Already reeling after a slow start to the season, Southcentral Alaska king salmon anglers took a few more body blows this week.
The popular Kenai River went to catch-and-release fishing for kings between 20 and 55 inches to protect what has been a dismal return. State fisheries management biologist Robert Begich said the king return is tracking "well below average," with about a quarter of the return past the in-river sonar counter. "Fishing effort increased this past weekend," Begich said in a news release. "However, catch rates dropped significantly. On average, it is taking guided anglers approximately 36 hours and unguided anglers 45 hours to catch a king salmon so far this season."
Through June 12, an estimated 1,586 kings have passed the sonar counter at river mile 15.3. By the same time last year, an estimated 2,326 had passed.
Not far away, the small run of naturally-produced Kasilof River kings -- fish with their adipose fin intact -- has closed for the season because the return is so low. Biologists seek a return of 650 to 1,700 kings escaping upriver to spawn. Last year, only 654 made it -- and this year was running behind that pace.
Farther north, king fishing on the popular Little Susitna River in the Mat-Su has closed for the season. "Harvest rates are lower than anticipated at the beginning of the season and appear weaker than in 2010 and 2011," area management biologist Sam Ivey said in a press release. "By closing the fishery, it is anticipated harvest will be reduced by as much as 75 percent, providing the greatest potential for achieving the escapement goal this season."
Across Cook Inlet, some 3,466 kings have passed the weir on the popular Deshka River as of June 14. That's the fewest counted on that date since 2009, when just 3,041 were counted.