Alaska anglers optimistic about promising early king salmon returns on many rivers -- after years of disappearing fish -- may want to temper any warm, fuzzy feelings about the largest of the state's salmon. Despite an increase in chinook salmon returns in some waterways compared to last year, biologists stress it's too early to say if the current numbers will be sustained the rest of the season.
Most king salmon returns appear to be running 10 days to two weeks ahead of the average. Warm spring weather has increased water temperatures throughout Alaska, hastening the fish's annual sprint to fresh water. But an early return doesn't necessarily mean a big return.
And an increase over 2013 wouldn't be much to crow about, given record or near-record low returns of king salmon last year from Southcentral Alaska to the Interior.
While kings have returned in greater numbers in many Southcentral areas, some of the most productive fisheries are man-made or enhanced runs, meaning the fish swimming there began life in a state hatchery.
In Southeast, saltwater fishing for chinooks has been downright hot, but those fish are temporary visitors. They are destined for spawning grounds in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, where chinook returns are off the charts, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.