As with the early run, the second run of Kenai River king salmon is off to a slow but promising start.
Through Monday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had counted 1,674 late-run kings past its sonar site 14 miles up the Kenai. That's a solid start compared to the past two years, which saw fewer than 800 kings in the river by the same date. Last year's escapement of 14,134 was the lowest the department has seen since it began collecting data in 1986.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Jason Pawluk said the early numbers are nice, but cautioned that it's still far too early to say if this year's run will reach its sustainable escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000 late-run kings.
"So far, the beginning of the late run is encouraging compared to the previous two years," he said.
Pawluk said he's hopeful the couple hundred fish entering the river per day will start inching toward the thousands.
"We would anticipate the counts to go up," he said.
As of this week, no further restrictions are planned on the Kenai, which is open from its mouth upstream to a point 300 yards downstream of Slikok Creek near Soldotna. Anglers are also restricted to using single hook artificial lures with no bait.
Those limitations, along with high and murky water, have reportedly made for slow fishing. On Sunday and Tuesday -- the last two days for which he had data -- Pawluk said Fish and Game employees doing on-river creel surveys didn't make contact with a single angler who'd caught a king.
Pawluk said July 1 saw an estimated 55 kings harvested, but things have deteriorated since then for sport anglers.
"It's gotten worse," he said.
River managers hope the late run will come in strong after an early run that made its escapement goal, with 6,190 fish getting upstream. That's a jump from the 4,214 counted last year and the all-time low of 2,308 in 2013.
"We consider it a success and we're very pleased with achieving that goal," Pawluk said.
He's hopeful the strong trend will continue in future years, and noted that the run also saw a slight increase in the proportion of older fish.
"The quality of the run is another aspect that was better than the previous two years, but it's still not where it normally is or where we've been historically," he said.
Seward swimming in fish
Halibut fishing continues to improve in the Gulf of Alaska out of Seward, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The department reports larger fish are also being taken.
Seward is a good one-stop shop for salmon anglers. King salmon are still being caught at the outlet of the Seward Lagoon, where anglers were hauling in snagged kings at a regular clip over the holiday. Fish and Game also reports silver salmon are being caught in Pony Cove and sockeyes can still be found at the mouth of Resurrection River.
Last chance for Mat-Su kings
King salmon fishing on all Mat-Su area streams except Eklutna Tailrace closes Monday. Fishing at the Deshka River remains fair, while anglers on the Little Susitna report decent fishing. A few silver salmon have also started to trickle in.
Anglers might also want to check out Jim Creek and Cottonwood Creek, which have reportedly begun to see sockeye salmon.
Lower Kenai Peninsula picking up
Halibut fishing out of Homer is getting better each week, the department reports, as fish continue to move closer to port. The current leader in the Homer Chamber's Jackpot Halibut Derby is a 199.8-pounder caught June 21 by Minnesota's Jason Solberg while fishing aboard the Misty captained by Shane Blakely.
Trolling for kings is also reportedly fair on the southern Kenai Peninsula, with Fish and Game reporting good fishing around Seldovia and outer Kachemak Bay and improving further north around Ninilchik.
Campbell Creek and Bird Creek in the Anchorage area will open to sport fishing on July 14. Until then, anglers can try Ship Creek for kings. The downtown fishery closes to king fishing on July 13.
Lake anglers should also note that Symphony Lake, at the end of the South Fork Eagle River trail, is open for grayling fishing.
Contact Matt Tunseth at firstname.lastname@example.org