2009 Year in Review
Once again another season has come and gone and like the many seasons prior, this one was decidedly unique in a number of ways. From statewide king salmon woes to unusually high river levels, the 2009 season on the Kenai (and statewide), was not without its distinct challenges. More welcome surprises to the 2009 season included perhaps the nicest weather we have seen in over a decade and also a silver salmon return of magnum strength. Indeed, just like each season prior, 2009 carried its own special nuances or personality traits, proving each and every season here on the Kenai Peninsula is always new and definitely different. After twenty years of guiding on the world’s most renown salmon river, I am annually astonished by how many unique experiences each season holds.
The 2009 season began like many prior; with drift boat fishing for king salmon on the Kasilof river. As always, May 16 is regularly highlighted on the calendar as it marks the opening day of bait for the Kasilof. As most savvy salmon anglers know, adding cured salmon eggs to a spin n’ glow offering or wrapping a Kwikfish with a sardine fillet, can influence success rates dramatically. This year was no exception as the first kings of the season soon emerged from the glacial Kasilof water and the 2009 fishing season quickly gained momentum. This season started much like 2008 with a fair number of fish present for the bait opener and then small but steady number of king salmon arriving on each new tide. As we moved into late May, fishing on both the Kenai and the Kasilof continued to improve, but reports from elsewhere in the state and even from rivers on the southern Kenai Peninsula were not as encouraging. While other parts of the state experienced restrictions and low runs, our two primary rivers: both the Kenai and the Kasilof; remained steady into early June.
While certainly not as consistent and predictable as some years, there were still plenty of nice kings to be caught and a good number were taken daily. Unfortunately, especially on the Kenai, the steady fishing did not last. Typically mid June is when we see the early run of king salmon hit full stride and in the past two seasons, this time period revealed some of the best king salmon action of the entire season. This was not in the cards for 2009. As we entered middle and late June, poor river conditions, high water, and a run that just never really peaked, all contributed to a mediocre early run on the Kenai. The final cumulative count for early run Kenai king salmon was 11,334 compared to 15,335 in 2008 and 15,904 in 2007. The neighboring Kasilof remained a far more predictable option this season and we had good success there from our drift boats until it too slowed down in late June.
With only an average return of early run Kenai king salmon, managers did not allow the use of bait on the river in June and therefore by default, July 1 became the opening day of bait in 2009. Cured salmon eggs and fresh sardine wraps certainly had an effect on fishing success. Catch rates immediately doubled and hopes were high for the remainder of the month. Alas, July 2009 was also plagued by irregular river conditions as after several high water events in June, the Kenai in early July was gin clear and super low! Both conditions and fish counts did improve as we headed into mid July and this proved to be the best king salmon fishing for the season. Fish counts peaked between July 10-20 and in the tidal reaches of the lower river we were able to achieve many multiple fish days and land a number of very large fish as well. On July 17, this included our largest retained king salmon of the season a Hawg weighing in at a whopping 75lbs!!! With almost two more full weeks of king season to come, I felt very confident about the remainder of the season. I was especially optimistic about the last five days of the month when tides were absolutely perfect. Mother nature had different plans. Unfortunately in the third week of the month, big tides and poor weather hampered our angling effort. The river went from normal July levels to well over flood stage by the end of the month. Heavy rains, extreme tides and a ruptured glacial dam in the Kenai Mountains all contributed to the perfect storm. What is normally the most anticipated week of king salmon fishing of the season became a struggle just to catch a fish. Through it all we did manage to produce a number of opportunities for our clients daily and all in all we closed an overall tumultuous king season with many outstanding days in the field and countless trophy king salmon to show for our efforts.
All experienced salmon anglers understand that runs go up and down in cycles and this along with weather and river conditions are all part of the overall equation. The lean seasons only serve to highlight the more bountiful returns. Again, after twenty summers afloat the Kenai it is truly fascinating to witness the unique qualities each summer entails.
As king season came to a close, an entirely new and unique season was lined up right behind it. Our fall run of silvers was making waves already in the salt water and after the less than wide open king runs, we all remained cautiously optimistic regarding the strength of the silver returns. Our optimism seemed to be working as the first week to ten days of silver salmon fishing showed great promise for the remainder of the month. By mid August it was apparent river wide that the coho return was quite strong. Limit catches were being recorded from the mouth all the way to Skilak Lake. Our boats found excellent success in the pristine waters of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge where we scored both limits of fresh silvers, but also very good trout fishing to round out the day. The silver run peaked mid month, but stayed steady into late August and after a short pause, the late run arrived in earnest. With angling pressure down and new fish arriving daily, September fishing on the Kenai was as good as it gets. This remained the case through the end of the month and into October when both high water from yet another ruptured ice dam and colder temperatures, began to slow the pursuit. Overall it was a banner silver run for both the Kenai and other rivers statewide and despite roller coaster king returns, the season ended on a much needed high note.
