Labor Day in Alaska - 1998
By Craig Gittings
What do you usually do when you have a great
experience fishing? I usually talk a lot about it.
Last fall, a friend of mine and myself
fished the upper Kenai River around Coopers
Landing, specifically the Russian River. The
upper Kenai River is located about 100 miles
from the Anchorage. and considered road fishing
as opposed to a fly out. In previous years I
had only heard stories about off season fishing on the
Russian, it was time to check it out.
On the river, spent or dead sockeyes abounded
everywhere, dolly varden and rainbows were
keying in, just downstream, on spawning beds
for loose eggs and salmon flesh. We quickly
found out that it wasn't hard to match the hatch.
We also had a time with fresh sockeyes and
While on the river we ran into folks from
Anchorage that were more than willing to supplement
our knowledge by telling us about an opening of
the Anchor River for a 'silver salmon only' run.
Tired of releasing spent sockeyes, we were soon
on our way toward Homer to try our luck on the
On the Anchor River, we shared the area with
only a couple of folks from Utah that had never
fished anything larger than a 4 wt rod. After 5 PM, the
locals would more than double that number. Of course
the silvers were pushing through and a time was had
hooking up with what can only be termed as rainbows
Lodging and transportation concerns were never a
problem for 2 fish bums. We were always able to find
lodging for two. That was last year.
After mentioning last year's trip, this year's trip
included a group of 11. Eight had never been to Alaska,
so most didn't have a clue what to expect. Some had
never flyfished before, either.
Part of the group leaving San Francisco
Airport- Bob Langland, Craig Gittings, Dave Pehrson,
Andrew Gittings with Gatti tube, and Steve Foti.
A little more thought into the planning was
necessary for a group this size. Reserving cabins,
motel rooms, guides, transportation and airfare
for the group was about all that was needed. The
same amount of planning would have gone into a
smaller group. A 4:30 PM direct flight out of San
Francisco to Anchorage put us on the road to the
Kenai Peninsula after dark. Cabins at Gwin's
Lodge were waiting for us, unlocked.
Gitt in front of Gwin's Lodge.
The following day, we hit the Russian River running.
Bob Fairchild, from the FAOL chat room, met us at
the Alpine Motel to discuss possibilities of fishing for grayling later
in the week and to join us on the Russian River.
The group talking to Bob Fairchild of Anchorage
about grayling trip. Bob is the guy in the pink hat.
To the amazement of my compadres, the
sockeyes were through out the river system. To hear
one describe reds in clear water could never be
imagined, one would have to see it to believe it.
Sockeyes on Russian River
The trout were very cooperative with our
presentation of egg patterns, fished nymph style with
a couple of 3/0 shot and an indicator- making roll
casts necessary. (Oh yes and downstream presentations.)
Author Gitt with Dolly Varden
on Russian River.
We just drifted them through the sockeyes. It couldn't
have been easier. This went on until after 7 PM. Rough
Steve, Andrew, Craig taking
a break on Russian River
The next day, we had reserved a drift trip down
the lower section of the upper Kenai River thru
the Refuge area. Eleven o'clock start time, off
the river by 8 PM. Our guide explained that we
might not do too well. The fish just weren't there.
This was a complete contradiction to his comments
last year, which went something like, "You should have been
"This is gonna be hard. Dave is near the mouth of the Russian, background is Kenai. Labor day Weekend, by 5 PM
everyone had left for the day."
Our results for the day, 100 plus fish counts per
boat, one guy had close to 50 just by himself. It
rained in the afternoon, but no one seemed to care,
they were fishing. The guides pointed out that their
boats were leaking and the fact that we were climbing
in and out of the boats, attributed to the accumulation
of water and we might have to do some bailing.
Still it was a great day. We would reserve a second
float day next time. More than half the group wanted
to book another float later in the week. Almost like
multi-days at Disneyland.
That night, Bob called to let us know that the
grayling trip was off because of rain. They
recorded 4" at Turnigan Pass that day. Hiking 2.5
miles with 1200' elevation gain into Fuller Lake
was going to be miserable.
To get out of the rain.
we did a run to Seward and the Exit Glacier (a walk
up glacier) for the group to show them some different
Kenai Lake- looking West on rained out day.
We stopped here for photo opportunity on our way back
from Exit Glacier and the Seward area.
The wind blowing in from Resurrection Bay kept
all boats off the water that day. We noticed no
silvers jumping in the salt, along the shore, so
we headed off for Anchor River in hopes that silvers
would be there.
Exit Glacier Terminus, Dave Pehrson
in yellow jacket.
At the Anchor River, our hopes were dashed. The
silver run, which had been the 10 times stronger
than last year had already peaked a week and half
earlier. The steelhead were a welcome sight though.
Paul, a Southern California long-range salt guy
from Orange County did hook into a nice steelie
measuring 32". When our group converged on the
river it looked quite crowded until we spread out.
Russian river with seagulls on sidelines.
One area named Slide Hole had a
gravel bar on one side and trees on the other.
The treed area produced quite few fish. When it
came to my turn to fish from that point, I
demonstrated a forward cast into the woods,
thereby missing the trees and hitting the wate
r with my back cast. To the amusement of my friends,
not only did I not snag a single pesky tree, I
did not get a single strike, either.
Anchor River - Gitt demonstrating how
to avoid trees
The guys not accustomed to fly fishing stayed
one day longer to do some halibut fishing out
of Homer. The rest of us headed back to the Russian
Fish on! gitt on the Russian River.
Dollies and rainbows were definitely better
there. The week day crowds at both the Russian and
the Anchor were practically nonexistent.
Dave Pehrson on the
If we would have been on the Russian River confluence
during the sockeye run, there would be 4-6000 folks
fishing within a mile or so, true combat fishing.
By the time sockeye season closes on Aug 20, the
crowds have dropped off dramatically, probably due
to limited freezer space.
Sockeyes sitting on
reds - Russian River
The day use parking was
less than half full/empty. Three weeks earlier,
there would be a waiting line to park at the entrance.
More sockeyes on the Russian
On the return to Anchorage we could see Denali
from the Eastern point of the Turnigan Arm,
some 260 miles away. Beluga whales were an added
treat with the incoming tide along the Turnigan
Arm. All in all, not a bad week of fishing. I
was able to get some dry fly guys to learn some bad
habits and catch fish at the same time.
Not including airfare or meals, the trip ran $413
per person for the week, Sat. thru Sun.
(Cabins/motels/vans/gas) Add $200 for the drift
and $30 for nonresident license. This trip was
really done on the cheap. The only cheaper way
might have been to utilize the state campgrounds
at $15 a night. But then you'd have to contend
with camping/cooking gear, food prep, rain and
possibly bears. A bed proved to be a real luxury.
Gwin's Lodge drops their rates on their cabins
a couple of days after Labor Day and day-use parking
at the Russian River Campground is not enforced or
collected. So, going after Labor Day would be another
option to lower your costs.~ Craig Gittings (aka gittone)
For the 1999 Kenai fly fishing trip in Alaska,
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