Spring brings migratory birds, beluga whales, harbor seals and people to the banks of the Kenai seeking the same thing: hooligan.
Hooligan, also called eulachon, are a small type of smelt that return to the rivers across Upper Cook Inlet in April, May and early June. The little silver fish are high in oil content — so high that, when dried, the fish can be burned like candles, earning them the nickname “candlefish.” Asking a group of fishermen what they do with them results in a wide array of answers — frying, pickling, freezing, smoking and filleting among them.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game does not monitor the Kenai River hooligan returns and allows personal-use fishing with dipnets throughout the river and with handheld gillnets up to 20 feet long and 4 feet deep with 1.5-inch mesh in the lower part of the river beteen the mouth and Cunningham Park from April 1–June 15. There’s no bag or possession limit and no permit is required but anyone older than 18 has to have a current Alaska sport fishing license. During the midday low tide on Monday, the hooligan were hitting nets fairly quickly, with fishermen easily loading up buckets to take home.
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