The river may be quieter and the campgrounds emptier, but there’s still plenty of fishing to be had on the Kenai Peninsula throughout the fall.
Right now, the upper Kenai River is the place to find rainbow trout.
“It’s been phenomenal,” said Colin Lowe, owner of Kenai Cache Outfitters in Cooper Landing. “It really kicked off for us about a week ago.”
Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden trout kick into gear as salmon spawn in the river, tributaries and lakes. When large numbers of salmon move into the stream systems to spawn, the trout move in right behind them to swoop in on their eggs. This year, the rainbows seem to be healthy and feeding well, offering a good fight, Lowe said.
The water has been high most of the season but gradually receded, though it is still higher than average. Rapid snowmelt and rainfall early in the spring led to high, turbid water in the Kenai and Russian rivers, making fishing a challenge because fish had more space to move through the river and stay away from the banks. However, the water level gradually decreased over the latter half of July and throughout August, so right now, the river level is in the sweet spot, Lowe said.
“When you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature, you take everything in stride and figure it out and overcome,” he said. “The fish are there, you just got to figure out where they are. The silver lining is that the water levels are probably ideal right now versus too low or being too high. I would put the Upper River right now at just about perfect.”
Silver salmon are starting to show up, too. The silver salmon run trickled into the Kenai River in the first three weeks of August, making fishing slow, but anglers are starting to see more success now, said Jason Pawluk, the acting area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Sportfish in Soldotna.
If the run is picking up now, it is very late, he said.
“Things are improving — if this is the first run of coho, then it’s definitely coming in pretty late,” Pawluk said. “Doesn’t seem to be a large run, however, given these catch rates. It looks like we’re seeing an increase in passage.”
The second run of silver salmon tends to trickle in throughout the fall, stretching through September and into October, he said. Anglers have been having the most luck with fishing for coho between Bing’s Landing and Skilak Lake this season, based on logbook data. Clearer water will help as well, he said.
“(High water) does make it a little more difficult to fish for coho, just because there’s so much more area they can move in,” Pawluk said. “(The water level) is dropping and clarity is getting better, and if clarity continues to (improve) as it looks like it will with the weather we’ve been having, that’ll make it easier to fish for coho.”
Jason Lesmeister, the owner of Jason’s Guide Service in Cooper Landing, said he’s looking forward to how the second run of silvers comes in. The first run was relatively slow and he has been mostly taking clients out for trout, which has been excellent, he said.
Sockeye, silvers and pinks are still around, but trout fishing is better than salmon fishing right now, Lesmeister said. Fishing seemed a little tougher this year, possibly because of additional commercial fishing hours in Upper Cook Inlet or high water on the river throughout the season, he said.
“It seemed like it was not quite as consistent as usual,” he said. “There didn’t seem to be as many limits for sockeye this year.”
Trout fishing seems to be better on years with big pink salmon runs, he said.
“The trout fishing has been really good,” Lesmeister said. “…Pretty soon, it’s gonna change, and the fish are gonna be full. The fishing will still be good, but a lot of it will depend on being able to find where the fish are at.”
Fishing in the alpine lakes was good this season as well, with anglers bringing in a good number of fish on the trips out with Kenai River Drifters Lodge, said Andy Wallace, the operations manager with the lodge. The lodge books flyout and hike-in trips to some of the higher-elevation lakes, where anglers can target the resident rainbow trout and grayling.
“We got some nice trophy-sized grayling this year,” Wallace said. “Some trips are catching 30, 40, 50 fish in a day. When you come back from that, everybody’s got a smile on their face.”
The lodge had an excellent year, staying busy with fishing throughout the season, he said. Although the lodge itself will shut down for the winter, people can book trips with them to fish throughout the winter. Sometimes that entails walking the banks of the Russian River, and sometimes it entails launching a boat onto the Kenai from one of the open boat launches and negotiating the ice, he said.
“People are passing through from time to time, and for those that are passing through, it’s nice to be able to go out onto the river,” Wallace said.
Most anglers will be headed out for silvers, and with the improvement in the last week, there’s hope that the run is simply late, Pawluk said. On the Kenai River, the bag limit for coho increases from two to three on Sept. 1.
Anglers in the marine fishery are having fair to good success with feeder king salmon in Kachemak Bay and the waters around it, according to the weekly fishing report from Lower Cook Inlet. Sportfishing for king salmon is open through the winter in Kachemak Bay with a limit of two per day with two in possession of any size, but no annual limit.
The roadside streams are seeing some small schools of coho salmon moving through, and steelhead should be beginning to enter.
Two weeks remain for the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, with the leader weighing in at 252.2 pounds, caught Aug. 17 by Austin Nelson of North Pole. Nelson’s fish displaced the previous leader, Daniel Spies of Soldotna, by 1.2 pounds.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at email@example.com.