So it’s mid-April and we’re having an extremely early and warm spring this year. Coupled with a very mild winter, this means that spring fishing is at least 3 weeks early and we are already seeing signs that if we don’t get out soon, the rivers are going to silt up with runoff and high water. Our challenge is that the river boat operator that we usually hire to run our rafts up the river we like to fish in early spring is out of state until May and we don’t have that much time. Lance is saving up vacation time for June when his brother is coming to Alaska, so fishing needs to happen on a weekend. Due to my schedule, I have only one open weekend, the 23rd of April, which is before Rhett at Phantom Charters will be back. What now?
Two weeks have gone by since losing our rafts off the trailer (see Flying Rafts post). Lance & I are headed back down to the outlet of Kenai Lake to fish. My raft has been repaired from the road rash holes, I have invested in tie-down straps with locking clips, and we came up makeshift side bars that allowed Lance to check if the rafts were still on the trailer from his side mirrors. We stopped and checked everything a couple of times during the 100 mile run to the river. Mostly because we were a bit gun shy after the last trip. Everything held tight.
This blog was supposed to be so much different than it is, but (BLEEP) happens!
We were going to fish the Upper Kenai again this weekend. Only this time we were planning on staying in the lake above the bridge and the slow section of the river just below. Reports were that, although there were fish being caught down in the upper river, this section was producing well. Besides, after last Friday’s adventure of getting off the river at dark-thirty, we wanted to be within an easy row of the truck and trailer. Lance and I had decided to take our flippers and slow troll our flies back and forth across the outlet banks. We felt that even below the bridge, the current was slow enough that flippers would allow us to cover the water much like we do in lakes. And, if we needed to, we could just get our feet up on the pegs and row out of any faster current. My brother Dennis decided to take his electric motor and Hummingbird fish/depth finder. He had tried the fish finder a few years earlier while floating the main river and it didn’t work well. He was pretty sure that at least he would be able to find the ridge line that defined the shallower water just up from the bridge from the much deeper hole a bit up into the lake. Saturday worked for all three of us, so we planned for a 9:00AM “Get out of Dodge” departure. Surprisingly, we were loaded and away from the house about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Read the rest of this entry »
The First Day of Spring in Alaska is usually acknowledged with an understanding wink between those of us that live here, as we know “spring” is still four to six weeks away.
However, this year we’ve had an unbelievably mild winter, and with virtually no snow and lots of day time temperatures in the low 40’s Lance & I decided we needed to go fishing. Besides, a fishing trip is good for what ails you.
I had driven to Homer on March 5th and the Upper Kenai was as low as I’ve ever seen it. No bank ice, clear water (for the Kenai) and a spurt of late run Silvers that arrived in the upper river in really late, all promised for as good of fishing as you could hope for. Now we were not after the Silvers; the season for them is closed, but where there’s spawning salmon you can be sure there will be Rainbows, and since we were going to be by the lake, possibly Dolly Varden.
As luck would have it, Friday March 20th was the earliest day we could get together that the temperatures were going to be near the 40 degree mark; the First Day of Spring. This would be the earliest first trip of the year I had ever been on, and by no small margin. However, as usual, Murphy started to mess with us. (Murphy is a regular on lots of our fishing excursions. He seems to just invite himself.) Lance ended up with a doctor’s appointment first thing Friday morning. No biggie, we’ll just leave later; that will give the day time to warm up. Dennis discovered a leak in one of his tubes Friday night and can’t find his patch kit. Ok, off to Alaska Raft for a patch kit (and some advice about the fishing at the bridge because the guys at AK Raft are like that). I had friends that came in from Nome Thursday afternoon and back off to Texas at 3:00AM Friday morning. Deal with it; a couple of short naps are way better than no sleep.
