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State announces early king salmon closure on Kenai River

Bad news for anglers. Fishing for king salmon -- the state's most prized catch -- in the Kenai River -- the state's most famous stream -- will come to an end Friday. Alaska Department of Fish and Game says the first run of kings is so low that spawning goals might go unmet despite the closure, and that spells trouble for those hoping to get in on the second run of kings in July. That's according to the Peninsula Clarion.

The second run is projected to be stronger than the first, but state fisheries biologists say that to protect the last of the first-run fish, the river will reopen to king fishing on July 1 only below a marker near Slikok Creek. Fishing on the popular stretch of water between that marker and the Sterling Highway bridge will remain closed until July 14.

July being the prime time for trophy Kenai kings -- fish of 60 pounds and up -- the restriction is destined to increase congestion on the lower river and heighten the "combat fishing'' experience already the norm in places.

Were that not enough, Fish and Game has also banned the use of bait in July; kings are a lot easier to catch with bait than without it. The Kenai fishery for late-run kings runs through July. A Fish and Game statement said the early run could be the lowest on record for the river, though there is some debate about how a new state sonar counts fish.

Whatever the case, it is clear the king run is weak, though no one knows why. Ocean-rearing problems or losses to ocean predation appear to be responsible, but it's anyone's guess as to what exactly those might be.