The 2017 fishing season on the Kenai Peninsula and surrounding waters was excellent overall. It featured very few lows and countless highs and will be largely remembered as a rebound year for king salmon. After recent years with less than stellar king returns, this past season did feature some of the best king salmon action we have seen in several years.
The season began as usual on the Kasilof, a smaller glacially turbid river south of the Kenai. This year king salmon run projections for the Kasilof were on the healthy side so no preseason restrictions were in place and we started as we would on a “normal” year: bait and multiple hooks beginning on May 16. The bait opener did not disappoint and with only a handful of boats, several kings were landed, and the season was officially off to a great start. This combined run of both hatchery and wild king salmon never looked back and we fished it daily with great success well into mid-June. The annual peak of the run seemed to occur between late May and the second week of June. We are expecting a similar if not better season in 2018 as the hatchery portion of the run continues to build.
The Kenai river this summer stayed relatively low throughout most of the king season and this meant most of the best fishing occurred in the lower tidal portions of the river. The early run of kings was a very good one with lots of big fish. The peak of this return happened in the first two weeks of June and with the low flows, the fish made their way upriver and beyond the reach of fishing pressure in rapid fashion. The strong return even prompted ADFG to open the lower river to the use of bait and retention of fish up to 46 inches beginning June 21, but the liberalization came well after the peak of the run and resulted in very little change to fishing success.
July seemed to arrive very quickly this season as May and June were very busy. With it came several entirely new runs of king salmon and sockeye on both the Kenai and the Kasilof and much like the early runs, they were consistent and strong. The Kasilof late run of king salmon was good throughout the month of July with the last week to ten-days of the season being best. On the Kenai, the late run of Kings was up and down with the favorable tide cycles and commercial fishing openers, but overall it was good with lots of big, healthy fish. Again, fishing success was greatest in the lower, tidal reaches of the river and the last week to ten days of the season was game on. The sockeye salmon run on the Kenai was also very good. We did not see any stand out days where hundreds of thousands of fish passed the counters in a single day. Instead, the run spread itself out in a more even fashion with 15-30K fish days being more the norm. The run began in the first week to ten days of July and lasted for several consecutive weeks. We actually saw very good sockeye salmon fishing well into August, with the total run coming in at well over 1 million fish! Aside from a select few trips, we enjoyed limit catches on most days.
After a very poor silver return in 2016, many were anxious to see if the coho would be more plentiful in 2017. These hopes were rewarded as we saw a robust 2017 silver return to the Kenai River and really all drainages Cook Inlet wide. It was a welcome rebound and around Aug 10 we started to transition away from the still abundant sockeye in search of fresh silvers entering the lower river. With each passing tide, the run continued to build, and the average size of the fish was very impressive. The early run remained strong well into late August and was followed up by another strong run that peaked in mid to late September and continued well into October. Although the river was low for most of the summer, an ice dam in the mountains let go in late August and the river finally came up to just below flood level for the first time of the season. The Kenai stayed at moderate levels relatively late into the fall before overnight freezing temps finally dropped the river substantially and winter conditions ensued.
Trout fishing provided a lot of action this season as usual, and followed its typical peaks. One interesting detail about the June and early July season was the low clear water. In the section of the Kenai below Skilak Lake and above the Kiley River, visibility was up to ten feet with gin clear conditions. You could stand atop the bow of your boat and see pretty much every fish in the river. While it was fun to spot fish, the low, clear conditions were not the best for fishing. As the season progressed and more and more sockeye began to arrive in July, a large segment of the trout seems to migrate lower in the river and into places where shore anglers were cleaning sockeye. We had many great trout days, especially in the first week to ten days of August, when the carcass piles were at their peak. Trout fishing was excellent in the fall until the water came up from the ice dam release and then it seemed to spread out both the food and the fish. Now with the super low water and lots of spawning silvers still in the river, trout fishing is magical for those willing to hike or ski in and brave below freezing temps.
The Kenai has many different facets to explore and before we know it the 2018 summer season will be upon us. As we conclude our look back and say goodbye to an incredible 2017 season, it’s always fun to look ahead to yet another summer on the horizon.
As always, we would like to thank everyone that chose to fish with us this past season as without you our business would not be possible. I never take for granted the blessing of being able to do something I love for a career and all of you have helped make that a reality. Next year will be our 28th consecutive season guiding on the Kenai River and surrounding waters and Cindy and I sure hope you will consider joining us!
Mark, Cindy, Faith, Caleigh and Emma Glassmaker