But as it turned out we were buying sandwiches at Subway just after 12 Noon, and didn’t get onto the water until about 3PM. Read the rest of this entry »
Up Coming Event
Saturday, August 16th at Mirror Lake Park
The 2014 Fly Fishing Festival and Spey Clave
sponsored by the Alaska Fly Fishers and Fish Alaska Magazine.
Click the link below to go to AFF’s Facebook event page.
Lance and I fished with Lake Master Mike Malone again, and like our last outing, we let Mike pick the destination. This time we headed north of Wasilla on a Sunday; which turned out to be a very pleasant day, given the forecast was for rain. It was a short (fishing time) day trip with a lot of driving attached. Lance and I had been to this particular lake before, about 15 years ago; with Mike, his son Tim, and a mutual friend Greg Heister. We fished small Lake Leeches back then, and I don’t remember the day being nearly as nice. I seem to remember cool drizzly skies. I do know we did not catch nearly as many good fish. (In fact, I think I went fishless.) Today’s trip was different. Read the rest of this entry »
We had an opportunity to fish with a fellow AFF member that is, in my opinion, a master lake angler. Lance and I are making an effort to fish lakes a bit more. We’ve been off of them for over 10 years and it’s amazing how much methodology has changed. Mike Malone, a long-time friend, offered to help us out in that department.
Mike has lived in the north Wasilla area for over 20 years and has spent most of his fishing time on the local lakes that surround his home. In the Mat-Su Valley ADF&G lists over 80 lakes that they stock, and almost 40 that are managed as wild fisheries. Granted the Mat-Su Borough is huge in terms of square miles, but most of these lakes are near a road, have public access points, and are within a 50 mile radius of Wasilla. As a result, Mike has experience fishing a diverse set of waters. Read the rest of this entry »
Lance and I made it out lake fishing again. We spent a few hours kicking our pontoon boats around Loon Lake in Mat/Su Valley Saturday night. Catching wasn’t great, but it was a wonderful evening for fishing. Given our weather (mostly rain) the previous week, Saturday was the nicest day to get out. We decided to fish late, getting on the water about 7:30PM. The air was still, the sun popped in and out of clouds, and the projected thunder showers never showed up. Although the mosquitos were ravenous on shore while were getting ready, once we were on the water they disappeared.
Loon Lake is only a little over an hour out of Anchorage, mostly private property with a Public Access on the northwest shore. We had checked with some friends that had fished it earlier in the month and they gave us some advice on where to concentrate our efforts. ADF&G stocks it every year with rainbows and the holdovers can get to be over 20 inches. The lake is just over 100 acres, a bit bigger than what we like, but we had inside info and a report that fishing had been decent. They had done well on leeches and had seen a few blue damsels; we were going prepared with a little bit of everything, always a good idea in Alaska. Read the rest of this entry »
On June 21,2014, Rich and I floated the Upper Kenai with Val Reynolds from San Diego. It was an interesting trip with a variety of complications that I’ll tell you about in a bit. I have to finish the story so come back here to read the rest…
Oh, there WERE fish! 😉
Anticipation runs high every year as June 11th approaches. This is the traditional date that flowing waters in south central, particularly on the Upper Kenai River drainage and the Russian River open for fishing. As usual, we had planned our days off months in advance. We had our camping spots reserved at Kenai Riverside Campground in Cooper Landing. And, we had prepped and test-run our pontoons boats on a float with a couple of AFF members the weekend before. Adding to this year’s excitement were two new factors. First was the water level. Given our unusually mild winter and exceptionally warm spring, the Kenai was much lower than normal for this time of the year. That meant we had actual places on the river we could wade and possibly get to some fish. Second, Lance & I had been working on a tow system for our pontoon boats. We had tested a prototype during our river float on the 8th and discovered some “bugs” that had to be worked out. This trip was a second test run for the tow system.
