Welcome Friends!

The Kenai Peninsula
(again) 1999

By Craig Gittings

The Alaskan Kenai Peninsula's highways take you to some special places (not bad for road assisted fishing). The annual trip was on again, like migrating birds in the fall, (except we were headed north to fish salmon clogged rivers, spawned out sockeyes along with filleted carcasses littered the river. Now if you could just look past the aftermath of a 6 fish limit on sockeyes that closed during the third week in August, you could see fresh sockeyes and silvers along with rainbows and dollies in clear waters of the Russian River. The meat fisherman season has pretty much come to a close and hunting season is under way. You are still allowed one silver on the Russian, and three fish limit on the Kenai. The ferry crossing area of the Kenai sports that about 15 fisherman on the weekends.

This trip was a repeat of last year. Same itinerary except we stayed in Cooper Landing at the Alpine Motel as opposed to moving around to different accommodations. After a slide presentation of last year's Alaska trip and the previous Alaska article at Fly Anglers Online, we had 10 brave souls follow a rabid fisherman's claim of the fantastic fishing and no crowds on the Kenai River. Were the exaggerations excessive? Had the whites of my eyes started to turn brown from being full of it? Had my perspective on last year's trip become distorted with time? This fear came across my mind on more than one occasion as our trip drew near. I realized now why writers could go on about "undisclosed" waters; it wasn't to keep them a secret but to keep the yarns that were told from unfurling as exaggerations or put more bluntly, BS. As a fisherman, I too, have the ability to stretch the perceived truth as time goes on. A tape measure helps to restore reality and yes, thank-you, I carry one most of the time.

A trip to a lodge in a wilderness setting sounds great, but if you have to contend with jet boats racing up and down the local rivers, the wilderness experience really diminishes. The group goal was to get into some good fishing and not a fancy place to stay. Besides, the Upper Kenai is a non-motorized area on the river and you can't beat the price on some pretty nice fishing. Now this is not to say that the fishing exists year round, because it doesn't. Autumn is a special time when all of the pieces seem to fall into place and provide some unforgettable fishing. This is the trip for the rest of us that chose to pass on the price tag of a famed lodge. In all likelihood, you will see some Alaskans, but the bulk of the folks on the water are from "the outside" or lower 48 and from around the world. In recent years, it is reported, there has been a significant drop in resident angler licenses on the Kenai Peninsula. The number of non-resident licenses purchased are almost double that of resident licenses. The findings are not conclusive, but the graying of resident fisherman might be the case. Alaska Fish and Game will be conducting a survey to find out why the resident fisher numbers have declined over the years. The area offers up some fine recreational fishing for the traveler.

The learning curve isn't too steep either. All you have to do is add some lead to your leader (for some this is hard to do) and you are into fish with either a high stick nymphing or a wet fly swing method. There are hatches going on but the fish are keying in on protein from drifting eggs or flesh from dead salmon. We did fish a hole where there was an occasional rise for a mayfly, but not frequent enough to switch to a dry imitation. The target species at that hole were silvers along with rainbows, dollies and incidental fresh sockeyes and they were all deep in the pool.

Kait on the Russian

Along the lower portion of the Russian River there is now a raised steel grated walkway, probably put in to help restore streamside habitat, and stairways to existing gravel bars and fish cleaning stations. This is more than likely for the sockeye fisherman earlier in the year. A fall fisherman can take advantage of the same walkway. I recall my first year trodding down the fisherman trail parallel to the river. On wet days it was hard to navigate the slippery mud holes and still get to the river without breaking something. Let's just say that you fell quite a bit before entering the water. It was probably out of fear that the State might be sued by a visiting attorney that the walkways were put in place. The walkways are a work in progress. I might add the re-vegetation seems to be working in the areas where the elevated walkways are in place.

Jerry with Rainbow Again, as he did last year, Bob Fairchild was gracious enough to spend a day on the river with us. Along with Bob was Bennie Leonard, originator of the Leonard Shrimp and Dave Goodman, President of the Alaska Fly Fishers. Thanks guys, it was nice of you to come all that way to fish with us on a river in your backyard. Bob, nice silver. Jerry Snyder will get that pattern for you yet, or so he says.

I haven't mentioned any fishing yet, have I. Let me say this, if the line was in the water and your presentation resembled an egg, flesh or flash fly pattern you were into fish. If you didn't hook into silvers, a dolly or rainbow was waiting to pick off your offering, if it was deep enough. If you weren't deep enough the sockeyes would hit, so how could you lose? Use of an indicator was optional. High stick nymphing seemed to work best, as the river at tops was 30 feet across and the holes were less than that. The main thing was to get down deep in the water column; this avoided the spent sockeyes. This was for the Russian River only.

We made an early run down to the Anchor River in hopes of catching incoming silvers. What we found instead were a couple of silvers, steelhead and a bunch of pinks. The pinks provided enough fishing to last us all day. Here we incorporated a wet fly swing to accomplish our task at hand.