Now, as ice encapsulates the Kenai and winter strengthens its seasonal grip, we look forward to the new year with renewed enthusiasm. Trying to predict what lies ahead is always a challenge but the Kenai river are sure to deliver many great memories for those that travel near and far to fish its world renown flows. Every season seems to bring a different facet of the river to the table and even when you’ve spent half your life exploring its waters, there always something new to discover.
For myself, my wife Cindy, our girls, and Brent and Derek, we’d like to thank everyone that visited us in 2009. We hope your trip was memorable and productive and we greatly appreciate your patronage. For those faces new and old that will join us for the fast approaching 2010 season, we look forward with excitement, optimism and confidence. We know after 21 years that a commitment to quality, excellence and 150% effort will make your next trip to the Kenai a great success. Please call or email us anytime and we will help you plan the perfect adventure to America’s Last Frontier.
Mark’s Final 2009 Alaska Fishing Report: Oct. 1, 2009:
The rest of the story….
Well, king season definitely ended on a “high note” with record water levels and flooding. Remarkably, king salmon fishing remained viable right through the high water event as unlike when our more silty tributaries contribute to the deluge, this was almost entirely the result of a mountainous ice dam that suddenly released its entire contents into the main stem Kenai River below Skilak Lake. The water was not particularly turbid, therefore river clarity
remained decent, BUT, the levels were the highest they have been since the 1970’s. This was not the perfect ending to the 2009 king season we had hoped for and despite perfect tides for fishing the lower Kenai, we finished the season in the waters around our lodge. The fish were tough to find and on the move in the flooded conditions but we did find enough to provide lots of smiles and good fishing trips and we felt fortunate to have the success we did have in such unusual conditions.
Sockeye salmon fishing remained very productive throughout the flood and into the first week of August. We had great success both in the section of the river adjacent to our lodge and also upriver above Bings Landing. We fishing for both sockeye and trout with
very good success until the second week of August when we began targeting early run silvers. With the water remaining higher than normal the silvers wasted very little time making it upriver and it was not long before large packs of them were congregating in the slower water below Skilak Lake. We took regular limits of chrome coho from this section of the river until late in the month when the run finally began to wane. Overall it was an excellent early run of Kenai Silver salmon and the great salmon fishing combined with excellent rainbow trout and dolly varden fishing made August one of our most productive and overall consistent months of the entire summer.
September began a little on the slow side as we awaited the first big push of late run coho. These fish arrived and in excellent numbers between Sept 5 and Sept 20. Although these dates seemed to mark the peak of this run, we still continued to see strong waves of fresh coho well into October. Temps this fall have remained very mild with a southern flow and a lot of rain. Soon the Peninsula will be covered in snow and winter will prevail, but for now, many unique angling opportunities do remain, capping yet another great fishing season here in Alaska.
For a full review of the 2009 fishing season, please look for the 2009/2010 addition of the Kenai Current coming soon!
Mark’s Fishing Report, July 22, 2009
Jared Rarick and a huge 60lb plus Kenai king he caught last week.
Thomas Williams with a nice Kenai king he caught on July 7.
Kenai River: The Kenai is currently very high and off color and this has slowed the fishing considerably. This past week was considered very good for king salmon and even this week held some good fishing days, but today’s fishing was slower due to the rising water and lack of clarity. Also contributing to the tough fishing is the poor tide cycle with extreme highs dropping to extreme lows. This will flip next week with more moderate tides and hopefully water conditions will improve as we head into this weekend. Overall the late run of king salmon has been decent with many excellent days of fishing. There have been a number of very large kings caught on our boats including a few 60lb fish and also one in the low to mid 70’s! We are hopeful the current water conditions will improve rapidly and that our final week of the season is a good one. Sockeye salmon fishing has also been very good so far, but the commercial fishing in Cook Inlet has slowed the run over the last few days. With over 300,000 reds already in the river, we have seen plenty of good fishing but with a goal of 750,000-950,000 fish… we still have a long way to go before we reach escapement. Hopefully there are several good pushes of sockeye still in the ocean and headed our way.
