Catch and Release Kenai Kings

by Mark Wackler and Greg Brush of Fish for the Future

Catch and release fishing practiced effectively results in less fish being harmed during piscatorial pursuit. Mark Wackler and Greg Brush are both Kenai River fishing guides, and originators of Fish for the Future. Both have many years of Kenai king fishing under their belts and have helped anglers hook many hundreds if not thousands of Kenai Chinook over the years. In the past few years, both have modified their guide programs to emphasize catch and release trips for the Kenai’s genetically unique strain of king salmon. With so much experience not just with fishing for Kenai kings, but also how to effectively catch and release them, they are natural choices to produce this short video on Kenai kings catch and release. This seminar contains numerous catch and release photos of Kenai kings as well as on-the-water footage.

In the video they stress the importance of having a plan for landing and releasing big kings. The also discuss gear, tools, and nets.

Kenai kings are big fish. Nearly every year fish over 70 pounds are landed. These are not your typical 15 to 25-pound kings found in other rivers, so you’ll need some specific gear for catch and release fishing for Kenai kings.

Fishing rods and reels should be heavy—heavier than the gear you use for smaller kings. The idea is to put maximum pressure on the fish to bring that fish to hand as quickly as possible. This is easier on the fish than a long, protracted fight, and the fish released will have a better chance of survival.

Some of the tools they carry for landing Kenai king and releasing them back into the water include two pairs of pliers, stout wire cutters (hooks for Kenai kings are big and hard to cut with cheap cutters, and you may need to cut a hook to release a fish), a fish bonker in case you deep-hook a fish (which should be kept as it will not likely survive if released), a fillet knife, scissors, a sturdy de-hooker, and split-ring pliers (the Kenai requires a single hook so you’ll have to take the trebles off plugs and replace them with one single-pointed hook).

Mark is a proponent of wearing chest waders while king fishing on the Kenai, as there may be a situations where it’s prudent to get in the water to unhook and revive a big king prior to release. He also advocates wearing a wading belt for safety reasons.

Greg discusses what properties make a good Kenai king catch and release net, including size, bag material, and strength.

Equipment aside, when catch and release fishing for Kenai kings, it is paramount to always put the fish first. That may mean you don’t have an opportunity for the photo you want. Always do the right thing and make sure your catch-and-release efforts result in that fish surviving the encounter to hopefully make it to the spawning beds.