USGS Stream Data

Kenai Rvr @ CooperLndg

  • Water Temp: 36.32 ° F
  • Flow: 1960 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 7.76 ft
USGS

Middle Kenai @ Skilak

  • Flow: 2070 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 7.17 ft
USGS

Talkeetna Rvr

  • Water Temp: 36.86 ° F
  • Flow: 690 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 2.67 ft
USGS

Situk Rvr

  • Water Temp: 40.64 ° F
  • Flow: 284 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 65.92 ft
USGS
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Kenai River, June 11 & 12, 2014

Opening Day!

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.

Sunset at 11PM (HDR Photo)

Sunset at 11PM (HDR Photo)

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.06_KenaiRvr_2014-06-11_0017

 

 

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.

First fish on our new tow system

 

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.

 

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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.

IMG_0542

 

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.39a_KenaiRvr_2014-06-11_1873

27_KenaiRvr_2014-06-11_0069

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.

 

42_KenaiRvr_2014-06-11_1884

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.

Fishing structure that's usually underwater.

Fishing structure that’s usually underwater.

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.

Rich

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Spear-It™ Hooks

Confession time; as a fly tyer I have an addiction to hooks.  Not just your “run of the mill” everyday hooks, but to really nice, custom, specialized hooks. Hooks that, like micro-brewed beer, are built for those of us that will spend a little more money for something special.

Cool looking hooks!

Cool looking hooks!

Even when I’m not shopping for hooks, I have to at least seek a glance at the hook rack; which is how I ended up with the new Spear-It™ Sickle Octopus style hooks. And not just a single package of a specific size; but four packages in a range of sizes. I just had to. I couldn’t help myself.

Spear-It Sickle hooks are not designed specifically for fly tying, although they are listed as a fly hook; but rather are designed to be use as a stinger, or trailing hook. Almost any short shanked hook will work as a trailing hook, although most tyers prefer an Octopus style of some sort. If you’re using something stiff to attach your trailing hook, you can position it so that the hook point rides up, with the hopes of minimizing snagging. The problem with a standard Octopus style is that the gape is usually big enough to have the hook point out away from the body a bit. (I’m not talking about offset bends, that’s a whole other design feature.) This new Sickle design seems to have overcome that design flaw. The hook point is in-line with the eye, and the bend is angular instead of a continuous curve. Read the rest of this entry »

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Knik Lake Outing

Finally! We are out on a lake again. Lance & I use to fish lakes all the time. We both have float tubes, and when he lived in Wasilla we’d often spend an evening fishing one of the local lakes. But then life changed; Lance ended up out of state for a few years, my float tube didn’t get unpacked from winter storage the next year (and the next, and the next …), and my fishing life morphed away from float tubing. But this year, we’ve decided to make an effort to get back onto our local lakes. They’re close enough for an evening of fishing; most of the time you can find some action and every once in a while you can get into some really nice fish.

Lance after launch.

Lance after launch.

Knik Lake was our first outing. It was Memorial Day weekend, so we picked Saturday night to minimize the holiday traffic and late afternoon to fish into the twilight hours (as much as we get in late May). We had decided to take our pontoon rafts instead of float tubes. We both were curious about how they would handle on lakes. (Pros & cons below.) Our 3PM start was delayed a bit by Murphy; but we were on the road by 5:30PM. It’s a bit over an hour drive from my house, and it took us about thirty minutes to get prepped and in the water. The sun was low, and orange-red from smoke from the Funny River fire a couple hundred miles away. We still had plenty of light; we just were not going to be able to cover more than one area. Read the rest of this entry »

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Spring Fishing: Wet, Cold, & Fish

Southcentral Alaska has had an amazing spring this year. We had such warm weather earlier in the winter that the snow pack was low. April was filled with sunshine and temperatures much warmer than normal. Breakup was as much evaporation as run off. So when I got word that Rhett at Tri-River Charters had his Phantom boats in the river April 22nd I started looking for the first day possible to go fishing up the Talkeetna River.

