room Kenai River Fishing Lodge in rural Soldotna, AK.
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Kenai River King Salmon Fishing

Kenai River King Salmon Fishing (Chinook Salmon)

King salmon are one of the major drawing cards bringing people to the Soldotna/Kenai area. These large salmon will provide the angler with the thrill of a lifetime when they bite your hook. Kings weigh in anywhere from 15 pounds for an immature “jack” salmon to close to 100 pounds. The world record sport caught king was caught in the Kenai River on May 17, 1985. That fish weighed in at 97 pounds 4 ounces. This fish was not weighed for several hours after it was caught by Les Anderson, the angler, as he didn’t realize that it was such a trophy. If you want to see this fish, a full size skin mount is currently located at the Soldotna Visitors’ Center.

There are two runs of king salmon in the Kenai River as well as in the Kasilof River 10 miles to the south. The Kasilof is a drift boat only fishery. The guides who fish the Kasilof take only one trip per day. They generally put into the river just above the Sterling Highway bridge and then float downstream, taking the boat out before they get to the mouth of the river. The first run of kings in both rivers tend to be the smaller fish weighing in at around 35 pounds. The Kenai typically produces larger king salmon than the Kasilof. The world record fish was surely an example.

Other rivers to the south can be fished for kings on certain weekends in June from the banks of the rivers. These other rivers are not large enough for boats. These rivers include the Ninilchik River, Deep Creek, and the Anchor River. Fish caught from these rivers are generally on the smaller size weighing in at the 25-30 pound range although larger fish have been harvested.

The second run of kings in both the Kasilof and Kenai River are generally larger than the fish in the first run with the larger fish coming out of the Kenai. Many fish are caught in the Kenai during the second run that weigh in at 60 to 80 pounds. There are also a few that weigh in around 90 plus pounds but nothing to date has equaled the world record. When you get one of these big fish on the line, you will know you are in for a battle. To get these fish into the boat, you will need a large long handled deep net.

Kings weighing 75 pounds caught in the Kenai River are considered by the Department of Fish and Game to be a trophy for that species of salmon and will issue a trophy Certificate to the angler. On other rivers, a 50 pound fish is considered a trophy. To identify a king salmon, you will see small, irregular shaped black spots on the back, dorsal fin, and on both lobes of the tail.

Kings are known for their high omega 3 content and therefor are very desirable. Kings like all the other salmon can be cooked a variety of ways from grilling, baking, deep fat frying, and smoking. If you’re having a party, a filet of king salmon will feed a large crowd. Recipes can be found online in many recipe data bases.

From the time you get into the boat with your guide, you will be learning about king salmon and what to do if one hits your line. Most of the guides back troll for kings. Back trolling is as the name describes. Your boat will be in forward gear to keep the boat in forward motion but the speed is so slow that you will actually be backing down the river with your diving lure hanging out the back of the boat. When anyone in the boat gets a fish on the line, all others reel in so the hooked fish does not get tangled with the other lines. Kings have been known to run all over the river once hooked. To notify other boats in the vicinity, the boat with the fish on flies their net to let other fishermen and boats know that there is a fish on the line.

The limit on king salmon in the Kenai River is one per day and two per season. Catching a king salmon is a once in a lifetime experience for many people. Don’t miss out.