the Kenai River. The early run arrives in late July, although most anglers do not fish this species until the king salmon fishery closes on July 31. This run peaks in early to mid August and is completed by early September. The late run enters the river from early September through October.

The fishing techniques used for Coho differs from that used for king salmon in that it is stationary. Most angles will motor to a favorite hole and either anchor or tie off to the bank. From the boat they will fish fresh or cured salmon roe on the bottom or toss and retrieve a lure such as a Mepps, Pixie, or Vibrax. One can also fish silvers from the banks of popular rivers in the area.

Sockeye Salmon (reds) An early red run begins entering the Kenai River in late May or early June and are bound for the Russian River drainage. The best areas to harvest the early red run is at the confluence of the Moose and Kenai rivers in early June and at the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers from mid June through early July. Both of the above mentioned areas are "fly fishing only areas.

The late run begins entering the Kenai River in early July, peaks in late July, an is complete by early August. These fish are bound for numerous tributaries, the entry pattern is gradual until the third week in July when the majority of the salmon arrive. The late run may be harvested at the Russian River from about July 20 through the close of the season on August 20. The most productive fishing areas are immediately downstream from shallow riffles. Fish tend to hold in these areas prior to migrating. Most sockeye salmon fishing takes place from the bank as this species migrates in close to the shore.

Pink Salmon- Pink salmon are available in harvestable numbers only on even years. (1996, 98, 2000) these fish are favored by the youngsters because of their abundance and their aggressiveness towards nearly any spinning lure. This species also offers an excellent challenge to the angler equipped with light tackle. Most pink salmon are taken from the shore.

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