MGF Guides Mark Glassmaker and Derek Gardner pose with a nice catch of Kenai Hawgs take Friday July 17.
One of the first limits of beautiful Kenai River Sockeye.
Kasilof River: The Kasilof has had some very good king salmon fishing this July but has also been up and down depending on the commercial fishing pressure. Most boats are seeing 2-4 kings per trip with some very large kings being caught. This should continue into the last week of July, the historical peak for this return.
Remote Fisheries: Big River Lake was slow for over a week due to super warn water but after a few cool, cloudy and rainy days, the fish have re-entered the cove at Wolverine Creek and fishing has been outstanding. The Kustatan is starting to see more and more silvers with each passing tide and it currently very good fishing for big bright silver salmon.
Mark’s Fishing Report, July 4, 2009
My five year old daughter Caleigh says goodbye to a fifty plus pound Kenai King, an inspiration to us all!
My seven year old Faith and her sister Caleigh pose with Faith’s first king salmon: a forty five pound hen!
First, Happy fourth of July to everyone. God bless America.
Kenai River: I am happy to report that the Kenai River has improved dramatically with the use of bait. Fish counts remain steady and king fishing in the lower Kenai has been very productive. Although the water remains lower and somewhat more clear than normal, the use of bait in the tidal section of the river has proved successful with most boats landing one to five kings per trip. In the face of statewide king salmon closures due to weak returns, the Kenai seems to be the faring well. This can only be a testament to the river’s unique habitat and resilience as even though it receives more fishing pressure than any other river in all of Alaska and is subject to demanding commercial set net and drift gillnet fisheries, it continues to produce world class sport fishing for large king salmon. Let’s all hope this continues as we are only mere days into our late run and we have a long way to go until the fishery closes Aug 1. The Kenai River is also seeing excellent fishing for trophy rainbow trout. With the majority of the fishing pressure concentrated on the lower river for kings, the middle and upper sections of the Kenai below Skilak lake are providing epic angling for some of the largest rainbows on earth. 50-75 fish days are the rule and many of these trophy trout are well above five pounds. This fishery should continue to provide excellent action well into the fall.
Bob Chirstenson and a dandy Kenai Rainbow.
Bob Thorpe with another beautiful Kenai River Rainbow Trout.
David Kerrey and Phil Gantt display 68 and 35 pound kings caught on July 3 while fishing with MGF guide Derek Gardner.
Kasilof River: The Kasilof river continues to provide consistent action for king salmon as late run fish begin to arrive with each passing tide. Fish in the 30 plus pound class have been reported daily and drift boaters are seeing from 1-5 fish per trip. This second run fishery should only continue to improve as it moves toward its seasonal peak in late July.
Bill Porter releases a nice Kasilof king salmon.
Remote Fisheries: Big River Lake and Wolverine Creek continue to be super productive for both sockeye salmon and bear viewing. This run seems quite strong with fish to be found in several locations throughout the lake and especially at the mouth of Wolverine Creek. Limits have been the rule and fish seem slightly larger than normal. Plenty of bears, both brown and black, have been delighting visitors with some excellent bear viewing and photo opportunities. This fishery should continue to shine as it moves into late July and transitions into silver season.
Cook Inlet Salt Water: Halibut fishing has been excellent all season and remains very good as we enter the first week of July. Limits of good sized eating fish in the 15-40 pound range have been the rule and the numbers of fish have been remarkable. Our salt water skipper Levi Keogh had a bit of a surprise visitor last week. While reeling in halibut from the depths, a number of sizable salmon sharks were occasionally claiming the fish for themselves and Levi devised a plan to even the score. A fellow Lamiglas Pro Guide, Levi ordered a stout shark rod from the factory and prepared it with the appropriate steel leader so he’d be ready the next time mister salmon shark decided to steal his clients hard earned halibut. Sure enough, a salmon shark appeared on Levi’s next outing and he rigged up a enticing bait and they were soon hooked up with a toothy trophy. Salmon Sharks are not a common visitor to Cook Inlet waters and are more routinely caught in Prince William Sound. Cheers to Levi and the Lamiglas rod that helped him and his client boat this rare catch.
Halibut skipper Levi Keogh displays a 7.5 foot salmon shark he helped his client tackle on a Lamiglas rod last week in Cook Inlet.
Mark’s Fishing Report, June 22, 2009
Kasilof River: The Kasilof has been steady but the number of fish arriving on the tides is beginning to wane. We have reached the annual peak of this fishery it seems so I would expect fishing to remain just OK until the first pushes of late run kings begin to enter the system.
