An Outdoor View

Another ‘drift-only’ day for the Kenai?

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2007

I have it from a trustworthy source that at least two proposals for another day of “non-motorized” fishing on the Kenai River have gone to the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

It’s about time, I say. The present regulation has been working nicely for eight years. Nicely enough for me and a lot of other people to think that another day of non-motorized fishing would make the Kenai a better place to fish.

Hatched at a fish board meeting at Soldotna in 1999, the non-motorized fishing on Monday rule originally applied only to Mondays in July. Up to that time, no one could fish from a boat on Mondays. The idea was to give unguided anglers more time on the river without competition from guides, and to see what it was like to fish the Kenai from drift boats, with no powerboats fishing.

Motorless Mondays were so popular that in 2003 the board added Mondays in May and June. The regulation now says, “Downstream from the outlet of Skilak Lake, no one may fish from any motorized vessel on Mondays (except Memorial Day) during May, June and July. For purposes of this regulation, a motorized vessel is one that has a motor on board.” A different regulation bans fishing from guide boats on Sundays and Mondays in May, June and July (except Memorial Day) downstream from the outlet of Skilak Lake.

Often called “drift-boat only,” the present regulation actually allows fishing from the bank and from any type of non-motorized watercraft. Both guided and unguided anglers can fish. Motorized boats are allowed for purposes other than fishing, such as for transport to and from bank-fishing spots. A couple of years ago, a few creative drift-boat fishermen started towing their drift boats back upstream with powerboats, but Alaska State Parks regulations have since been revised to ban that practice.

As I understand it, one of the proposals for another day of non-motorized fishing would allow fishing from guide boats. One good thing about allowing guides to fish on that day would be that they wouldn’t migrate to and further crowd the Kasilof River, which they tend to do whenever the Kenai is closed to guided fishing.

Adding another day of non-motorized fishing and including guides would doubtless cause some congestion at boat launches. This would create a demand for shuttle services and possibly another boat launch area. There has been resistance from certain quarters to adding more launches to the already crowded Kenai, but taking motors off the river might justify it.

Fishing for king salmon from drift boats is not only effective, but pleasant. On one memorable trip with two friends, we drifted from Centennial Park in Soldotna down to Eagle Rock. Sharing turns on the oars, we caught kings while drifting, back-bouncing and back-trolling. It’s a far quieter, more relaxing and more enjoyable experience than fishing from a powerboat.

The lack of boat wakes on Mondays is noticeable. After spending any July day other than a Monday on the Kenai, I always feel like I’ve been rocking on Cook Inlet all day. I’ve heard people complain of getting seasick on the Kenai.

Another “plus” of adding a non-motorized fishing day on the Kenai would be a large reduction in hydrocarbons to the river. While it wouldn’t solve all the Kenai’s pollution problems, it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Proponents of adding a day of non-motorized fishing should start discussing what day they would like it to be. One idea is to make it Thursday, which would put it in the middle of the five days that fishing is allowed from guide boats.

It’s too early to submit written comments on proposals. They’ll be on-line and in print about October. We’ll have all summer to think about this idea. Early next year, the Board of Fisheries will consider it, and possibly add another day of drift-boat only fishing.

The more I think about it, the more I like it.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling, and doesn’t (yet) own a drift boat.

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