One of the advantages of getting to your campsite late in the evening on the 10th is that you’re still up when the sun finally goes down. We were treated to a great sunset, and, since we were up, we decided to push another hour into the night and be on the water at 12:01AM. Although we’ve caught fish around this section of the river in the past, I think this year the low water level worked against us and the fish were elsewhere. Thank goodness, as no fish allowed us to sanely call it quits and get to bed before 1AM.
Day One: After sleeping in a bit, we did breakfast and a few last minute preps to our boats while watching a dozen drift boats and rafts work the water while headed downstream. After Dennis and I ferried his truck to Jim’s Landing we were on the water by late morning. We headed directly across stream where Lance and I had decided to hook up the tow system. There’s a stretch of moderate to slow water on the far side of the river and that’s just what we wanted for our second tow test. However, the water around the bar looked inviting, and we were here to fish. Lance and Dennis went to the backside of the bar to fish a riffle/run while I swung a line through the deeper water where the river flowed over the bar. I bombed; Lance and Dennis took a fish apiece. Nothing big; but a great way to start the day.
We rigged the tow system between our boats. Lance was in the front boat to float and fish, I was in the back, working the oars to control both boats while we floated. I’m very excited to say: The two system worked! We hadn’t drifted 10 minutes before Lance was onto a nice fish.
We have a 3 minute video of that initial float and fish posted on YouTube called Pontoon Boat Tow-Fish System. Follow the link to view. I’ll also be posting an article specifically outlining the tow system in the near future, stay tuned if you’re interested.
We almost always stop at Juneau Creek to fish (as does everyone else who floats the upper section). We knew that it had probably been worked over pretty hard, but we gave it a shot anyway. We turned a couple of fish on light hits and hooked a couple of trees and rocks; about par for us.
We rigged the tow system again, this time with me in front. There’s a great stretch just below the creek that I was just itching to try. That lasted until I managed to wrap my line and leader around my second rod that stands vertically in the back of my rack. We had to drift down to a gravel bar for me to untangle the mess. (I’m going to fix that setup.) At that point we decided to straight float to below Sterling bridge and stop at the islands above Schooner’s Bend. It was there that I had my best fishing. In fact I did as well there as I usually do for an entire day.
Coming through the Confluence (Russian/Kenai), we stopped to try again for decent underwater video of sockeye. There were a fair number of fish in the water and I was hoping for an improvement over last year’s attempt. But digital capture is a funny thing, especially with GoPros, where you don’t have the full controls of a DSLR. What looked clear to me, turned murky as soon as the camera was submerged. We also had a heavy overcast day and I’m sure that didn’t help with the contrast and clarity for the image. Anyway, I did get closer views of the fish, but nothing I’m going to publish. Lance and I are working on a way to get our cameras deeper and without the boom poles we’ve used the last couple of years. The low water levels this year are ideal for photography; if our luck holds we will have footage soon.
Below the Russian, we usually take the first back channel and look for salmon. We found a few moving through, but were not successful in tagging any. I did hook another nice ‘bow from the head of an island. I really enjoyed this fish as the casting was challenging, and the drift required lots of adjustments. Once hooked, I didn’t have any room for a run, so getting it to net was an event. The two salmon anglers across on the high bank told me they were giving the fish high odds. Welcome to one of the many reasons I enjoy fly fishing.
The second back channel was very skinny. Lance had been down it the weekend before so we let him lead. If you want to see what a small pontoon boat is capable of check out this video http://youtu.be/g7MVuLLMnOA.
We did not find any rainbows on the back channel but did manage to land one salmon. It was like steelhead fishing. Up to your waist in current, a rock wall 20’ behind you and shooting a 100 grain sinktip across the river for a swing through the productive water. Many thanks to my brother Dennis for carrying a salmon net all day long for the single fish we needed it for.
