By Joseph Robertia
A storm is coming — waves of chrome-bright, sea-strong, lure-crushing king salmon. The height of the frenzy is a little ways off yet, but the leading edge is already pulsing into Kenai Peninsula rivers.
“You have to work for them, but each day we’ve had a handful of opportunities to boat at least one nice fish per trip,” said Mark Glassmaker, of Alaska Fishing with Mark Glassmaker, while nearing the end of a guided drift boat fishing trip on the Kasilof River on Monday morning.
King salmon fishing on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers has been slow so far with small pushes of fish entering both systems with each tide, but the fish are out there if the salt water is any indication.
“Compared to years past, it’s been pretty exciting out in the salt,” said Nick Finley of Ninilchik, who’s been fishing the inlet between Ninilchik and Anchor Point as he does every year at this time. Last week the bite was much hotter than usual for this early in the season, he said.
“Last year we went out at the same time and spent six hours out without a bite,” he said. “This year, within three hours we had seven solid hits and had caught three kings, and one that got away rolled at the surface and it was at least 30 to 40 pounds.”
There were at least 10 other boats around his and he saw several skippers bring salmon aboard, he said.
“The predications were it would be a crappy year, but it’s not starting out that way,” Finley said.
Charter Capt. Rod Van Saun, of Van Saun Charters in Ninilchik, agreed that the saltwater bite has been quite good so far this fishing season.
“It started strong with some nice fish caught, and the bite is still really good,” he said. “It’s been a lot of 15- to 20-pounders, but there’s been a few 50 and above caught, and I even got a white-meat king last week.”
Most of the “smaller” kings are feeders, according to Van Saun — fish coming into Cook Inlet to eat, but still a year or so away from entering rivers to spawn. The larger fish are likely just fattening up before swimming upstream to spawn, he said.
“I had a 50-pounder behind the boat a few days ago,” Van Saun said. “That fish was likely heading toward the Kasilof or the Kenai.”
May 15 to 25 is typically the peak of saltwater king salmon action, after which in-river fishing starts to surge. The
Anchor River had its first three-day opener last weekend, and the Nililchik River will open for the first three-day opener of the season Saturday. The Kasilof opened to bait May 16, while the lower Kenai is still more than a month away from bait being allowed.
“Soon we will begin to see larger numbers of fish entering both rivers daily and fishing success will ramp up accordingly,” Glassmaker said.
On Monday morning, he had seen a lot of action on the water and in his own boat, and still had half the drift ahead of him when interviewed.
“We haven’t got a king in the box yet, but we’ve caught three or four steelhead, three or four dollies and one sockeye, which was a bit of an oddity this early,” he said. “I’ve seen a few other boats get kings, but nobody’s tearing it up yet.”
The water levels on both the Kasilof and the Kenai are near historic lows and running cold, but as the flow and water temperatures increase from either rain or rising air temperatures causing some glacial melt at the rivers’ headwaters, the bite should pick up, according to Glassmaker.
“We’ve already been seeing a nice mix of wild and hatchery kings,” he said. “And it should only get better from here on out.”