King Salmon Closure Hurts Charters
Economic hit to companies helping catch trophy fish
KENAI - Ask any fisherman about the allure of the Kenai and he’ll tell you it’s the chance to catch a trophy king salmon.
“We’re guys, we like to catch big fish,” said Tim Voth from Bend, Oregon.
Abe Drury came to the Kenai River from Pueblo, Colorado with his two nephews and said, “I just want one big king, that's all I want.”
But this summer these anglers are out of luck. The Department of Fish and Game closed the Kenai River to all king salmon fishing, which is costing charter companies some serious cash.
“Today I've got three out of five, two decided they wanted to go halibut fishing so we lost two right there. Then we had more on the books that I would have had out today and they cancelled. So immediately there's been cancellations,” said David Goggia, President of the Kenai River Professional Guides Association.
Every person that cancels means a $200 to $300 hit. Goggia says he knows it’s not just his company that will be affected.
“The last three weeks in July are the main part of the season for them. And we call it our money month. We've got to make it in July or else we don't make it. So it's going to be devastating to a lot of guides. But there's the ripple down effect. It affects businesses, restaurants, hotels, a lot of other folks.”
“We've already seen a decline in bookings. Normally by now we are booked for next year, but we're not seeing the bookings like we have in the past. We've taken a pretty good financial hit this week. And next week... we're trying to just do it one day at a time,” said fishing guide Rondi McClure.
Some clients from the Lower 48 arrived just as the closure took affect. Tim Voth has made the trip to Kenai with his friends and family for the past 12 years. He says he would have cancelled his trip had he known kings were out of commission.
“We'll manage but we wouldn't come up here for the length of time. We're going to be up here for 10 days and that's a little much for red fishing,” said Voth. He says he likely won’t book a king trip next year because of the uncertainty.
Abe Drury and his family got in one day of king fishing before the closure. They also would have cancelled. “That's why you come here, that's what it's known for. So it's a little disappointing but I can understand the reasoning behind it. But it would be nice if we didn't make the trip all the way up here first.”
Charter operators say they knew the season was doomed from the beginning with bait restrictions then an emergency catch and release order. Guides say while restrictions are hurting business now they know the closure is important to ensure future salmon runs will be healthy.
“The bottom line is the resource. This is an incredible fish we have in our backyard in the Kenai River. Having done this for 25 years I knew it was a matter of time that this day would happen, but I didn't think it would come this soon,” said Mike Fenton, a guide with Fenton Brothers Guided Sportfishing.
“You have to put the fish first. While we think there are some issues to the way Fish and Game is managing this run, we're happy they're putting the fish first and preserving the run. Without the fish, no one has a business,” said Goggia.
While guides are doing what they can to make the most of the summer many say there’s no telling what next year will bring.
“Going forward is going to be tough because I don't know that we can count on fish for next year. So the people that are disgruntled this year probably won't book again next year. And for guides, the repeat clientele is huge. We get people coming back and word of mouth is some of our best advertising,” said Goggia.
Charter operators say they know reds and trout aren’t what fishermen come to the Kenai for but hope it’s enough to sustain their businesses, at least for this season.