In this July 2016, a fishing guide pilots a boat up the Kenai River near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

In this July 2016, a fishing guide pilots a boat up the Kenai River near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Late king run starts off with bait in lower river

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct an error. On the Kenai River, bait is allowed between the mouth of the river and Slikok Creek in Soldotna. Bait is prohibited between Slikok Creek and Skilak Lake.

A big late run of Kenai River king salmon will allow anglers some freedom on gear and retention.

Sportfishermen are allowed to use bait and retain any size king salmon caught between the river’s mouth and Slikok Creek throughout July, according to an emergency order issued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Friday. Between Slikok Creek and the Skilak Lake, bait is not allowed, and only fish up to 36 inches can be retained. Larger fish have to be released immediately.

Anglers can keep up to five king salmon longer than 20 inches throughout Cook Inlet drainages, but only two can come from the Kenai River. For fish smaller than that, referred to as jacks, the limit is 10 fish.

Fish and Game officially divides the early and late run of Kenai River king salmon on July 1. The late run is projected to come in at approximately 33,000 large fish, about 6,000 more than the upper end of the escapement goal of 13,500–27,000 large fish.

The early run of kings was better than managers expected. The preseason projection for early-run kings was for approximately 6,526 large kings, defined as fish longer than 34 inches in total length. As of June 30, about 7,237 kings had passed Fish and Game’s sonar, which does not include harvest, but effort and success have both been relatively low throughout the season. Success fell in part because of decreased passage in the lower river and poorer water conditions, with murkier quality and higher water levels.

The higher returns prompted Fish and Game to authorize first an increase in the maximum size allowed for retention from less than 36 inches to less than 46 inches, followed by allowing anglers to use bait. The liberalizations only applied in the lower river, though, between the mouth and Slikok Creek. When the Board of Fisheries met in February and March, the revisions to the early-run king salmon management plan on the Kenai River set out rules that liberalizations would only apply in the lower section of the river, leaving the tighter restrictions on the middle river between Slikok Creek and Skilak Lake.

The late run king projection for the Kenai was approximately 33,613 large king salmon as of February, which is less than the historical average but still above the escapement goal requirements.

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

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