ANCHORAGE - The poor run of early Kenai River kings has prompted the state to keep the middle part of the river closed to king fishing through the first two weeks of July.
But biologists say anglers will be allowed to wet a line on the lower river when the popular late king run begins July 1.
Anglers will be corralled into the lower 21 miles of the Kenai from the Sterling Highway bridge in Soldotna to the mouth of the river. That area is home to productive, tidally influenced fishing holes.
Fishing for kings will remain closed between the Soldotna highway bridge and Skilak Lake through July 14.
The move is intended to protect straggling early-run fish still making their way toward spawning beds in midriver tributaries while letting anglers take a crack at late-run fish.
Even with the restriction, biologists expect the early run to fall short of the state's minimum goal of 7,200 spawners. Probably only 6,000 of the prized sportfish will make it, said Barry Stratton, regional management biologist. This year's early run is the weakest on record.
Stratton stressed that the spawning goal of 7,200 to 14,400 early-run kings is designed to produce the largest number of surviving offspring.
The run would be in danger only if spawning escapement fell far below the minimum goal for several years in a row, he said.
There are two distinct king runs in the Kenai. The early run typically goes from May through June, and the larger late run begins around July 1.
As for a cause of this year's poor early run, Stratton said the evidence points to the Kenai River itself.
"The only major freshwater event that sticks out in people's minds right now is the flood," Stratton said.
Massive flooding in the fall of 1995 left the Kenai River muddier than normal for a couple of seasons. Silt chokes the oxygen supply to salmon eggs.
Salmon hatched between 1995 and 1997 would make the bulk of this year's king run, he said.