Each year Kenai River anglers look forward to spring and the prospect of great fishing season for king salmon, hopefully one for the personal record books, but each year also brings reservation for what we might learn “on-or-about” June 10. What’s so special about “on-or-about” June 10? Well that’s the time each year that more than 25% of the return of early-run king salmon to the Kenai are in the river. It’s the time that the fishery managers have assessed enough of the run to make projections with a suitable degree of certainty. It’s the time that as anglers we get the all clear signal that the season will play out as planned or learn that additional restrictions will need to be implemented. It’s this week.
The 2012 return of early-run kings to the Kenai was not expected to be particularly large but fishery managers felt that we would see a run perhaps a bit larger than last year and likely large enough to support a “normal” fishery. Normal being single-hook only, no bait, with a slot limit restriction for non-retention from 46” to 55”. Normal meaning there is still a good chance to hook into one of these prized fish and keep it if we choose, so long as it’s not within the slot size bracket. What it looks like right now however is if we don’t see a significant increase in the rate of fish entering the river we will be facing a restriction to catch and release with a trophy size fish exemption beginning sometime this week. If these restrictions are implemented it is also likely that some type of restriction will be in place in the middle river from July 1 through mid-July.
This year the managers at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) are using a variety of assessment tools in an effort to learn what they can about the number of early-run king salmon entering the Kenai. Gone are the days when a heavy reliance was placed on a couple of sonar counters. Check out the ADFG web site and you will see bi-weekly summaries (posted on Tuesdays and Fridays) from each of four assessment tools presented in series of graphs over the course of the season along with a narrative at www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/FishCounts/index.cfm?ADFG=main.kenaiChinook#RunSummary
We have been talking with the managers, particularly Robert Begich, Sport Fish Division Area Biologist for the Kenai Peninsula on a very regular basis so far this season. At this point is time the KRSA fishery staff is in significant agreement with Robert and his staff and we thank them for their accessibility. With that said, we would sure like to see the in-river return pick up and still get through 2012 fishing under “normal” restrictions; we’ll see what this week brings.