I faced a couple of challenges. The last week of April and first weekend in May was out as I had work scheduled; Fishing buddy Lance had had some surgery in mid-April and is on “light” duty until his incisions heal; my brother was out of town for his son’s graduation from college (congratulation DJ); and the weather had been so warm that the river was starting to blow out every afternoon. My window of opportunity was short. I needed a fishing buddy. To my rescue came Jae McKee, a friend I’d known for a while, and we had talked fishing. Jae had guided a bit on the Talkeetna when he was younger and I always wanted to get out with him to learn a bit more about the river. Our schedules matched up on Tuesday, May 6th; and as luck would have it, it was supposed to cloud up and get a bit cooler the first part of that week. I scheduled a 7AM shuttle ride with Rhett, borrowed a second pontoon boat for Jae, and started dreaming of big fish, eating little fry, dancing on the end of my line.

1_TalkeetnaRvr_2014-05_0504We decided to spend Monday night at Jae’s cabin in Talkeetna, saving us from the 4AM alarm clock. We got out of town about 9PM due to a meeting I needed to be at, but noticed that, just as scheduled, the skies were starting to cloud up.

We woke up to wet everything. It had started to rain at some point during the night and although the rain wasn’t heavy, the drizzle was still coming down, and it was very cool.

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A Fly Fishers’ Social Network

Fly fishing social network with the latest news, photos, fellow fisher stories and more!

Quite impressive. Members from all over the world! Stop in and see what they have to offer!

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Sad Day in the Neighborhood

Well friends, it was a sad day in the neighborhood the last weekend in October. I finally came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to get out to fish again before winter arrives and makes the water hard.

It’s a yearly mental adjustment, that this year, was harder than most.

We’ve had a very warm and prolonged fall this year. Halloween has come and gone as I write this, and it’s still well above freezing around Anchorage. So warm in fact that it was raining on the last Sunday of the month, as I put in some garlic starts in the ground. This is supposed to be a good thing in my life as Lance & I always try to make one last trip in the middle of October with a friend of ours that guides all summer on the Kenai River.

The challenge each year is that my work schedule keeps me running non-stop until mid-October; which usually corresponds with the start of winter here in south-central, plus or minus a week or so. This year looked good for fishing. We had set a date with Damond for Thursday the 17th (Plan A). Given our extra warm fall, both Lance & I were looking forward to one last fling at fish before the dark of winter set in.

But Mother Nature can be a cold hearted wench sometimes. An ice dam from a glacier that feeds into the Snow River, which is the head water for the Upper Kenai Lake, broke (probably due to excessively warm weather) and started releasing nasty goop into the watershed in early October. Projections were that it would subside within a few days.

Damond checked in with Lance the first week in October and let him know that we were still on for the 17th. The following Wednesday Damond called again; this time with not so good news. The middle river had come up six inches since Monday and was now running the color of concrete. The glacier was actually releasing more discharge, not less. He and a friend had scoured the dunes below Skilak Lake and had even tried the inlet below the canyon (both hot spots for trout in the fall) and hadn’t touched a fish. Even what few silver salmon that had been fishable were now hidden by the silt ridden water. We could drive down, but…. (you can figure out the rest of this story).

We decided to try Plan B.  Earlier in the year we had talked to Rhett, owner of Tri-River Charters, about how the Talkeetna fished in the fall; specifically October. We’ve had tough fall trips on the middle Kenai before, we were looking for options. Seems there’s a window of opportunity for good fishing when the water clears and as long as the river is runnable it’s fishable. Wednesday afternoon I called their office to see if it was possible to be run up to Clear Creek with our pontoon boats. Bad news; the answering machine picked up my call, and no one called back before the 17th had come and gone. Plan B was shot.

Plan C… Was there anywhere we could go at the last minute? It was too late in the year for the Russian to hold any fish and the upper Kenai would be as bad as the lower. We were not very familiar with the east side streams of Susitna so that would be a hunt and prospect at best, and it was going to be raining. Sufferable if you’re in a boat, not so good when you’re hiking and walking. We were toasted.

So Thursday I slept in a bit and caught up on office work.

