As spring blooms, hooligan soon to follow

May 3, 2021

The Kenai River in October.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

The hooligan fishery is small. So small that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game doesn’t even run projections for the fish.

But the peak of the hooligan run is this month. Alaskans can fish the personal-use hooligan fishery without a permit, as long as they have a resident sport fish license.

“Some people use them for bait," said Matt Miller, regional fisheries management coordinator for Southcentral. "But the hooligan flesh tends to be pretty soft and it can be difficult to keep on a hook. So, mostly, people are out eating ’em.”

Miller gave a virtual presentation on hooligan fishing last week.

“Hooligan are called candlefish because that high oil content that makes them really valuable for a lot of different reasons also means that you can actually dry the fish out and light them by the tail and burn them like a candle," he said. "True fact.”

Hooligan are a type of smelt found in both salt and freshwater. In Southcentral, they run the Kenai, Kasilof, Twentymile and Susitna rivers.

“The Kenai River’s one of the biggest hooligan fisheries down there," Miller said Monday. "And the season on that is from April 1 to June 15. You can use the dip nets throughout the Kenai River and then, from April 1 to June 15, that same time, you can have some small, hand-held gillnets in the Kenai from the mouth up to the marker at Cunningham Park.”

Miller said the Susitna hooligan fishery seems to get more traffic.

“My understanding and observations from there is that there is a hooligan run that goes back to the Kenai, I don’t know that I would say it’s as consistent as some of the other runs, for example, at Twentymile or up in the Susitna," he said. "So, one of the reasons for the popularity of those fisheries is because it’s really close to our populace centers up in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley.”

Hooligan aren’t like salmon in that they don’t return to the same waters every year.

“They are less loyal," Miller said. "A little more fickle."

The hooligan season is open until May 31 in saltwater and June 15 in freshwater. There’s no bag or possession limit for the fishery.

There’s also a commercial fishery for hooligan, until June 30. That fishery usually sees about a dozen permit holders.