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. 

Kenai River Late Sockeye Salmon Fish Counts

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!

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World Record Sockeye Salmon - Kenai River

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Introduction

The Kenai River sockeye salmon late-run begins on July 1st and continues until August 31st. There is actually an earlier run of sockeye salmon that migrate up this river but because those fish are primarily spawning at the Russian River, a tributary of the Kenai, those fish are counted as Russian River Sockeye and not Kenai River Sockeye. There is an early-run and late-run of Russian River sockeye but that fishery is detailed on a dedicated page.

The Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon are known for their size and sheer volume. This world-record sockeye salmon was caught on the Kenai River by Stan Roach on August 9, 1987, and weighed in at a whopping 15lbs 3oz.  While not the most photogenic fish we’ve ever seen – at least you can see a picture of what the world-record sockeye looked like.  Looks like Stan was having a replica made – as he should!

While the early run migrates to the Russian River—a clearwater tributary of the Kenai River, the late run migrates into streams and lakes throughout the Kenai River drainage. 

Kenai River Sockeye stocks are some of the most heavily fished in Alaska. This is largely due to volume, size, and because it is largely considered the premium table fare for all salmon species.

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Fish Counts - Daily Fish Counts

While the late Kenai River sockeye salmon run officially begins on July 1st, it takes a while before they really start showing up in big numbers. Bigger numbers begin around July 12th and it only gets bigger from there. For the next six weeks thousands upon thousands of sockeye salmon flood the Kenai River.

Due to the physical size of the Kenai River, we generally consider 20,000 fish per day to be good fishing. Anything less than that becomes a bit harder to find the fish although it can definitely still be done. 

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Fish Counts
Kasilof River Sockeye Salmon Escapement

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Escapements

The Kenai River sockeye salmon run is generally very healthy and strong, and rarely are there concerns about meeting the targeted escapement goals to sustain the fishery. It does happen but the sockeye salmon returns have generally been very strong. In fact, in most years, folks wonder when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will liberalize the fishery and allow sport fishermen to harvest more fish. 

The minimum escapement goal is usually reached around August 5th. There are so many fish coming into the river at this point that usually the optimum escapement goal is achieved only a few days later. That’s what happens when 50,000 – 100,000 fish enter the river every day!

One thing that is so fun to think about is that around August 5th, there are  900,000 sockeye spread out over the 82 miles of Kenai River. Over the next month, that number will become 15 Million sockeye.  That really makes for spectacular fishing. 

The normal daily limit for Kenai River sockeye salmon is 3 per person per day.  When the run is particularly strong it’s not uncommon for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to up that limit to 6. 


Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Sonar Location

The Kenai River sonar site is located at River Mile 19 a couple of miles downstream of the Sterling Highway bridge in Soldotna. The sonar site consists of two counting stations located across from one another on the banks of the river. At each counting station, a single sonar transducer is submerged near the bank and a wooden shelter houses equipment and computers to receive data from the transducers. 

Sockeye salmon are counted on both sides of this river. Also nearby is a fish wheel, powered by the current, that grabs fish as they make their way up the river and deposits them in a holding tank in the river. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists then sample these fish to determine a wide variety of things including statistically sampling how many of them are sockeye and how many of them are pink salmon. On even-numbered years the number of pinks entering the river can be so large that counting sockeye salmon becomes almost impossible and the counting of sockeye salmon may even stop for the year.

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Fish Count Sonar
2021 Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Fish Counts

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon - So Many Fish!

Ready to see something really impressive?  Any time you run an average it has a tendency to, well, average out peaks. What this means for fish counts is that we aren’t seeing what the actual peaks are in a single given year. Let’s take a look at 2021 as a special example because it was the largest run of sockeye salmon the river has seen going back to at least 2015.

The peak of the sockeye salmon run hit more than 150,000 fish in late July of 2015. Not only is that an impressive number, but the daily fish count was more than 100,000 for days on end. There were so many fish in the river that fish and game liberalized the fishery so that sport anglers could have 6 per person per day. The escapement targets were completely blown out of the water as well. If you’d like to see those you can download the Alaska FishTopia Mobile App and check that out for yourself. 

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