Kenai River King Salmon may be Alaska’s most prized sport fish. With the size of these fish on the Kenai River and the fact that this river produces some of the largest king salmon in the world summer over summer, it’s no wonder that people from all over the world travel to the Kenai River in search of these amazing fish. With its close proximity to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest population center, and the landing point of most of Alaska’s summer visitors, the Kenai River and the Kenai River king salmon, see intense fishing pressure. 

Alaska FishTopia

Want to know more about fish counts on the Kenai River and throughout Alaska? Download the Alaska FishTopia Mobile App.  All graphs and information presented on these pages are courtesy of Alaska FishTopia!

Click To Download!

Kenai River King Salmon Run Fish Counts

Kenai River King Salmon Fish Counts

The King Salmon return on the Kenai River is actually two very distinct salmon runs.  They are classified as the Early King Salmon run and the Late King Salmon Run.  

The early run is May 15 – June 30 and the late run is July 1 – August 15. It’s worth noting that king salmon fishing generally ends on July 31st throughout the Kenai Peninsula. 

These two runs are managed by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game as truly independent runs with separate escapement goals for each run.

While these are independent runs, managed with separate goals, the Alaska FishTopia Mobile App displays these two runs concatenated together for convenience which provides a really great way to view the run. You can clearly see the “lull” between the two runs that happens right around July 1st

The red line in the graph represents the 3-year running average.  

Kenai River Daily Fish Counts

Focusing on the daily fish counts of the two king salmon runs concatenated together provides a really great picture. It’s easy to see the peak of the early run and the peak days of the late run. 

The early run achieves 70% of its peak around June 3rd each year and then declines to about 70% of its peak around June 16th. This makes for approximately 2 weeks of optimum fishing during the early run. These early-run king salmon are primarily targeting two tributaries of the Kenai River: The Killey River and Funny River. The early run peaks at around 200 fish per day but can be higher than that on any individual year. The biggest peak day on record since 2015 occurred on June 3rd, 2017 when 368 fish entered the river. It’s worth noting that the world record was caught on the early run on May 17th, 1985 at 98 lbs 4oz.  Even though the early run is generally characterized by a smaller number of fish that are physically smaller, this run produces plenty of huge king salmon.

The late run officially starts July 1st. Looking at the points where 70% of the peak is achieved as the run builds and declines gives us a peak period from July 11 to August 8th. The peak of this run averages between 400-500 king salmon per day, but like the early run, each individual year can see a larger number of fish on the peak day. 2015 and 2017 saw almost 1000 fish per day enter the river on July 24th.

Kenai River King Salmon Run Timing
Kenai River King Salmon Run Escapements

Kenai River King Salmon Escapements

It’s no secret that king salmon populations are under stress and huge concern all over the pacific northwest and Alaska is no exception. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has set the early-run minimum escapement goal to be 3,900 fish and the optimum goal to be 6,000. ADF&G has set the late run minimum escapement goal to be 15,000 and the optimum escapement goal to be 30,000

As you can see, the red line from the Alaska FishTopia app shows the 3-year average and neither the early run or the late run has achieved this. This is an incredibly alarming trend. These fish are under a tremendous amount of stress and many professional guides in Alaska are strongly promoting the catch-and-release of these fish. 

Alaska Department of Fish and Game studies have shown that if catch-and-release is done properly, results in survivability are greater than 95%. In fact, during the studies, it was noted that the survival rate would have been higher but some of the fish were injured during the study itself (nets created gill injury). The belief is that if proper care is taken, no injury occurs to the gills, and the fish is not removed from the water that the survival rate is even higher than 95%

Kenai River King Salmon Sonar Location

The Kenai River king salmon fish counts are achieved through the use of an underwater sonar located at RM 14.  The photo above shows what RM14 looks like in relation to the 14 miles of river downstream as it empties into Cook Inlet.  The second photo shows a magnified view of the sonar location and the surrounding geography and even some of the underwater geography during the summer.

There is a deep channel (good for king salmon) surrounded by what will be much shallower water (good for researchers!) during the summer. This topography makes this a great counting location as those fish will attempt to generally come up the river right in the deep channel. The shallower water makes accessing equipment easier than it might have been in other locations.

Kenai River King Salmon Sonar Location

Kenai Peninsula Fish Counts

Want to know more about the fish counts on the Kenai Peninsula? Follow the links below to learn about the fish counts and when to fish all of the Kenai Peninsula’s major rivers and salmon species.  Kenai River King Salmon (early run / late run), Kenai River Sockeye Run, Russian River Sockeye (early-late), Anchor River Chinook, Ninilchik River Chinook, Deep Creek Chinook

Kenai River King Salmon Fish Counts

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon
Fish Counts

Kasilof River Sockeye Salmon
Fish Counts

Kasilof River King Salmon Fish Counts

Russian River Sockeye Salmon
Fish Counts

Anchor River King Salmon
Fish Counts

Nilnilchik River King Salmon Fish Counts

Deep Creek River King Salmon
Fish Counts