SOLDOTNA (AP) -- The early run of king salmon has been slow to enter the Kenai River. That's just the reverse of what happened a year ago, when so many early run kings were in the river that the state relaxed its sportfishing rules.
The state may decide before week's end whether to turn the early king run into a trophy fishery. That would mean anglers could keep only the largest fish that they land.
''I think restrictions are likely, but I don't know how severe they're going to be at this point,'' said Mike Bethe, area management biologist. ''We're just on the edge.''
State sonar equipment has counted about 3,000 kings so far this season, and anglers have caught a fair amount of those. Bethe said he was growing increasingly concerned about meeting the minimum target of 7,200 spawners by June 30.
The Kenai River's early king run is the stuff of dreams, having produced the largest ever sport-caught salmon on record. In May of 1985, Les Anderson of Soldotna netted a fish weighing 97.25 pounds.
Last year at this time, more than 6,000 kings had passed the sonar counter, prompting the state to allow bait and treble hooks in mid-June. Yet the run still went on to top 25,000 fish. Bethe pointed out that there's rarely a ''normal'' year.
State statistics suggest anglers must be patient this year to hook a Kenai king of any size. The average guided angler is taking 25 hours to bag a king, and unguided anglers need two days of fishing. That's about twice as long as usual, according to state observers monitoring the stream.
M.P. King, who operates the Stewart's Landing boat launch in the lower river, described fishing as slow but better than in previous years when the state instituted restrictions.
''One boat had three (fish) for four this morning and that's fantastic, but most of these guys had one per boat,'' King told the Anchorage Daily News.
Bethe speculated that a large number of hooligan, the fat-filled, foot-long relatives of smelt, may explain the odd behavior.
The state sonar counter confirms lots of hooligan are in the river, he said. The kings appear to be snapping at them or even eating the hooligan.
The kings may be finding the hooligan more attractive than unbaited hooks, he said.
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