Kenai River: The Kenai early run continues to sputter along with lower than usual fish counts and tough fishing. The peak of the run never seemed to materialize and unlike the past two Junes where we saw multiple fish days during the annual mid June peak of this run, this season we have worked very hard for one to three fish per trip. Conditions remain ideal with water depth and clarity are perfect but the fish just do not seem to be present in the numbers required to provide productive fishing. We remain optimistic that we will see a blast of fish late but this may not occur and we may have seen the “peak” of this early run already. While we expected to see ADF&G allow the use of bait sometime last week, the less than stellar fish counts prompted a status quo approach and managers decided to err on the side of caution and leave the river single hook, no bait until July 1.
Randy Laue from Manhattan, Kansas proudly displays a 45 inch Kenai King salmon he landed on June 20.
Trout fishing on the Kenai has been very good and after a huge pink salmon return last season, the trout are all very fat and healthy. We expect trout fishing to remain very productive into late fall and this is always a very exciting trip with great numbers and tons of action.
Marine Fishers: Deep Creek / Ninilchik: Halibut fishing remains very consistent with lots of nice fish being caught and limits being the overall rule. Given decent tides and decent water conditions, anglers can expect this very good fishing to continue in Cook Inlet into late July and early August.
Remote Fisheries: Our fly out fishing to Big River Lake has been very good with high numbers of sockeye present throughout the Lake. The majority of the fish remain in the Lake and not totally committed to the mouth of Wolverine Creek but nonetheless we have been able to get limits of fresh sockeye and we have also seen plenty of bears. On the Chuit River, king salmon fishing has been hampered by low water conditions but has still been productive. The fish have been smaller overall but there have been good enough numbers to provide action all day long.
Mark’s Fishing Report, June 13, 2009
Kenai River: The Kenai has seen a different June than the last two season with less than stellar river conditions and mediocre fishing success. A recent spell of unusually warm weather has elevated the glacial rivers such as the Kiley and Wally’s Creek and thus turned the normally turquoise green river into an off color pea soup with a high level of suspended solids mixed in. The water has climbed considerably over the past week: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?15266300
Dan Michelson and Mark Glassmaker with a beautiful 35lb Kenai River hen taken in early June.
Anyone that frequently pursues king salmon knows that a rising, off color river makes for fish that do not bite well and move upriver very fast. Nevertheless, despite these unfavorable conditions, our boats have managed to boat 1-3 king salmon per trip and some really large kings have been caught as well. The river is currently stabilizing rapidly and that desirable green hue is returning fast. Fish counts have also remained on the rise and this combined with improving water clarity should lead to some very productive fishing over the next week to ten days. We are also likely to see the bait restriction lifted as the number of fish in the river and low success rates thus far should make escapement goals easily achievable. Bait, combined with green water and lots of newly arriving king salmon, make for a very desirable outlook for anglers fishing the Kenai in the next few days.
Kasilof River: The Kasilof has remained the best king fishery on the Peninsula with very good river conditions and also very productive fishing. The run seems to be a fairly strong mix of both natural and hatchery king salmon and boats are averaging 2-6 king salmon per trip. The river is seeing new fish arrive on every tide and should continue to produce very good fishing for the next week at least. The river has seen added pressure due to the less than stellar conditions on the Kenai but this should even out as the Kenai comes back into shape.
Larry Boehme and Family shows a great day’s work on the Kasilof on June 13.
Geoffrey Thompson with a nice chromer Kasilof king caught June 6.
Grant Thompson and another nice Kasilof king he caught on June 4
Chuck Schumann and his crew from MicroCom show off some nice hatchery kings and a few sockeye they caught on June 12. The group also released five wild or natural king salmon in the same trip!
Cook Inlet Marine Fisheries: Halibut fishing remain very consistent with 100% limits of fish up to 100lbs being the rule. A group yesterday reported no fish over 35lbs but the group of five landed close to 50 fish over the course of the trip. This fishery should only improve and we should start to see some larger fish move into the Inlet as we inch close to July.
Remote Fly Out Fisheries: The primary fly out location we are fishing remains Big River Lake and Wolverine Creek and this continues to just get better and better by the day. A large number of sockeye salmon are present at the mouth of the creek and limits have been taken daily. Both brown and black bears are making regular visits to the mouth of the Creek making this combination bear viewing and sockeye salmon trip a huge success. This run should continue to build into mid July and numerous schools of fresh fish can be seen splashing throughout the lake headed for Wolverine Creek.
