Les Anderson’s record king salmon definitely cemented the already popular Kenai River as one of the great sport fishing destinations in the world. In subsequent years, the Kenai River has also become renowned for its accessible and world-class fishing for reds, silvers and rainbow trout.
Sometimes too much attention can be a negative thing, but in our case I think the community has responded well to the Kenai River being the most popular sport and personal use fishing destination in the state.
Popular for sport fishing, the Kenai River can also boast the following:
- More spawning and riparian bank closures to fishing than any other place in Alaska;
- Unparalleled investment to protect, restore and enhance fish habitat in the state;
- More responsible angler access infrastructure through light-penetrating walkways, fish platforms and access stairs than other river;
- Innovative multi-agency Don Gilman River Center streamlines permitting and education;
- Only river to have conservation-based boat size and motor restrictions;
- 50 foot riparian habitat protection zone and conservation-based culvert standards;
- Cutting edge ARIS sonar counter for king salmon enumeration; and,
- National and state award recognition for multi-agency cooperative conservation efforts.
So yes, Les Anderson’s record king salmon brought a lot of attention to the Kenai River. But the resulting collective community efforts to protect, restore and enhance both the fish habitat and angler access have proven successful. Is there more work to be done? Of course there is. The Kenai is a special place and I trust our community will continue to respond in innovative ways to care for and maintain the health of the river.
King salmon abundances in Alaska tend to trend together in boom and bust cycles; coring samples in rivers and lakes show this cycling to be the norm with salmon populations consistently through time in the North Pacific.
Statewide we happen to be in a period of very low king salmon productivity – and the fishing closures and restrictions we see on king salmon today are similar to those imposed in the 1960s when king salmon numbers were last this low.
What happened after those years of very low returns? In a couple of decades, kings returned in large numbers and record size. The top ten records for Kenai River Kings were caught in a relatively short window of time during the peak cycle of productivity.
We don’t know when we will next see the return in the peak cycle of productivity for king salmon here and elsewhere in Alaska. But we can and should remain committed to taking the necessary precautionary and conservative fishing measures to ensure minimum escapements for kings, and to continue to work to protect, restore and enhance fish habitat wherever and whenever possible. I do believe the investments that we make today will pay dividends in future years.
Will there ever be another king salmon to top Les Anderson’s record? I think that there very well may be. Anglers keep returning for one more cast, with the dream that this time there might be a record fish on line. If and when there are healthy returns of big kings, I think there will be one or two anglers around fishing and who hook into them.