Don't hate Steve Peterson, envy him.
While many fisherman have been finding the bite frustrating lately, this tourist from New York caught two colossal kings on the Kenai River on Thursday, including one that was just shy of earning him an Alaska Trophy Fish Record. And he did it in the first few hours, of the first day, of a four-day fishing package.
"It's bigger than anything I could have imagined," Peterson said in regard to his bright silver behemoth that officially weighed in on an Alaska Department of Fish and Game scale at 73.5 pounds, and measured 53 inches in length and 33.5 inches in girth.
Any Kenai king weighing 75 pounds or more is considered a trophy, and while Peterson's fish came in at just under the requirements, he wasn't disappointed with the catch, and rightly so.
"It's the biggest one caught so far this year," said Robert Begich, Fish and Game area sport fish manager.
Earlier that same morning, Peterson had brought up a 49-inch king that was estimated to weigh around 50 pounds. He released it, and said he was glad he did, since his second salmon of the day wasn't just larger, but put up an even better fight, too.
"I fought it for about 15 to 20 minutes and it was all over the place. As soon as I hooked it, it ran across the river going upstream," he said.
Peterson said he was confident he would eventually land the lunker, but the fish didn't make it easy for him to do so.
"It jumped several times -- right out of the water -- and was shaking quite a bit, so I knew it was hooked good, but every time we would get it close to the boat, it would take off again. When we finally got it into the net I was relieved," he said.
Peterson may have muscled the fish into the boat by himself, but he gave credit where credit was due in regard to knowing where to fish.
"I had a good guide that took us right to where the fish were," he said, referring to guide Jason McMurrian from Angler's Lodge in Sterling.
McMurrian is developing quite a knack for annually putting people on super-sized salmon. He graced the pages of the Peninsula Clarion last July after guiding Texan Mark Rogers, who caught one of the largest kings kept all season -- a 74.4 pounder that measured 56 1/8 inches in length and 33.5 inches in girth.
Like last year, he again was able to put his client on a big fish by defying conventional wisdom. Rather than soaking eggs as many people have been doing with little results, he instead opted to have Peterson work a Kwikfish lure through the deep holes near Honeymoon Cove.
"This has been the trip of a lifetime. It just keeps getting better ever day, but I don't know how I'm going to top this one," Peterson said.
Kenai isn't the only river starting to show signs of the typically larger late-run kings. A 55-pound king was also pulled out of the Kasilof River late last week, by Washington native Ted Blade, while fishing with Mark Ledden of Driftwater Guide Co.
"It was definitely an upper-river fish, a main-stem spawner," Ledden said.
This more southern waterway king was caught on a combination of a Spin-N-Glo lure and eggs, while backtrolling on the lower river, during the high tide.
"It took him about 25 minutes to land it. It went on some long runs, but we were able to pull over and contain it in one hole," Ledden said.
He added the big fish was a nice change of pace from the 20- to 30-pounders that most people have been bringing up.
"It's not too often we get a 55-pounder out of the Kasilof. I got a 56-pounder two years ago, but last season it was just big 40's. We really didn't expect to catch anything this big, this early," Ledden said.
Typically larger kings, and in larger numbers, start hitting the river around mid-July. So, with each passing day the fishing should continue to improve for the remainder of the month.
"It's still slow, but it's early in the run," said Begich.
Daily counts of Kenai River king salmon -- recorded at the sonar station located 8.6 miles from the mouth of the river -- are starting to climb. On Tuesday, only 260 kings were counted, but the number jumped to 718 on Wednesday for a cumulative 3,394 kings so far in the late run.
The same seasonal predictions hold true for sockeye.
"Between the 15th and the 25th is when we usually get our big push of sockeye, so it's still coming," Begich said.
On Tuesday, sockeye daily counts -- recorded at the sonar project located approximately 19 miles upstream from the mouth of the river -- were 1,069 fish , but numbers jumped to 2,123 fish on Wednesday, for a cumulative 15,171 sockeye so far.
The Kasilof River continues to have a banner year for sockeye. The sonar project -- located approximately eight river miles upstream from the river mouth -- recorded 2,394 sockeye on Wednesday for a cumulative 97,108 sockeye so far.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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