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Colossal Kings Of The Kenai  at Cabela's

Colossal Kings Of The Kenai

Author: Scott Haugen

If you're looking to catch monster king salmon, Alaska's Kenai River is where it's at.

Author, Scott Haugen with a colossal king!
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 lifetime.

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 forget.

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 world record.

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 is guaranteed.

The right gear for kings.
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 another option.

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.







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