Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion A guide boat motors along the Kenai River upstream of the Sterling Highway Bridge in Soldotna, Alaska on Thursday, July 7, 2016.

Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion A guide boat motors along the Kenai River upstream of the Sterling Highway Bridge in Soldotna, Alaska on Thursday, July 7, 2016.

Fish and Game opens Kenai late-run kings to bait

Anglers can use bait for king salmon in a section of the Kenai River starting Saturday at 12:01 a.m.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced in an emergency order issued Friday that anglers could use bait in the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to a marker about 300 yards downstream of the mouth of Slikok Creek. They are still limited to using one hook, according to the emergency order.

The late-run kings have been arriving in better numbers this year than in the past few years, according to Fish and Game data. Fish and Game has begun the late-run fishing season with a bait restriction for the past several years because of weaker returns, but has lifted the restriction later in the season when the run looks strong enough to meet the lower end of the optimum escapement goal.

The emergency order puts the king salmon fishery in that part of the river into the standard regulations as listed in the Sport Fishing Regulations Summary, said Jason Pawluk, the acting area management biologist for the Division of Sportfish in Soldotna.

On Thursday, Fish and Game’s counted 394 king salmon passing the sonar at river mile 14, for a cumulative total so far of 3,218 fish, he said. That’s about 1,200 more fish than on the same date in 2015, according to Fish and Game data. It looks like the kings will meet the escapement goal this season, he said.

“Based on our projections and looking at a couple days early, a couple of days late or on time, all our projections on timing are showing that we would achieve the escapement goal through this date,” Pawluk said.

Fishermen will still be prohibited from using bait upstream of the marker near Slikok Creek to the outlet of Skilak Lake. The slot limit — a ban on retention of king salmon greater than 42 inches and less than 55 inches long — also applies on that section of the river until July 14. The limit per person is one per day, with one in possession.

Sportfishing for king salmon in the Kenai River ends July 31.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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