Our next stop is where the lower access from the main stem dumps into the back channel. We spread out and covered the water. Again, we saw a few salmon but were unsuccessful in finding any takers. By now it’s getting late (we slept in, remember) so we decide to bust down to one last island we like to fish and try our luck there. Same thing – different spot; we saw a few fish rolling, but no takers. A quick drift brought us to the gravel bar on the main channel. The fact that it is above water was a dramatic reminder as to just how low the water is this year. We hauled the boats over the bar and quick rowed across to Jims Landing. It was 8:30PM – Miller Time; or in my world, Black Butte Porter. It had been a good day.
Day Two: We got an earlier start and the first thing we noticed is that there wasn’t nearly the boat traffic that we had seen opening day. The rainbow fishing was not as good either. I’m convinced that those fish smarten up real fast after day one, and are not nearly as willing to grab just anything that floats by. I did manage to catch a really pretty fish on a Cluster Egg while being towed. It came from a spot that we would be hard pressed to fish from anywhere except offshore. Four stars again for our tow system.
A short time later, with Lance in the front, I managed to snap my 6wt above the reel seat by being so focused on controlling Lance’s drift under a tree that I forgot that I had rods in the air and that I was going to go under the same tree. My 7wt survived, thank goodness, but I was one unhappy camper at the expensive lesson I had just learned. I have it all on video, but I don’t know if I am that self-depreciating to make it public. It was hard enough to let my wife watch it.
We stopped at a few places in the upper section that we had floated by the previous day. With the low water we were amazed at how much structure was showing in the river. We did catch a few smaller fish in these spots on mid-sized streamers. Dennis and I plied the hole above Schooner’s Bend I did so well at the previous day with no success; lending credence to my thinking that, after Day One, fishing on Alaska’s most popular river gets tough.
It was afternoon before we dropped below the Russian River and bobbed by all the salmon anglers along the high bank. They were thinned out as well, and we didn’t see many fish onshore. We heard later that it was the Russian River itself that was producing the best sockeye fishing. (The Russian River is also much lower than normal, by almost 50 percent.)
The day was colder than Wednesday and a slight breeze wasn’t helping. Today the wind was coming upriver from the south and must have been coming over the Harding ice field picking up some chill. I’m usually pretty warm in my thermals, but even I put on a wind shell to stay warm. We tried tow floating a couple of the straight sections of the back channel without any luck. We saw a few salmon in spots, but as with the day before, no concentrations of fish and no luck finding a biter. The trout fishing was lots of fishing with no catching. By 6 O’clock we decide to call it a day and head back to camp. Lance needed to drive back that evening for work and he still had a four hour day ahead of him before he got home.
Day Three: It started raining shortly after midnight. We woke up to wet everything, cold air, and dark skies. We needed to check out of the camp spots that morning and had decided not to put in our rafts at the Sterling bridge. Dennis and I discussed whether or not to hike up into the Russian. We’d done the cold, wet, Russian River hike a few years ago and decided that a hot shower and home was a better option. We had had two great days on the river and the hole in our early season fishing soul had been filled. We had another cup of coffee and packed in the rain.
The Quick Report: Both the Kenai River and the Russian River are well below normal flows. This provides more shoreline to fish from and concentrates the fish into less river, both pluses for the angler. We had success with large fry patterns (#4 UV Diamond Fry) and two to three inch Zonker style patterns. (My most successful fly was a store bought #4 olive Zuddler.) Attractor egg/flesh patterns seemed to work best while we were drifting. Lance did well on a Hot Head Cousin Itt, and I did well on a Cluster Egg. (FYI: Lance used a multicolored Hevi-bead pegged a couple of inches up his leader, and I had a small pale bead free sliding in front of the Zuddler.) The salmon took a Mini-Krystal Shrimp, one of our go to sockeye patterns.
Although we did not get on the Russian, we’ve heard reports of good salmon fishing upstream of the campgrounds with upwards of 1000 fishing coming through each day. Given my past experience on the Russian, I’ll bet it’s fishing well for trout as well.
At the very least it’s much easier to wade than normal.
If you can arrange it, this is the year and now’s the time to be on either of these rivers.