Reaching for rainbows, casting for char

Anglers looking for something more challenging than the traditional “Kenai Flip” for sockeye, might try for some of the river’s rainbow trout and Dolly Varden.

While reports are that both the Kenai and Kasilof river fisheries are slow, if the fly rod isn’t working there are still salmon to be had.

Monte Roberts, guide for All Alaska Outdoors, said trout fishing is slow but the fish could be found if anglers know where to go.

“Early in the spring, they spawn and then you start to get these migrations of smolt out of the river and the trout follow those smolt down into the river, eating them,” Roberts said. “They follow them into the zones where people don’t normally fish for them.”

Roberts said the fish have moved down the river into places like Poacher’s Cove, but are also less concentrated than they are when spawning near Skilak Lake.

“A lot of times we catch a ton of big (rainbows) in the king fishery from the Soldotna Bridge down to probably about Stewart’s (landing),” he said. “ That’s is the lowest that they seem to go regularly, but in that stretch there’s a ton of them that get caught on bait when we get bait openings in June.”

As the trout move back upstream later in the fall, Roberts said the fishing would improve.

Angler Bruce King said he has been on the Kenai River once this year for rainbow fishing, but in previous years has fished the river almost exclusively for rainbows and Dolly Varden.

“I’ve killed enough salmon. I fill the freezer at the beginning of the season in the personal-use fishery,” King said.

When the salmon are spawning, using beads, which resemble eggs, can be a good draw for both species of fish — however King said the fishing requires finesse.

“You really have to pay attention because the way the fish are feeding, they’re basically sampling. So when they suck that bead in, it’s a very quick decision whether it’s food or not,” King said.

The key, he said, is to be willing to change beads quickly.

“You can have a boat full of four guys fishing beads and one will consistently catch fish and the other three won’t and so you basically march through beads until you find one that works and then you switch,” he said.

When other fishers are filling the river with salmon carcasses, flesh patterns also work well — though Roberts said, now is the time of year to fish with sculpin and smolt patterns. There may be a few eggs in the water, but not enough to justify using beads as lures yet, he said.

Both Roberts and King said the challenge for fishing for trout and artic char on the river is part of the appeal.

“The trout fishing is really, really tough,” Roberts said. “Mostly, because they’re a very educated fish. They’re getting handled and caught a lot and they’re going off the bite. After so many times of getting your face ripped off, maybe you’ll just stick to eating bugs.”

King said the fishery is a challenging, but worthwhile one.

“You’ve given the fish about as much of a chance as you can possibly give them when you use a fly rod and put a bead on it with a little tiny hook,” he said. “If you like the challenge of giving the fish the biggest advantage, that’s what you’re doing.”


Reach Rashah McChesney at

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