Anglers on the Kenai Peninsula are a little limited on options right now, particularly for salmon.
With king salmon failing to show up in lower Kenai Peninsula streams, Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers on June 2 closed the Anchor and Ninilchik rivers and Deep Creek to king salmon fishing. That included the youth-only fishery on the Ninilchik River that was scheduled for Wednesday. The closures are scheduled to last through July 15.
The emergency closures include king salmon fishing restrictions in the marine waters, too, also through July 15. No king salmon fishing, including catch and release, is allowed within a mile of shore from Bluff Point to the Ninilchik River, in addition to closures around the mouths of the streams.
That leaves the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, which are still relatively light on king salmon so far.
“There’s definitely some kings in the Kenai,” said Reubin Payne, a fishing guide and co-owner of Widespread Fishing. “And the sockeyes are coming through. It’s not red hot, but it’s definitely worth going.”
Fish and Game’s sonar on the Kenai River counted 1,041 kings as of June 5, less than half of the 2,619 it had counted on the same date in 2017. The counter only includes fish larger than 34 inches from mid-eye to tail fork, excluding the smaller kings. Until July 1, anglers can’t keep any Kenai River kings 36 inches or longer.
About 25 percent of the early king salmon run is estimated to have passed the sonar by June 4, according to the inseason run summary from Fish and Game. The 2018 run appears to be late and tracking behind last year so far. Fish aren’t moving quickly upstream so far, according to the inseason run summary.
No management actions are expected for this week, but Fish and Game is monitoring harvest and escapement closely in case the run size deteriorates.
There have been a lot of kings too large for anglers to keep so far on the Kenai, said Jimmy Jack Drath, owner of Jimmy Jack’s Fishing Lodge on Kalifornsky Beach Road. The lodge’s clients have gone out on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers and had some luck with kings so far, he said.
“The Kasilof has been fairly good, hasn’t been anything really big yet,” he said. “Now the water’s been rising for the last few days, so we’ll see. The only place to fish for kings is way out the edge of the Gulf (of Alaska) or in the Kenai and Kasilof.”
Anglers who go all the way out toward the Gulf of Alaska south of Homer have been having some luck with king salmon near Point Pogibshi, according to the weekly Lower Cook Inlet sportfishing report from Fish and Game. Some kings are also returning to the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on the Homer Spit, with kings slated to come back throughout June there.
Drath said his clients have been landing some decent-size halibut out of Ninilchik, Homer and Seward so far. They’re running halibut-only trips out of Ninilchik instead of the regular halibut-king combo trips because of the closures near shore, he said.
“It’s basically depending on the weather,” he said. “If my captains can get out where they’re going to fish, they usually don’t go for the small ones.”
Payne said he hadn’t seen much additional angling traffic on the Kenai River yet due to the closures on the Anchor and Ninilchik rivers and Deep Creek.
“Not a lot of people fishing on the Kenai, but more people fishing on the Kasilof,” he said.
Sockeye salmon are beginning to show up in both rivers as well. Payne said he’d seen some sockeye on the Kenai, though Drath said he hadn’t heard of any. However, Drath said he’d heard of sockeye in the Kasilof River over the past few weeks. Fish and Game doesn’t start counting sockeye in the Kasilof River until June 15, and doesn’t start on the Kenai until July 1.
The first big sockeye salmon sportfishery of the season is on the Kenai River just downstream of its confluence with the Russian River, one of the most popular sportfisheries in the state. Fish and Game counts sockeye returning to the Russian River using a weir on Lower Russian Lake and didn’t have any data as of Wednesday. The area is set to open to fishing Monday.
Warming water temperatures across the peninsula have likely improved lake fishing for trout, too, according to the Northern Kenai Peninsula area sportfishing report from Fish and Game. Many of the roadside lakes on the Kenai Peninsula are stocked annually with hatchery fish such as rainbow trout, grayling and Arctic char. Elephant Lake in Kenai and Island Lake in Nikiski were recently stocked with catchable Arctic char, and Johnson Lake in Kasilof was stocked in early May with catchable rainbow trout.