Two lucky anglers hold up king salmon they caught on Deep Creek on the lower Kenai Peninsula this weekend. (Photo courtesy Greg Harrington)  Two lucky anglers hold up king salmon they caught on Deep Creek on the lower Kenai Peninsula this weekend. (Photo courtesy Greg Harrington)

Two lucky anglers hold up king salmon they caught on Deep Creek on the lower Kenai Peninsula this weekend. (Photo courtesy Greg Harrington) Two lucky anglers hold up king salmon they caught on Deep Creek on the lower Kenai Peninsula this weekend. (Photo courtesy Greg Harrington)

Fishing report: Kings boom, Russian River opener primed

There’s one thing sportfishermen can’t stop talking about this summer: the Kenai River king salmon fishing.

For the past several years, the king salmon fishing on the Kenai River has been either closed or restricted until July 1, the official demarcation between the early and late runs. The Kasilof River has provided some early opportunity, and the lower peninsula rivers have provided weekend and Wednesday opportunities before the Kenai opens for late-run fishing.

This year, the story is different. An improved run and exceptionally low and clear water conditions have provided excellent fishing conditions, and anglers are walking away lucky. Regulations prohibit anyone from retaining a Kenai River king longer than 36 inches, but anglers are hooking and releasing kings bigger than that.

“We had one in May that was 53 inches with a 29 inch girth,” said Jimmie Jack Drath, the owner of Jimmie Jack’s Alaska Fishing Lodges in Kenai. “That was really cool to catch a fish that big in May. The water level has been really low this year, and in May it was really low … it was a nice, big, healthy king too.”

The king salmon fishing on the Kenai has been consistent this season so far, Drath said. Though clients have to release the big fish by regulation for conservation, they seem to understand the reason and are happy just to be out on the river experiencing the fishery, he said.

Throughout the spring, clients also had the chance to fish for kings and retain them on the Kasilof River and in the marine troll fishery, both of which went well this year, he said.

“Everybody’s been really happy with how the salmon fishing’s been going,” he said.

As of Tuesday, 2,820 large kings have passed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sonar counter on the Kenai. That doesn’t include harvest above the sonar, but effort has been low so far and only about 31 percent of the run is in the river based on past years’ run timing, so the managers are projecting a sonar count of about 9,200 large fish with a final escapement of about 8,900 fish, significantly above the upper end of the escapement goal of 3,900–6,600 large fish, said Jason Pawluk, the assistant area management biologist for the Division of Sportfish in Soldotna.

The managers will likely take some action within the next several days, he said.

“Those options include changing the size limit to something greater than 36 inches,” he said.

The early-run Kenai River kings have been in trouble in the past, with declining sizes and numbers, and poor male-to-female ratios. This year, the age classes, sizes and sex ratio all look better than in past years, based on sonar and netting data, Pawluk said. The netting data indicates about 55 percent females, he said.

“Right now, we’re actually seeing a large proportion of females in our netting catches,” he said. “… As of right now, things are looking normal.”

All over the peninsula, fishing conditions are excellent — water levels are low and extremely clear, making it easier for anglers to spot the fish. Anglers are having good luck on the Kasilof for kings as well, and though the runs are not as strong on the Anchor and Ninilchik rivers and Deep Creek as they have been in past years, fishermen are still pulling kings out of the water. All three rivers open for fishing again Saturday for king salmon fishing and will be open until Monday.

The big attractor this weekend, though, is the Russian River opener on Sunday. One of the most popular sportfisheries in the state, thousands of anglers per year flock to the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers to fish for sockeye salmon returning to the Russian River, a separate stock from the Kenai River mainstem fish.

This year is shaping up to be an excellent opener based on the numbers of sockeye Fish and Game staff have already spotted passing the sonar downriver and in foot surveys, Pawluk said. In a foot survey of the area June 5, staff spotted more than 1,000 fish already moving up into the Russian River. The sonar counter is also seeing large numbers of fish large enough to be sockeye, about double last year’s count by this time, he said. Anglers are reporting catching sockeye and the research surveys are seeing sockeye in their nets. Between the visual data and the excellent water conditions, he said the managers are expecting a good opener Sunday.

“We’ve got our eye on it, that’s all I can say,” he said.

The entire upper Kenai between Kenai Lake and Skilak opens for fishing Sunday as well, after the spawning closure for rainbow trout ends.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at

Have a photo of a catch to share or a fishy tale to tell? Email reporters Elizabeth Earl at or Kat Sorensen at! We run sportfishing photos and tell stories of fishing all summer long in our weekly Tightlines page. Good luck fishing!

More in News

Drummers perform during a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, July 12, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenaitze tribe celebrates 10 years of ‘far-fetched dream’ at wellness center

Community members recognized the work done at the Dena’ina Wellness Center over the past decade

The Kenai Safeway is seen on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai and Soldotna Safeways may be sold under proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger

The local stores will be sold to CS Wholesale Grocers only if the merger overcomes suit from the FTC

Sockeye salmon caught in a set gillnet are dragged up onto the beach at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Draft plan published for disbursement of $11.5 million in 2021 and 2022 ESSN disasters

Public comment will be accepted for the draft spend plan until July 24

The Kasilof River is seen from the Kasilof River Recreation Area, July 30, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
King salmon fishing closed on Kasilof starting Monday

The emergency order is being issued to protect returning king salmon, citing weak returns

Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna’s city council appropriates funds for FY 2025 capital projects

Improvements are described for streets, police facility, Soldotna Creek Park and Soldotna Community Memorial Park

Gina Plank processes sockeye salmon caught on the first day of Kenai River dipnetting with her table set up on the bank of the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, July 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai River open for dipnetting

As of Tuesday, a total of 226,000 sockeye had been counted in the Kenai River’s late run

Assembly Vice President Tyson Cox speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly won’t pursue further discussion on tabled bed tax resolution

Members say they’re going to work on a new version of the idea this winter

Gov. Mike Dunleavy pictured with members of the House majority after signing the fiscal year 2025 budget bills, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Anchorage, Alaska. From left to right: Reps. Stanley Wright, Tom McKay, Thomas Baker, Craig Johnson, Kevin McCabe, Julie Coulombe and Laddie Shaw. (Photo provided by Office of the Governor)
Dunleavy signs capital budget with $3.7M in state funding for Kenai Peninsula, vetoes $3.3M

Roughly $90 million in federal funding also allocated to Kenai Peninsula

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Soldotna man arrested Friday after 30-minute police chase

The man had an outstanding warrant for felony probation violation

Most Read