Fish and Game restricts bait on Kenai River late-run kings

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the type of tackle anglers are permitted to use on the Kenai River. Anglers are restricted to an unbaited, single-hook artificial fly or lure, with or without a barb.

Sportfishermen on the Kenai River will not be able to use bait after July 1. 

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order Friday afternoon prohibiting the use of bait from the mouth of the Kenai River upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake. Anglers will still be able to retain king salmon, but they can only fish with a single-hook artificial fly or lure.

Anglers will be able to retain king salmon of any size in a portion of the lower Kenai River from its mouth upstream to a regulatory marker about 300 yards downstream of the mouth of Slikok Creek. Upstream of that marker to the outlet of Skilak Lake, anglers can only retain king salmon less than 42 inches long or greater than 55 inches long between July 1 and July 14; from July 15–31, anglers can retain king salmon of any size but still cannot use bait.

“The forecast for late-run king salmon on the Kenai River is for a total run of approximately 30,000 fish,” said Jason Pawluk, the acting area management biologist for the Division of Sportfish in Soldotna. “Prohibiting the use of bait will reduce the potential for overharvest of king salmon in this fishery. In addition, allowing anglers to harvest king salmon in the middle river under these restrictions will provide further opportunity to sport fish anglers while still achieving the upper range of the early-run escapement goal.”

A no-bait restriction on the Kenai River during the late run of king salmon triggers automatic restrictions in the commercial set gillnet fishery, limiting the number of fishing hours to no more than 36 per week and eliminating the regularly scheduled fishing periods on Mondays and Thursdays. The Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan states the Division of Sportfish may restrict the use of bait if the projected escapement of king salmon is less than 22,500 fish.

The set gillnet fishery opened Thursday from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. in the Kasilof Section of the Upper Subdistrict, two days before it opened by regulation, according to an emergency order from the Division of Commercial Fisheries in Soldotna. 

The rate of sockeye salmon entering the river has increased in the last few days, with 37,000 sockeye through the sonar site on the Kasilof River on June 22, when Fish and Game issued the order. As of Thursday, 47,774 sockeye had passed through the sonar, which is located under the Sterling Highway bridge, about eight miles upstream from the river mouth.

The set gillnets will open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. Saturday, according to another emergency order from the Division of Commercial Fisheries issued Friday afternoon.

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

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