78-pound king caught on Kenai; sockeye fishing up and down

Despite its nickname as the Land of the Midnight Sun, there are in fact hours of darkness on the Kenai Peninsula in July. But the dark doesn’t keep the fishermen away from the Kenai River.


The banks of Soldotna Creek were already lined with more than a dozen anglers by 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, the tips of their fishing rods swinging hypnotically in the rhythm of flipping for sockeye salmon. But even with so many hooks in the water in a relatively calm channel where salmon are known to run up the river to get away from the heavy current in the middle, the water stayed mostly quiet and the rods kept flipping.

Anglers reported that fishing for sockeye had been great the morning before. But by Wednesday morning, fishing had slowed down.

Fish passage has dropped over the course of the week so far, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s online fish counts. On Tuesday, 25,470 sockeye passed the sonar in the Kenai River, for a total of 353,709 sockeye since July 1. Passage peaked for the season so far on Saturday, when 62,623 fish passed the sonar.

Inriver anglers were seeing it Saturday, too. In the same spot in Soldotna Creek Park, multiple anglers were reeling in bright sockeye salmon from the banks on Saturday afternoon, despite the sunny weather and relatively high temperatures.

Down at the mouth, though, personal-use dipnetters weren’t having as much luck Saturday. Anchorage residents Megen Draeger and Athena Mallis laughed and held up the sockeye salmon they caught — a total of two — in an afternoon of dipnetting when they disembarked from a boat near the Warren Ames Bridge in Kenai.

Kasilof River sockeye salmon passage spiked last Friday and has been falling since then, with 5,670 passing the sonar on Tuesday for a season total of 243,203 sine June 15.

Though retaining kings is prohibited on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers this year due to poor returns, sport anglers are still allowed to fish for them on a catch-and-release basis with no bait. On Tuesday, 14-year-old Tobias Hindman of Iowa landed and released a king salmon measuring 50 inches long, with a 34-inch girth, calculating out to about 78 pounds. Guide Jeff Moore, owner of Wet and Wild Alaska Fishing, said the fish jumped all the way out of the water about six times, once landing on the side rail of the boat before falling back into the river.

“Tobias fought the monster king like a seasoned pro, as the fish went around and under the boat numerous times,” Moore wrote in an email. “Once landed, the giant was photographed and released to spawn!”

As of Tuesday, 6,575 large kings had passed Fish and Game’s sonar on the Kenai River. The run is on track to reach the lower end of the escapement goal of 13,500–27,000 large kings, with a projection of 14,100 fish, according to Fish and Game’s July 20 inseason run summary.

Down the road, fishermen are able to try their hands at fishing for kings on the Ninilchik River, but only for hatchery-origin king salmon. Hatchery-origin kings are missing their adipose fins. So far, fishing for hatchery kings on the Ninilchik has been slow and most fish are mature, according to the Tuesday Lower Cook Inlet fishing report.

Despite the overcast skies and threats of rain, anglers lined the edges of the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on the Homer Spit on Monday for a chance at the coho salmon returning there. Fish and Game stocks hatchery coho salmon into the lagoon each year. Fishing for coho has been fair to good, with some larger schools entering the lagoon on incoming tides, according to the Lower Cook Inlet fishing report.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.