Poor king salmon runs close Kenai Peninsula rivers to fishing

Two small children fishing in a narrow slough
Kids reel in catches on the Ninilchik River at the Youth-Only Fishery in 2021. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

Poor runs had already closed the Kenai River to king salmon fishing this June.

And this week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is closing several other king salmon sport fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula, on the Kasilof and Ninilchik rivers as well as in Cook Inlet salt water.

Mike Booz, the Lower Cook Inlet sportfish area manager for Fish and Game, said the department is trying to be proactive in limiting and restricting king fisheries amid a downturn in king salmon in Cook Inlet.

“I want nothing more than to have good numbers of king salmon returning to our streams every year,” Booz said. “But I think it’s going to be a test of patience here for what we’ve been seeing.”

King salmon populations have been suffering in Cook Inlet.

Booz said the department’s been squeaking out escapement goals. But he said the runs haven’t supported good fishing or harvest opportunities.

He said that last week, it was clear the runs were not doing well enough to support fisheries.

“It was pretty obvious that these runs were looking to be some of the weakest runs we’ve seen here in Cook Inlet since we’ve been monitoring escapement,” Booz said.

That’s true for both the Kasilof and Ninilchik rivers, which are also stocked with hatchery-produced kings.

The Ninilchik River has closed before, most recently in 2018. But Booz said it’s the first time in his memory that the department closed the Kasilof to king fishing.

The Anchor River and Deep Creek are also closed to sport fishing, as of June 11.

And it’s all on top of the recent closure of the popular Kenai king early run.

For sportfishing guides on the southern peninsula, that means rerouting from the king salmon streams on the southern peninsula to the sockeye runs on the central peninsula.

That’s what Grant Anderson with the Fly Box in Anchor Point plans to do, although it comes at a cost for his business

“It’s an extra hour drive each direction, and then an hour drive to Kasilof, hour and 10 minutes or so to Kenai,” Anderson said.

He said he’ll be taking clients up to the Kenai this year, like he has the last several years.

Booz said the department will do what it can to restrict the fisheries amid the multi-year downturn of kings. He said that means making timely and conservative management decisions, which he said will likely need to continue going forward.

“Ideally, I’d like to see king salmon start turning around right now,” Booz said. “But it feels like we’re in for the long haul.”

The Kasilof and Cook Inlet saltwater king fisheries closed Wednesday. The Ninilchik River closes to king fishing Thursday.

But if you do want to fish for kings, there are a few options on the Kenai Peninsula.

Lower Cook Inlet is still open to king salmon fishing. That’s everything south of Bluff Point, near the same latitude as Diamond Creek. Booz said the king fishing there has been slow so far.

The Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon in Homer and the Seldovia Slough are also still producing kings.

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