It was the first morning of a three day trip, and
boats all around us were fighting fish. Minutes into
legal fishing hours on the Kenai, Dad hooked his first
king -- a 40 pound hog we soon released. Four hours
passed before I got my first nibble, but when I set
the hook, the question was who was in control.
Up and down the river our 22-foot sled was dragged by
the giant king. About 20 minutes elapsed before any of
us in the boat caught a glimpse of him. Finally, he
emerged from the glaciated water; 53 inches of sheer
power, slamming his 70 pounds of mass across the
water's surface. Without words the mood in the boat
shifted; I was now in a contest with the fish of a
I've talked with angler's who've fished the Kenai for
a decade and not taken a fish over 70 pounds, but luck
was with me. Leading that titan's head into the net
and pulling him into the boat was a moment I'll never
With plenty of fishing time still ahead, I'd
admittedly lost some of my zest after having landed
such a fine fish. Then I reminded myself that this
river is home to the current world record king taken
on tackle, a 97 lb. 4 oz. behemoth, and that the next
record king would likely come from these same waters.
Each season, numerous fish are hooked but never seen
on the Kenai River. Some fish that are hooked and
lost are reported to eclipse the magic 100 pound mark.
While salmon along the British Columbia coast are
gaining notoriety due to their large size the past few
years, if I had one trip to make with the hopes of
nailing a Goliath king, it would be to the Kenai.
Though I was finished fishing for the day -- Kenai
River laws allow anglers to keep only one king per
day, two per season -- I still had tomorrow and the
next day to look forward to. The pressure was off,
now I could sit back, relax, watch other anglers catch
fish and eagerly await another shot at breaking the
Though I've fished this river several times on my
own, unless you live there, know someone who does, or
are willing to pull your boat up, guided trips are the
way to go. Approximately 90 percent of the fishing on the river
is guided, and there are some outstanding folks who
know their stuff. When I'm not going it alone, I fish
with guide Brett Gesh (907-260-6521). His success on big fish is
what keeps me coming back.
Two season's ago I had to cancel my trip with Gesh at
the last minute. Days later he phoned from the river;
the client who took my place landed two kings over 70
pounds that day. Though the chances of catching a
wall-hanger are always present on this river, don't go
with the illusion that landing a fish over 50 pounds
Residents who've lived on this river and fished it a
lifetime may not have hit the half-century mark on a
big fish. But the anticipation that comes with each
strike, knowing it could be a 50 or 100 pounder, is
what makes this river so addicting. In the three days
we fished the Kenai last season, we hooked into 19
kings, landing and releasing 15. Of these, only one
fish was in the 30 pound class, while five buried the
scales to over 50 pounds. The rest were in the 40s.
Hitting the last part of the season, when bait is
legal, is a preferred time to fish the Kenai. The
closer to the August 1st closure I can fish, the
higher I consider my catch rates to be -- but don't
let that be your guiding force. In May and June, when
bait and artificial scents are prohibited, fish can be
abundant and many dandy's are taken on artificial
lures. A friend of mine got her biggest king -- and
her first from the river -- early in the season...it
weighed 92 pounds! The current world record king was
taken in May.
While big salmon are present throughout the river all
season long, the highest percentage of catches come in
July, when bait and scents can be employed. Be it
drift fishing or pulling divers with bait, eggs and a
size 0 Spin-N-Glo are the way to go. That's the
combination I hit my big fish on, and is what a vast
majority of guides use.
Heavy rods with 40 pound mainline are the norm, with
50 pound leader being ideal. These fish have sharp
teeth, and if hooked deep, you want line you can count
on. Large, 7/0 hooks are also preferred, topped with
a hunk of roe the size of a tennis ball. If these
setups sound big, they are, but king salmon have big
mouths and have no trouble gulping it down.
When in the Kenai area, there's more to do than fish
kings. Halibut and bottom fishing are only a short
drive, while digging for razor clams in some of the
world's best clam beds is also within easy reach.
Late in the season, rainbows, dolly varden, silvers,
red and pink salmon can also be fished. Fly-out
silver salmon trips on float planes are another
option, and offer excellent fishing in addition to
spectacular sight seeing.
If you're one who loves catching big kings, and
especially the opportunity to nail a potential world
record, the Kenai River is for you. An easy drive
from Anchorage, through stunning scenery, getting
there is a cinch. Once in the quaint towns of Kenai
or Soldotna, you're in king salmon heaven. There are
a number of lodges in these towns and along the river
in which to stay. Hotels and bed and breakfasts are
If catching that king of a lifetime has always been a
dream, now is the time to go. Ocean conditions have
been favorable for salmon at sea, resulting in high
numbers of big, healthy fish. This could be your
year. Don't wait.
Your complete source for more Cabela's News, and updated hunting and fishing articles.