Just before 11 p.m. Tuesday as the last of the suns rays bounced off of the Kasilof River, an hours-long lull in fishing broke when Matt Buta and Mike Matheny hooked into king salmon at the same time.
As they danced around each other when one ran upstream and the other ran down, the handful of other anglers on the river bank near Crooked Creek reeled in and stepped back to watch the action.
Most of the conversation at first revolved around how surprised Matheny was when he realized he had a 20-pound king at the end of his line. The Soldotna man said he had been fishing for about two hours took a break to untangle a knot in his line when a splashing in the water caught his attention.
“It hooked itself,” he said, visibly startled.
After slowly reeling the king in, unhooking it and letting it go, Matheny stood in the water breathing heavily.
“They wear you out,” he said. “You can only do one or two of those a day.”
Other anglers reported varying degrees of success; most said it was the busiest they had seen the river all season.
Buta, of Soldotna, said he has been fishing the river near the Crooked Creek Campground for about a week.
“I do drywall for ten hours and then I come here,” he said. Typically he has is 5-year-old and 7-year-old sons with him — but he was fishing solo Tuesday evening when he landed his fourth king of the day.
Both Buta and Matheny landed naturally produced kings but the Kasilof also has a run of hatchery kings that can be distinguished by a missing adipose fin.
The daily bag limit for kings is one hatchery-produced fish, except on Saturdays when an angler may retain a hatchery-produced or wild salmon.
Most of the fishermen along the shore said the season for early run Kasilof kings would be productive for about two more weeks before tapering off. Late run king fishing will pick up again in July.
The early run is the best time for anglers to have a chance at catching a king salmon from shore as the water rises and runs swiftly during the late run making it nearly impossible to catch a king without a boat.
Gary Ingman, of Montana, was another lucky angler to land a 20-plus-pound king salmon.
Both Ingman and Matheny fished successfully with orange-colored lures.
Ingman said he had been fishing on the Kenai Peninsula for decades. The trip was a nostalgic one for him as he used to often make it with his son. But the king fishery has morphed from one that lands anglers a massive meat fish to one that requires catch-and-release.
“It feels good to let them go,” he said. “Especially the natives. They seem to recover real well.”