King salmon put the Kenai on the map.
The strain of salmanoid on steroids that returns to the Kenai’s glacial flows is unmatched in size anywhere on earth. Indeed a handful of rivers from Washington to Alaska are likely to punch out a few fifty pounders, maybe a sixty, maybe. The Kenai yields 50+ pound salmon every day of the season and there always seems to be a few fish each year that threaten to break the current 97.4lb. record. Yes, this is the land of the giants. A place where the word normal does not apply.
There’s really only two consistent ways to put these fish on the hook; one is back-trolling and one is drifting. Back-trolling consists of sending out diving baits (plugs, salmon eggs, etc…) and holding the boat in the current so that the baits dive down against the river’s flows. Jetplaners, cured bait, spin n’ glows, mag-warts, and kwik-fish are all proven winners. By slowly backing through migratory water, resting holes, etc…, eventually the baits will intercept a willing fish and the rod becomes possessed with a large, wild, and previously free creature that wants nothing more than to be rid of your hook. One word: reel!
Drifting is totally different. This involves attaching a fair amount of weight to your line and sending a freshly cured chunk king roe, combined with a large spin n’ glow of your favorite color, down to the river’s gravel bottom. We carefully select the right place at the right time. Anticipating, making that educated guess as to where the in-coming flush of salmon will be off any given tide, we turn our sleds sideways in the current and launch our enticing offers. As the river’s gravel acknowledges the lead, tremors of unmatched anticipation rocket through the graphite and straight to your heart. Each bounce is different and with three other lines drifting in unison, a wall of allure ticks its way through one of many holes. Fighting to stay focused you are drawn to another boat where an enormous net waves in the morning fog and an even bigger flash of pure chrome catapults from the icy water. Stunned, you are quickly reminded of your own predicament and an unusual bounce conveys a new vibration, an animated yank, yank. Then all h@#* breaks loose. Your forearm takes the full brunt of the attack as the full weight of the fish threatens to separate you from the rod. After a series of large methodical head shakes the king leaves town and your reel is losing so much line it’s making you dizzy.
This type of daily drama is enough to assemble the finest guides in the world and an ample supply of eager anglers all vying for the infamous Kenai king salmon. With two distinct runs, and a three month season, this fishery is full of legendary experiences. For every story about the one that didn’t get away, there’s a story about the one that did.