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Anglers from around the world come for the salmon-choked streams and rivers, most notably the Kenai River and its companion, the Russian River. Knowledgeable fishery professionals figure it's only a matter of time before someone with sportfishing gear catches a 100-pounder. There are two runs of kings up the Kenai every summer. The first run starts in mid-May and tapers off in early July, and the second run is from early July until the season ends on July 31. Generally speaking, the first run has more fish, but they tend to be smaller than second-run fish. Smaller, of course, has a whole different meaning when it comes to these fish. Fifty- and 60-pounders are unremarkable here, and 40-pound fish are routinely tossed back as being "too small." The limit is one king kept per day, five per season, no more than two of which can be from the Kenai. In addition to a fishing license, you must obtain a special Alaska king salmon license stamp and a harvest record. These can be purchased on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website (www.adfg.alaska.gov), or check with your guide, as most guides sell them. The river also supports two runs of red (sockeye) salmon every year, as well as runs of silver (coho) and pink (humpback) salmon. Rainbow trout of near-mythic proportions inhabit the river, as do Dolly Varden char. Fishing pressure is heavy, so don't expect a wilderness experience, especially in the lower river near Soldotna.
Farther up the river, between Kenai Lake in Cooper Landing and Skilak Lake, motorboats are banned, so a more idyllic experience can be had. Scores of guide services ply the river, and if you're inexperienced at the game, consider hiring a guide for a half-day or full-day trip. Deep-sea fishing for salmon and halibut out of Deep Creek is challenging Homer's position as the preeminent fishing destination on the southern Kenai Peninsula. This fishery is unusual in that tractors launch boats off the beach and into the Cook Inlet surf. The local campground and RV lot is packed on summer weekends.
Area phone books list some 300 fishing charters and guides, all of whom stay busy during the hectic summer fishing season.
Kenai River Trips. Head down the Kenai River and learn about the surroundings and wildlife with these guides. One of the oldest and largest outfitters on the peninsula, the company has trips to suit just about everyone. Soldotna, AK. 800/478–4100. www.alaskarivertrips.com. From $59.
Hi Lo Charters. A family-operated company in business for more than two decades, Hi Lo is a full-service guide outfitter that offers lodging and specializes in hooking king salmon. Soldotna, AK. 907/398–4162. www.hilofishing.com. Contact outfitter for prices.
Sports Den. This outfitter arranges single-day trips on the Kenai and multi-day fishing trips for salmon, trout, or halibut—on the river, on the saltwater, or to a remote fly-in location. Soldotna, AK. 907/262–7491. www.alaskasportsden.com. $165 for Kenai trip from $1,695 for fishing trips.