Catch and Release on the Kenai

As many of Alaska's king salmon runs remain weak and anglers and guides continue to whine and cry about Chinook fishing in the Great Land "not being what it once was," it's refreshing to hear that some people are choosing to do something about it. Although not likely to turn the king runs on an immediate 180° course, that's not the point. Conservation is as much about a philosophy or a statement as it is anything else.

Personally, my small business opted to go total 'catch and release' fishing with every guest for Kenai kings last year, with great success and positive feedback, I might add. We did not have one single bleeder last year and thus successfully released every king we hooked!

While many days our boats could only land (and successfully release) one king, there were numerous standout days where we did much better. Occasionally our rods "went down"  repeatedly, and some of them were the big fish that the Kenai is famous for.

One day, in mid-July, a couple of anglers landed a wide-body buck estimated to be a solid fifty-pounder and another giant, mid-sixty-pound king, complete with chrome flanks and sea lice! What epic battles, and fond memories, those fish produced! Watching them swim free to pass on their unique genes was a total bonus! Another day, the last legal day for Kenai king fishing last summer, saw a nice family from Palmer catch and release four big kings over 35-pounds on my boat -- now that's a good day of Chinook fishing in anyone's books, isn't it?

The anglers' incentives? Looking out for the resource, thinking of future anglers, putting more kings on the beds, and being able to lay their heads down at night, guilt-free, knowing they did not contribute to the problem of declining kings! Oh yes -- as a small bonus, my small business also provided several packages of smoked salmon and an EZ Limit t-shirt to each angler who released a Kenai king last year! And this year, as an added incentive and to increase the 'fun factor' a bit, we will be giving away a free guided charter to the angler who releases the biggest king of the year!

Just last week I learned that another veteran guide here in Soldotna is also going to be promoting 'catch and release' (C&R) king fishing this coming season. Although he still allows 'catch and keep' fishing on his other boats, one boat and guide will be dedicated to total C&R king fishing for 2014 for those conservation-minded anglers who support C&R. This small business owner has opted to create a season-long C&R tourney amongst all his clients, in which the angler who releases the biggest king of the season on his boat will receive a free replica mount of his or her fish! Wow -- now that's cool!

I'm curious -- as more and more anglers and guides get creative with the marketing of our special strain of Kenai kings, what does it take for you to participate in total 'catch and release' fishing?

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You can share your thoughts and answers to Greg's question over at our forum. Greg Brush is a longtime Kasilof and Kenai river guide and frequent Fish Alaska contributor. He can be reached by email or through his website.