KENAI - Every summer, the Kenai River's monster king salmon draws people to its waters by the thousands. Anglers stand elbow-to-elbow along the riverbank vying for passing reds and hundreds of guides take to the river making sure their clients go home happy.
The Kenai Peninsula offers a myriad of fishing options, but for guides whose clients are exclusively after trophy-size rainbow trout, want to fish alongside bears and other wildlife or simply want to escape the crowds, an opportunity may be available to fish within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
On May 1, the refuge began a seven-month-long permitting process that would give six commercial sportfishing and drift boat guide services access to the upper Kenai River from the Russian River confluence downstream to-and-including portions of Skilak Lake.
The permits would be good for five years, and if the guide service complies with the guidelines set down by the refuge and remains in good standing, the permits are automatically good for another five years.
"These permits were available May 1," said Rick Johnston, a Kenai National Wildlife Refuge ranger and permit specialist, adding that the permit proposals are due to the refuge by Aug. 1. "We review them through late summer. (Permits) will be awarded based on objective scoring."
The refuge allows 20 guides overall to take their clients between the Russian River confluence and Skilak Lake, Johnston said. Of those 20, 14 guide services currently have terms left on their permits, leaving six slots to be filled. When considering permit proposals, Johnston said the refuge takes into account the level of guiding experience and general tourism experience each applicant has, either on the Kenai River or in other parts of Alaska. The refuge also looks at what amenities and accommodations the guide service offers, as well as references from other guides.
Once sportfishing guiding permits and wildlife viewing guiding permits are awarded, the guide can only have two registered boats on that stretch of the river and the boats must be owned and operated by the permit holder, Johnston said. The guides are also allowed a maximum number of 10 launch starts per week, and no more than four starts per day.