One of the strongest advocates I know for releasing Kenai king salmon, especially females, is Francis Estalilla. Whether it’s a personal plea, writing articles, or introducing regulatory changes to the Board of Fisheries, his passion for future salmon runs is matched by very few.
In the March publication of Fish Alaska magazine, Francis wrote an article titled, “Hens Matter.” In it, he addresses his favorite Kenai River issue; releasing large Kenai female king salmon.
Francis makes the case that releasing mega-hens is critical if we want the world famous Kenai River to remain the world famous Kenai River. An adult king salmon has faced long odds from egg to adulthood, and the simple act of releasing a fish when it’s near the finish line is paramount in sustaining a healthy fishery. Francis points out that 15,000 eggs deposited on a gravel bar from a single fish is far more important than keeping it for “bait on the next trip.”
I couldn’t agree with Francis more.
I was introduced to fish conservation at a young age. I would like to say it was because of my father, but it wasn’t. He grew up during a time when fish was food and you “don’t let your next meal get away.”
It was in 1975 that I first read about fish conservation in the cutting-edge fishing magazine, In Fisherman. I had a subscription for nearly 25 years. At the time, most fishing magazines had great stories and pictures about fishing. In Fisherman, on the other hand, taught people how to fish. By letting readers in on the secrets from the professionals on how to catch more fish, it was reasoned that conservation needed to be addressed as well. This is where the term “selective harvest” was first used. It basically means it’s okay to keep a few fish for dinner, but releasing large females was the key to maintaining future fisheries.
Speaking of the future, I know Francis wants everyone to experience what he has on the Kenai River, especially his own grand kids. A small step that every angler can actively take is to practice CPR (catch, photo, release) when catching a female Kenai king. After all, hens do matter.
POSTSCRIPT. Thank you Francis for allowing me to use your photos. Also, there is an organization that promotes catch and release fishing/selective harvest in Alaska. If you want to see the good work they’re doing, and even win some merchandise, click on this link, Fish for the Future.