That’s how we’re feeling right now as we see sonar counts of king salmon headed up Kenai Peninsula rivers and streams.
The numbers might not qualify as spectacular, but they’re much better than they’ve been for the past few years, and we hope it’s a sign of better returns in years to come.
As of Monday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sonar estimate for kings salmon on the Kenai River was 960 fish, compared to just over 200 at the same point in the previous two years. Likewise, on the Anchor River, the sonar count stood at 1,948 kings as of Wednesday, compared to 610 at this point last year.
Biologists say it’s too soon to determine if the king salmon runs are indeed improving, or if the run timing is early this year. This early in the season, there is still a large margin of error in projecting the run strength, and there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that conservation measures for king salmon should be lifted.
In a recent interview, Fish and Game Sportfish Area Management Biologist Robert Begich told the Clarion that managers need to see kings returning in much greater numbers before restrictions can be lifted.
“A few hundred fish a day, that’s what we want to see rather than just dozens trickling in each day,” Begich said.
King salmon recovery is not going to happen in one season. Our hope is that after a few more seasons — maybe longer — runs will return to previous strengths.
In the mean time, the situation calls for continued patience. This year, there has been opportunity for anglers to harvest king salmon, even with restrictions in place. That’s certainly an improvement over recent years when, even during the brief time fisheries may have been open, there wasn’t much in the way of fish to catch. It’s a small step, but a step forward nonetheless.
And while many anglers dream of catching a Kenai king, there are still plenty of other fish in the sea. Red salmon are starting to show. Many are anticipating a good summer of fishing for grayling, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. Halibut fishing is steady. For those who just want to catch a fish, there are plenty of options.
We’re grateful to have those options, and we hope that in the future, kings will continue to be a part of that list.