Jump to the weekend before Halloween. I’m cleaning up the last of the flower pots from the yard and storing everything under the deck. I see my raft sitting over at its summer residence, and it seems to say: “If we’re not going fishing, you need to put me away for the winter. And buddy, the chances of you going fishing again doesn’t look real good.” Yea, yea… I know.

It’s tough when you have to face reality. I think as fly fishers we’re very good at thinking that life is going to be better than it probably will be. The fish will always be there, the weather will be better than it turns out, and the next good fish lives around the next bend or in the next stretch of water. But this time the calendar and my work schedule were tapping me on the shoulder saying: Look around buddy, winter is anytime and you need to put away your summer toys.

PontoonBoat_Dismantled

So, after the yard was finished, I cracked open a cold beer and hauled the raft out to the lower deck. (This was personal work, so beer is allowed.) I took off the storage bag and side pockets, unstrapped and flatten the tubes, packed everything into a tote, and then into my car, for the ride to a warm storage unit. By the time I’d finished it was starting to get dark and a bit cold for the light shirt I had been working in, and my beer was on empty.

I felt a sudden wash of melancholy. The next two weeks would be filled with travel and work, bringing me back home several days into November. Winter was late, but inevitable. And although I was physically ready, it would be a long dark wait until mid-April when I’ll have the chance to float an early-season river.

And that my friends, makes a sad day.

 

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Wild Rainbows and The Dark Side

DCIM100GOPRO

Ferns big enough to hide bears.

Well, Lance and I finally found one. One of those elusive streams in south central Alaska where rainbows live unmolested by the hordes of seasonal anglers chasing salmon, thrashing the water into froth. Just us, wild fish, and quiet. OK, there were tons of mosquitoes and flies, and lots of bear sign as well. But most of the bear scat was oldish and we didn’t run into to one, so bears don’t count this time. And if you don’t expect mosquitoes; you’re not from around here. Oh, did I mention that it almost killed us to get there. (Well maybe not kill, but severely hurt at a minimum.)

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Russian River Salmon Trip – June 19th

We decided after our season opener trip that we needed to make another trek south to the Russian River to try and re-shoot some underwater footage of the salmon at the confluence. But, since we were traveling that far anyway, we’d take our heavier rods and leave early; hoping to catch some of the sockeyes that were moving into the river. It was supposed to be about the peak of the run, and given that it was going to a Wednesday, we thought we’d have less combat fishing and quality time on the river. Well, you know fishing … in Tuesday’s paper it was announced that ADF&G was going to open the Sanctuary (confluence) at 8:00AM Wednesday. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fishing Opener Trip

Kenai River Opener: June 11th – 13th

As we have for the last few years; Lance, Dennis, & I took three days at the beginning of the season opener to float fish the Kenai River. The campground is in Cooper Landing, right on the river. Actually, it’s our campsites that are right next to the river, giving us the prime location for launching our pontoon boats.

001_KenaiRvr_2013-06-11__0071Speaking of boats… I have a new one! It’s the 9’ Sportsman Warehouse special from Outcast.

I reversed the tubes as I didn’t receive any discount that warranted free advertising on the river. I’m planning on getting vinyl banners printed and attached to the tubes that will promote 2 Guys Fly Fishing (and my photography business if my lovely partner gets her way).  Anyway, the boat is solid and handled well, and considering the price point, a great deal.

The Kenai River was high, up to its banks, and we saw higher water each day, thanks to the stick marker put in by Dennis. With the high water came low water clarity. Both of these contributed to poor fishing.

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A Very Bad Thing at the Best Possible Moment – a safety message and a warning

Ready to Launch

Ready to Launch

 

Occasionally I think I lead a charmed life. Not so much for the fame & fortune I’ve avoided, but for things that happen in my life that convince me that Karma, Guardian Angels, and River/Fish Gods are entities that you should never take lightly. Also, that safety first is a great policy to live by.

Sunday was supposed to be a relaxing day floating the upper Kenai River. Lance has a new Fish Cat Scout raft that he wanted to try out on moving water, and since the river is closed to fishing, we were anticipating a very relaxing day trip; looking for photo ops, and scouting locations for next Tuesday when the river does open for fishing.

This was not to be.

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