Updated: Sep 30, 2021
Mark Wackler and Dave Eng releasing a 50 plus pound King on the Kenai River
The Kenai River is home to a unique strain of King Salmon that attract anglers from all over the world. The King Salmon of the Kenai River in Alaska are big, beautiful, unique fish. The all tackle world record King salmon came from the Kenai in 1985 ( 97pounds 4oz) and fish over 70 pounds used to be very common. Unfortunately, this incredible strain of fish is in decline. I don’t know if it is from over harvest, ocean conditions, or a combination of issues, but the fact is that the run is in decline. I recently went up to the Kenai river to fish for these beautiful fish, and to find out more about a local program called Fish For The Future, that encourages Catch and Release on Kenai King Salmon.
I traveled with Dave Eng of FishEng Products to meet up with Greg Brush of EZ Limit Guide Service and Mark Wackler of Fishology Alaska Guide Service in Soldotna Alaska. Greg and Mark are both fishing guides on the Kenai, and care deeply about the health of the King Salmon fishery. Greg and Mark both subscribe to a catch and release mentality for Kenai Kings and told me about a local educational program called “Fish For The Future” (FFTF), that encourages catch and release of this unique run of King Salmon. Here is a statement from the FFTF website explaining what what FFTF is about:
Fish for the Future is a non-allocative, education based, conservation program dedicated to allowing opportunity while minimizing impact. Alaska’s Kenai and Kasilof Rivers are home to some of the largest Chinook (King) salmon on earth. The four and five ocean fish that give these rivers their reputations are unique and extremely limited in number, this demanding an anglers special consideration. Fish for the Future asks anglers to focus their harvest on species of abundance, such as sockeye salmon, and consider returning big kings to the river to benefit their future and ours. By participating in this exciting new conservation program, you can benefit from its numerous rewards and most importantly, make a difference in the river you love. Fish for the future!
FFTF is not looking to push an agenda on anyone, they are just educating anglers and suggesting that catch and release is a great practice that we as sport anglers can utilize for runs that are in danger. These guys practice what they preach….all of their trips on the Kenai are 100% catch and release on Kings, and people line up to fish with them because they understand the critical nature of the fishery, and want to do their part too.
We checked into our cabin at Alaska Fin and Feather, got a good night sleep and were ready to put into practice the FFTF philosophy the next day with a King fishing trip on the Kenai. We launched early, ran up the river and put out our lines. It did not take long for the first rod to go off, and Dave landed a nice 20 plus pound king. Mark and Greg released it safely and we started fishing again. I was next, and landed a beautiful 35 pound (estimated) King that we released safely back into the river.
Mark Wackler releasing my 30 plus pound Kenai River King.
On the next pass Daves rod went down and 250 feet of line peeled off in an instant…we knew this was a nice Kenai King. After a great fight, Dave brought the fish into the net and we estimated it at over 50 pounds! Mark, removed the hook and slid the beauty back into the river to continue its journey. Seeing that big beautiful fish close up was very special, but watching it swim away safely was even better. Knowing that fish will pass on its genes to other generations made us all feel good as sport anglers. All in all we landed and released five kings, and all five swam on to complete their journey.
Another Picture of the release on this 50+ pound Kenai River King
I am a fish eater, make no mistake. I am all about field to the table, but when a run of fish is in danger, I want to do my part to help. That is way I am a fan of FFTF, they are fishermen just like me. They are all about focusing their harvest on fish of abundance, like sockeye salmon. This philosophy is born out of a love of the sport, the river and the resource. We all want our kids and grandkids to have the opportunity to catch a big Kenai Kings, and by practicing catch and release on these fish, we are doing our part to make that a reality.
I firmly believe that sportsmen are the best conservationists, because we love what we do and want to conserve it. I see it in practice all the time. Trout anglers in Montana that have fostered a culture of catch and release, and bass anglers have also built a culture of catch and release, just to name a couple. It is all about conserving the resource for us and future generations and it starts with the sportsmen. I would much rather have a picture of a big Kenai King that was released back into the river than to have it on my diner table. Let's let them swim on up the river to do their thing and focus on other fish of abundance for our dinner table....Sockeye taste better anyway and there are in plentiful supply!
Fresh Sockeye Salmon for the dinner table - nothing better!
Thanks for reading,