There may not be many king salmon in the rivers these days. Fortunately, there are still plenty of other fish in the sea — and many sport fishing guides have diversified their services to take advantage of some of those other species.
During the recent Kenai River guide academy at Kenai Peninsula College, few if any of the attendees expressed an interest in guiding for kings in the near future, the Clarion reported.
In talking about the demographics of academy attendees, KPC Director Gary Turner told the Clarion that he’s noticed a shift in focus. In previous sessions, the vast majority of attendees were targeting king salmon from motor boats; that has changed to guides interested in providing a quality fishing experience for sockeye salmon or trout — and maybe for king salmon if an when numbers improve.
While there certainly are some anglers set on catching the biggest king they can, most are simply happy with a quality fishing experience on one of Alaska’s most well known and easily accessed rivers. Tourism is a huge part of the Kenai Peninsula economy, and services offered by professional sport fishing guides are an integral part of the tourism industry. Guides who are able to adapt and offer alternatives will play a key role in boosting the economy in the short term, and making it even stronger when king numbers rebound. Diversified offerings will help the sport fishing industry weather future challenges, too.
That said, there are concerns. Sockeye have been abundant in recent years, but area managers will need to monitor the effects of increased fishing pressure. Likewise, with more people fishing for sockeye, there is the potential for habitat degradation in the riparian zone along the already crowded river banks. And, if king salmon abundance remains low for more than just another season or two, or sockeye abundance declines, fish allocation in what is already a fully allocated fishery will become a hot-button issue.
Still, the change in focus for much of the sport fishing industry, from simply catching the biggest fish out there to providing a quality fishing experience for a variety of species is crucial to sustaining an important part of the Kenai Peninsula economy into the future.