Most likely it is the most sought after salmon species in the entire state. And there is little doubt that the words Kenai River
immediately bring visions of record-breaking fish and fish racks filled with trophies hanging next to smiling anglers.
Overall, the Kenai River no longer maintains its world-class status as the "King Salmon Fishing Capital of the World." This previous reputation has produced a lot of visibility for a stream just three hours from Alaska's most populated area and the most visited recreational spot in Alaska.
The Kenai River no longer provides quality king salmon fishing as it did 20 years ago. Alaska's king salmon stocks are in severe decline throughout the entire state and every river and stream containing wild runs of king salmon are now severely restricted to save the remaining fish. The Kenai River is no exception and in 2012 the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game closed both the early and late king salmon fisheries to sport fishing in an attempt to achieve even the minimum escapement numbers for spawning. Every king salmon stream in Southcentral Alaska ended up closing to sport fishing to protect those runs too.
Fishing the Kenai River is not as it was 25 years ago when a few dozen boats plied its turquoise-colored glacial waters.
Today there are around 350 registered sportfishing guides on the Kenai River. Campgrounds, RV parks, lodges, bed and breakfasts, residential homes and boat launches have changed the face of the river forever. And yet it continues to produce about the same number of kings between the two runs per season for guided anglers determined to battle one of America's largest freshwater fish.
Fishing is always unpredictable and especially so on the Kenai. Angler success varies from day to day and from one year to the next. River conditions can change overnight and make hooking up more challenging than climbing Denali in the winter. Fishing with a professional guide can substantially increase your odds as you will see from the data we provide.
Although there are many non-guided sport anglers fishing the river, their lower success rate is more a function of their fishing tactics. They tend to enjoy the experience at a more leisurely pace, perhaps because most know they will have future opportunities to eventually make that connection.
Guided fishing falls into a category all its own. 95% of all guided anglers have a one day shot at catching a fish. The guide must initiate an aggressive pursuit of the quarry each and every day he/she is on the river. This tends to add a bit more urgency to the experience. Paying customers are expecting to catch a fish.
Quite a few guides are now offering 3/4 day trips which usually last about 8 hours compared to a half day charter lasting 5 to 5 1/2 hours. The angler's advantage on the longer trips is significant. The extra few hours on the water allows the angler to "hit" the tide at some time during the trip when fishing may be better. Secondly, when most of the guides are heading back to their operation's base to exchange their clients for the afternoon run, those anglers on a 3/4 trip are on the water with very little competition in the fishing holes. Many times this can improve an angler's odds of catching a king by 25 - 30%. And the additional cost of these trips is not that much more.
The next two pages will give you the latest statistics on the two distinct runs of king salmon on the Kenai River. We provide you some vital orientation as well as the stats on how successful king salmon fishing is for each of the runs.