Kenai River opened to catch-and-release king salmon fishing

Sportfishermen can target king salmon for catch-and-release fishing only on the lower Kenai River starting Saturday after midnight.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order Friday that opens the Kenai River downstream from the outlet of Skilak Lake to catch-and-release only king salmon fishing. Unless altered by emergency order, the river will be open for king salmon fishing through June 30.

The early-run king salmon run has shown strong returns to the Kenai River so far this year, area management biologist Robert Begich wrote in the emergency order. As of June 1, 2,375 king salmon had passed the sonar in the Kenai River, according to Fish and Game’s sonar counts.

Anglers cannot retain king salmon of any size and can only use one unbaited, barbless, single-hook, artificial fly or lure. Fishing gear is limited to barbless hooks when fishing is catch-and-release only in the Kenai River King Salmon Management Plan.

That doesn’t mean that everywhere on the lower river is open to king fishing, though — there are still certain waters that are closed by regulation. For example, there is a total fishing closure in effect between the outlet of Skilak Lake and the mouth of the Lower Killey River, which will be closed until June 11 to protect spawning rainbow trout, said assistant area management biologist Jason Pawluk.

There are also closures to king salmon fishing at the confluence areas of the Funny and Killey rivers and Slikok Creek, as well as closures to all fishing from boats. The Moose River confluence is closed to all fishing from boats, as is the Soldotna Centennial Campground boat launch lagoon and Morgan’s Hole.

So far, run-timing models show that the early-run king salmon are returning earlier than usual, according to the emergency order issued Friday. The optimum escapement goal for the early run is between 5,300 and 9,000 fish. Fish and Game will continue to assess the run throughout the season and may take actions accordingly, according to the emergency order.


Reach Elizabeth Earl at

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