Mark’s Fishing Report, June 3, 2009
Kasilof River: The Kasilof saw a noticeable boost in fish numbers beginning approximately one week ago. Both wild and hatchery fish are now present in the river in decent numbers and catch rates have doubled. Most boats are landing 2-4 kings per trip and there are still a good number of steelhead present as well. Lets hope the fishing remains consistent and continues to improve as we approach the seasonal peak of this fishery in the next week to ten days.
“Mila” all the way from the Czech Republic shows off a beautiful 25lb hatchery king salmon she caught on the Kasilof June 1.
Kenai River: The Kenai also saw a upswing in fishing success over the last week with fish counts reaching as high as 250 per days on a few days last week. Anglers were seeing one to three fish per trip and pressure has been relatively light. The last two days have seen the fishing success wane somewhat but this may be due to the timing of the tides, low water and also the water clarity. It remains extremely low and clear for the first week of June. Sunny weather is forecasted for most of the week so this should help with snow melt in the mountains and bring the river up and more fish in.
Deep Creek/Ninilchik Marine Fishery: Halibut fish has been excellent but king fishing remains hit and miss. Hopefully the kings will show in the next day or so and we will also see new pushes into all the Peninsula rivers. Only time will tell.
Southern Kenai Peninsula Rivers: Fishing on all the smaller Peninsula rivers has been tough and with very low counts on the Anchor, ADF&G will likely issue an emergency order tonight at midnight closing the Anchor to all Sportfishing until fish numbers improve and escapement projections are met.
Mark’s Fishing Report, May 24, 2009
First, let me say happy Memorial Day to all and especially to those who have served our country so bravely and have made the ultimate sacrifice for our great Country.
Kevin and Kelly Bates from southern California proudly display and nice Kasilof King salmon that Kevin caught on May 19.
Bill Humble from Arkansas landed this nice sized Kasilof King on May 21 after a long tough battle that required him to get out of the drift boat and chase the fish down river. Great job Bill!!!
Kasilof River: Unlike the past two seasons, the Kasilof is at relatively normal levels. River conditions are ideal for this early in the season with plenty of water and most of the holes are deep enough to hold fish. Unfortunately, very few king salmon have entered the system so far, though some have arrived over the last week to ten days. Fishing can be best described as slow, with some boats getting one or two fish per drift and many boats not caching any. With the nice spring weather we have had and the decent river conditions, one might expect the run to be farther along than it actually is. Mother Nature always has her own plan and we will need to wait and see how things progress as we get into late May and early June, normally the time we see this river really pick up. Most of the fish caught so far have been natural or wild king salmon and very few hatchery origin king salmon have been reported. King fishing is bound to improve over the next week to ten days so stay tuned for more reports and hopefully more fish! There have been a fair number of out migrating steelhead in the Kasilof (kelts) and though they are tired from being in the system all winter, they have provided welcome action between the well earned king salmon bites. There have also been a fair number of sea-run dolly varden in the river as well.
Kenai River: Much like the neighboring Kasilof, the Kenai is up and flowing at reasonable levels and river conditions are very good for this early in the season. Numbers of fish are also much like the Kasilof: few and far between. While it is not unusual for the Kenai to be slow at this point in May, we have had some May fishing in the past that was downright excellent. This has not been the case so far as anglers putting in long, arduous hours on the water are seeing only random success with some boats catching one fish and many not having any action at all. Again, this is very early in the run and not unusual but we should see the run pick up substantially as we enter the first week of June.
Deep Creek/Ninilchik Marine Fishery: Not unlike the Kenai and the Kasilof, king salmon fishing in the salt water has been poor. The fish are simple not present yet in any reasonable numbers and those fishing daily are seeing only random, sporadic success. Typically this is a very productive time for this marine fishery so one can only hope that the fish are late and we will see a dramatic improvement very soon. Halibut fishing on the other hand has picked up nicely with most boats easily catching their limits of fish ranging from 20-100 lbs. So far halibut fishing is the most consistent and predictable of all the options Kenai Peninsula anglers have to choose from.
Southern Kenai Peninsula Rivers: The Ninilchik, Deep Creek and the Anchor are all off to a very slow start this year with very few kings being reported. Weir counts reflect angler success with very low numbers being recorded. These rivers should all see a huge boost over the next week to ten days as the seemingly late returns (we hope) begin to arrive in earnest. Again, only Mother Nature holds the real answers to what lies ahead so please stay tuned for future reports and hopefully a more positive and robust showing of early run king salmon Peninsula wide.