Dancing Salmon

A fellow in our group had pretty good success with a flash fly for pinks on the Anchor River. He passed his collection of the prior evening's tying session to the unsuccessful fishers in our group. The hookups came immediately after tying on one of these flies for all except one fellow. He actually thought it was either his rod or himself. So here starts the process of elimination; pass the rod to someone else, if that individual caught fish it was in fact not the rod, but the fisher. You can guess what happened on the first cast, yep, sad but true. It was good for laughs and the individual was a good sport about it. Jerry, one of the more active late night tier's on the trip, was amused when he actually cut his last fly off his own line so that some poor unfortunate soul could catch a fish on his fly. I observed four guys upstream from where all the raucous was going on from our group or the part of the river where the only fish were being caught in sight. Patiently they flung their flies to where on any other day would have been productive water. Those aforementioned flingers from upstream quickly filled in the void like a vacuum when we left the river at the end of the day. Too bad that they were without the magic fly. By the way, I have first choice on Jerry as a room mate next year, unless he gets raffled off as a fundraiser for the club. I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed. The guys in the group enjoyed the Anchor's fishing to the Russian. I might just add that the rivers are completely different.

Throughout the week we had floats on the Kenai River for some completely different fishing. The group being too big in size, you couldn't float successfully as a group. Fishing was superb with large dollies and rainbows as an added treat. One fellow landed a nice rainbow at about 29 inches, that made his whole week, but I'm certain that we could not send him home early after that. The Kenai was running at about 9000 CFS during this time. Great fishing, if you ever get the chance.

Dennis on the Russian

It was not difficult to get hookups of dollies or rainbows in the 16-24 inch range on either the Kenai or Russian River. Again, different types of water (big water, small water), but essentially is the same style fishing. The techniques that were learned on the float were reinforced on both the Kenai and Russian Rivers. A roll cast was the effective way to move line and lead. The chuck and duck was extremely deadly for others standing close by and at times even the caster. I will say that the chuck and duck works pretty good when you wish to have more of river to yourself.

My favorite incident was associated with a waitress at Gwin's Lodge. We had fished until dark, and then decided we better get a bite to eat before hitting the sack. As we walked into the eating establishment I noticed the cook was in the process of soaping down the grill for the evening (not a good sign). We asked if they were still seating folks. The waitress normally met us with a cheerful voice was ready to call it a day. In a stern voice she quipped, "Gentleman, it's either fish or eat. If you want to eat you have to get off the river. What is it going to be, fish or eat?" Ah yes, Alaskan hospitality! Taken back, we thought she was kidding. She wasn't, we made a hasty retreat. I heeded the advice and took extra snacks and jerky with me the following day (the rest of the week for that matter) for those late evenings on the river. Hamilton's serves dinners a little later in the evening and you can even wear your waders in the bar where you can enjoy a nice meal. The dining room, however, has a sign displayed prominently with the words, "NO WADERS ALLOWED INSIDE THE DINING ROOM."

On a side note, anybody can plan a trip like this. Just set up a few specific goals and go for it. All you need is a map, little research on salmon runs, places to stay, get your lodging reserved by spring and you're all set. Before you know it, you are fishing along a river that was just a dream not long ago. A little hindsight (the "what would I do different" routine) also helps. Or you can do like my group did. They let someone else do the planning for them and I was more than happy to do that for them. So much for options, huh? I had input from the folks that went last year. With one person dealing with logistics of a trip you can avoid a lot of headaches. The difficult part is dealing with fluctuations of the group size. If you are lucky (like we were) they only became minor inconveniences prior to the trip. Call it virtual vacationing or something close to it. By the way, I did get feedback on what to do next time and we will be implementing those changes on future trips. All in all, not a bad trip. The group size lent itself to the camaraderie. This trip was comprised primarily of Mission Peak Fly Anglers club members that had never been to Alaska. We didn't fish the same area every day together, but rather split up and met back at dinnertime to compare notes. I might add that their experience exceeded their expectations and they even caught fish to boot. All 10 want to go back next year and we haven't even had a slide presentation of this year's trip.

I might add that the best trip so far (fishing wise) was the first one. We didn't set our goals too high and had the least amount of planning. Our intended target species were rainbow trout and dolly varden (we ended up fishing for silvers all week long). We only had car rental reservations, airline tickets and a float trip thru the Refuge with Alaska Troutfitters booked ahead of time. Otherwise, we just winged it and fell into some pretty nice fishing. We found lodging as we saw fit in every area, of course, there were just two of us. That's a bonus for doing these trips in the off season. All of our recommendations came by word of mouth from folks on the river. I might add that it was some of the best information for that and subsequent trips.

Dave Rainbow

So what are you waiting for? Get started now on planning your own trip. You won't regret it. Just go with the flow and try not to be too structured. Another thing is not to pack too many activities into your week. Expect mistakes to be made, things never run smoothly, but heck, this is your vacation. Just as long as it isn't life threatening, you'll have memories for a lifetime. And remember the fish will always be waiting for you, as they aren't going anywhere. Go ahead and sleep in. We did.~ Craig Gittings (aka gittone)

For more information on fly fishing in Alaska, click here! And for last year's Kenai trip!

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