USGS Stream Data

Kenai Rvr @ CooperLndg

  • Water Temp: 46.22 ° F
  • Flow: 6080 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 10.44 ft

Middle Kenai @ Skilak

  • Flow: 13000 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 11.31 ft

Talkeetna Rvr

  • Water Temp: 55.4 ° F
  • Flow: 8340 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 5.93 ft

Situk Rvr

  • Water Temp: 57.56 ° F
  • Flow: 248 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 65.66 ft
Ask About Fly Fishing

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.




We met Alan, our boat driver, at the ramp on time and loaded the rafts on the back of his boat. On the river it was not just cool, it was very cool; like almost see your breath cool. “Great day for fishing” Allen volunteered. (I think all guides are supposed to say that to all clients on every trip.) “You guys missed all the hot weather and the river may stay in shape this afternoon.” I looked at the river, which seemed to a bit browner than I preferred, but reserved judgment and said I hoped so. It was still raining. Up the river we go, with Allen using a squeegee every so often to clear the condensation from the inside of the windows. The river is definitely up, dirty; and I’m thinking that we’re not going to have much, if any, fishing in the main stem river today. We get to our drop off spot above Fish Creek. The rocks at the head of the run are underwater. No good. The water is light brown – definitely not good.  2_TalkeetnaRvr_2014-05_0003We find a wee bit of a gravel bank, pull our rafts and gear off the boat, say our good byes to Allen, and watch him roar back to someplace warm and dry. Jae and I outfit the rafts, rig our rods, and talk a bit about tactics. The main river is out of the equation this year, too much water and it’s brown. Visibility is 3 to 4 inches, tops. We decide that Fish Creek confluence is our first stop, so we rig up with a Sili-Fry and a UV Diamond Fry on our 6wts, thinking that if salmon fry are moving out, the big fish would be waiting at the mix line. I put a dirty flesh color Frankensculpin on my 7wt running the 200 grain Teeny Nymph line. I’m thinking that if I do decide to fish some dirty water I need something they can see. It’s still raining, and we’re both a bit wet by now.

Fish Creek confluence

Fish Creek confluence

The confluence of Fish Creek is a bust. Not only do we not see any fry in the water, but the dirty water is pushing into the softer clear water quickly and we just ran out of water deep enough to fish 100 feet downstream of the point. After both of us dragged a couple of flies through what fishable water there was, we decide to head down to Clear Creek. It’s still raining and it’s starting to soak in. Our first stop at Clear Creek is on the upstream side. Jae headed up river to try a cut bank in Clear Creek itself; I stayed at the confluence swinging the Frankensculpin into an eddy where the water was mixing and stripping it back. Thirty minutes later, we’re back together comparing notes. No fish, no fry in the water (that we could see), it was still raining and my hands were starting to hurt from the cold. I decided to drop to the downstream side of Clear Creek to a gravel ridge that was still above water. Clear Creek water flowed along the bank there into a long run. The ridge was holding most of the turbid Talkeetna at bay. Jae stayed in Clear Creek to try a couple different flies.

Within the hour Jae showed up on the bank across from me. He had dropped down below me and without any luck in that eddy, was headed up to fish the downstream side of Clear Creek. I let him know that I had foul hooked a small Dolly Varden from a quiet slick and that now at least I knew there were fish in the river. I’d been trying some egg/flesh/fry patterns but had been losing them to snags. I was changing to the 200 grain line and planned on dredging the bottom with something different than what I’d been using. He headed up while I poured over my boxes. The run was two to four feet deep with different current speeds as water flowed over the gravel shelf I was fishing from. I decided on a tube Metalhead Sculpin, and in a last minute decision, because I was thinking Dollies, I slid a 6mm pale peach bead on my leader. Several casts and a short distance downstream I was into a nice fish. Nice because it was fair hooked and it was 16 or 17 inches; not big, but nice.


The second of the two Dolly Varden

At least I think I figured out the where to look, and what might work. It had quit raining (sort of), and it was getting warmer (amazing what a single fish can do); even if I was soaked from the morning. Ten minutes later and lower in the run I was into a second Dolly Varden about the same size as the first. I went up to get Jae and bring him down to the run. We both fished for another 30 minutes, up and down the gravel ridge, casting into the quieter water and retrieving back into the current. No luck; and it had started to rain again. Finally I told Jae I was going to switch to a different fly, something black instead of olive/brown. Maybe that would stir them up. I found a 2” Dolly Llama, with a heavy cone head, green eyes, and an orange throat behind the cone. I left the bead on the leader (it had worked before). Jae decided he wanted a break and sat in my raft while I started at the top of the run. Half way down a rainbow smacked my fly. You can tell the difference; Dollies are bull-doggers, rainbow fight. It was a nice fish, 17 to 18” long, silvery, and in good shape. We missed the photo op as the fish slipped the barbless hook, and net, while I was digging my iCamera out from under layers of clothes. But the fish does energize us and we both go back at the run, with no additional luck.

It’s raining again and a slight breeze has started blowing upriver. Jae announces that he’s going to head back down to his raft. I decide to row to the bank just downstream and try to cover the bottom of the run I can’t reach from the gravel ridge. The challenge is that the riverbank is 8 to 10 feet high there and I’ll have to wade out for back casting room. By the time Jae hikes upstream to where he can cross, then downstream to where I’m fishing, I’m in waist deep water casting. I won’t be long I tell him; I was already wet and cold, and I can feel the water sucking warmth out of my legs. Burrrr…I was chilled to the bone. I beat him to his raft.

The last hole

The last hole

Jae fished the eddy again, this time with the Metalhead Sculpin. It was the last of our semi-clear water. Twenty minutes of casting and we decide it was time to head downstream. We were cold, wet, tired, and had an hour float ahead of us with rain and a breeze in our faces.

A couple of lessons came from this trip. First, be prepared for Alaskan weather. Increasing clouds and a 20% chance of precipitation turned into an all-day drizzle with temperatures much cooler than we’d been experiencing. I had left my full pile pullover and rain jacket at home, deciding to bring only a pile vest and light nylon shell. Mother Nature has no pity. Second, just because you’re expecting to fish one type of pattern, come prepared with backup. We fully expected to have salmon fry out migrating from their natal streams. Floating lines, long leaders, and small flies were going to be the order of the day. What worked was a heavy sink line, short leader, and a heavy fly dredged through slower back water. Did the bead on the leader help? I’m going to guess yes; if for no other reason than it served as an attractor, making the flies a bit more appealing.

What I do know, is that this trip was my single shot at fishing this spring; and it was the third year in the row that weather/work/and water conspired against the great fishing that can be had between breakup and summer. Not that I’m complaining; three fish count for a lot on the first trip of the year.

And, don’t forget; there’s always next year.



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