Anglers will have a shot at taking Kenai River king salmon for keeps starting Saturday.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order Thursday to open the Kenai River to king salmon retention from the mouth up to a marker about 300 yards downstream of Slikok Creek. The opening goes into effect after 12:01 a.m. Saturday and will be in effect until Thursday, June 30, unless modified by another emergency order.
The emergency order opens up fishing with no additional restrictions beyond the existing ones in the sportfish regulations. Anglers can only use unbaited, single hook and artificial flies or lures. Only king salmon less than 42 inches or greater than 55 inches may be retained, and only two of any angler’s total of five Cook Inlet king salmon can come from the Kenai River.
Restrictions on guide fishing days and hours as well as restrictions on fishing from power boats on Mondays remain in place, according to the emergency order.
This year’s king salmon count has proven stronger than in the past few years, with 6,080 fish having entered the river as of Monday, according to Fish and Game’s sonar counts. The run passed its minimum escapement goal of 5,300 June 11 and the numbers passing the sonar at river mile 14 are keeping steady, said Robert Begich, the area management biologist for the Division of Sport Fish in Soldotna.
“Opening up a section of the river to harvest of king salmon will provide further opportunity to sport fish anglers while still achieving a spawning escapement in the mid to upper range of the optimum escapement goal,” Begich said in the emergency order.
The river was opened for catch-and-release for king salmon downstream of Skilak Lake on June 4. It will remain catch-and-release only above the marker downstream of Slikok Creek through June 30, and anglers are only allowed to use an unbaited, barbless, single-hood, artificial fly or lure while fishing.
The river will open for king salmon retention on July 1 until July 31, but the department has not yet decided whether to allow anglers to use bait. When a no-bait restriction is in place on the late run of king salmon, personal-use dipnetters at the mouth of the Kenai River cannot retain any king salmon they catch, and the commercial setnetters on the east side of Cook Inlet are restricted to 36 hours of fishing per week.
Another emergency order issued Thursday loosens a restriction on the Kasilof River. Fishermen can now keep naturally-produced king salmon on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, in line with the regulations.
Fish and Game issued an emergency order in February that restricted retention of naturally-produced king salmon on Thursdays. Begich said in the emergency order that inseason information indicated a stronger run. Fish and Game has expanded the stocking program at Crooked Creek, which feeds into the Kasilof River, by 50 percent over the last few years, according to the emergency order.
On the lower Kenai Peninsula, an emergency order issued Thursday also opens harvest of hatchery-produced king salmon in the Ninilchik River. The river has been open for king salmon fishing, both wild and hatchery, for three weekends beginning May 28, but the emergency order opens up the river for only hatchery fish. Fish and Game stocks the Ninilchik River every year with hatchery-produced king salmon to provide more sportfishing harvest opportunities. In a survey conducted Tuesday, biologists found that about 60 percent of the king salmon from the mouth of the river to about two miles upstream were hatchery-produced king salmon, according to the emergency order.
Fishermen will able to retain hatchery kings 24 hours per day, seven days per week starting at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, about two weeks before the regulations listed in the Sport Fishing Regulations Summary would open the river to hatchery king fishing only.
After July 1, anglers must release any wild king salmon they catch immediately without removing them from the water. To minimize mortality, fishermen can only use a single, unbaited hook. Any king salmon 20 inches or greater must be recorded immediately, and the fisherman cannot fish in the Ninilchik River for the rest of the day.
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