TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

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windknot
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TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by windknot » Mon Sep 16, 2019 11:28 pm

I was up in Alaska for work earlier this month and persuaded my dad to come along for a few days of fishing on the Kenai Peninsula. We drifted the Upper Kenai with a guide on Friday, then road tripped around the peninsula on Saturday and Sunday fishing a few spots from the bank on the Kenai and Kasilof as well as a few smaller streams in the area.

With salmon fishing, timing is everything. We were a bit too early to find large numbers of silvers in the Kenai and well past the season for catching and keeping fresh sockeye, but there were tons of reds in the river preparing to spawn. We hooked and landed several reds while targeting trout and dolly varden (lots of fun on 6-weight rods), caught a handful of dollies and rainbows up to about 20", and ended up finding a few pods of silvers and landed a couple of coho each that went for big streamers on 8-weight rods. We even caught a few random species during the float, including a 16" lake trout and a 14" mountain whitefish.

The quantity of fish wasn't quite on par with the rapid-fire, fish-on-every-cast action in bonus brookie lakes in the Sierra, but the quality was certainly unparalleled. A few highlights include my first (and second) coho on the fly (which by default became my largest fly-caught fish), my new personal best rainbow, and my largest fish landed on a 3-weight rod (a sockeye hooked while fishing for trout).

On another timing note, the Swan Lake fire had closed the Upper Kenai to boats until a couple of days before we arrived, so we were lucky to even be able to get out onto the water. Some of the hike-in lakes I wanted to visit for grayling were also closed due to the fire, but we got a good amount of rain on Saturday which washed a lot of the smoke away.

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My trout net with its 17" opening is woefully inadequate for landing salmon.
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On the other hand, our guide's boat net is highly effective at landing fish but doesn't show relative size of fish very well. This rainbow went about 20".
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A sockeye in full spawning colors.
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The smaller of the two silvers that I landed (about 8-9 lbs).
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A big male coho that my dad landed (about 10-11 lbs).
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My second coho.
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The brilliant red sockeye that I landed on my 3-weight trout rod.
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You can read a few backcountry reports here: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/






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Re: TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by freestone » Tue Sep 17, 2019 7:00 am

Beautiful fish WKt! Do you keep these fish and take home and is that part of the guide's service to prepare them to ship?
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Re: TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by TahoeJeff » Tue Sep 17, 2019 8:37 am

Great report with awesome photos of some mighty fine looking fish.
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Re: TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by balzaccom » Tue Sep 17, 2019 10:52 am

Yep--lovely fish. Sounds like you had a grand time.
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Re: TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by windknot » Tue Sep 17, 2019 12:23 pm

Thanks all! Freestone, we kept the 4 coho and our guide filleted them for us. A local fish processing place vacuum-packed and deep froze the 18 lbs of fillets for $2.30/lb. Then we bought some dry ice from a local grocery store and my dad brought them home in a cooler inside his checked bag. It seems like the folks who want to fill their freezers typically charter a boat out on the bay either out of Seward or Kenai during sockeye season -- much easier to catch a limit for all, especially on multiple days. But then you don't get to experience stripping big streamers for tenacious silvers. :)

You can technically keep rainbows and dolly varden with size restrictions, but nearly all of the guides on the Kenai encourage catch and release for these fish because of all the fishing pressure the river receives so we didn't keep any of those (wouldn't have provided as much of a meal anyway).
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Re: TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by canukyea » Tue Sep 17, 2019 12:55 pm

Epic trip! What types of fly rod setups / tippets did you use to land all those salmon?

Hopefully this goes into the Alaska special category, else the fish here in the Continental US might seem a bit small in comparison!
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Re: TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by Fly Guy Dave » Wed Sep 18, 2019 5:51 am

You landed that beast on a 3wt rod?! Damn! I'm impressed. Looks like a fantastic trip. I need to get up there again when the salmon are running. I was too early last time. Thanks for the TR.
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Re: TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by windknot » Wed Sep 18, 2019 11:23 am

Canukyea: We used big weighted streamers in a variety of colors on 8wt fly rods when fishing for coho, which will strike at anything flashy when they're still fresh from the saltwater. The streamers are tied directly to 10lb tippet or mono which is tied directly to a floating or intermediate line, as we weren't fishing very deep -- no need for a traditional leader. We actually hooked a few sockeye on accident (the season is closed for sockeye as they're all spawning/spawned out now, and not good eating anyway once they've turned) when targeting silvers.

When targeting trout/dolly varden, we used 6wt rods to throw beads (colored to look like salmon eggs) about 2-3 inches above a bare size 10-12 hook, with a few split shot about 10-14" above that to get the bead down on the bottom of the river, and finally an indicator that can be adjusted depending on the depth of the water. It's fly fishing, but only technically -- my dad remarked that it was much more similar to fishing with a worm and bobber than "traditional" fly fishing. But once the salmon are spawning, salmon eggs (and then later, decaying salmon flesh) is the primary food source for all fish so they won't really eat anything else. We ended up hooking sockeye as bycatch with this method, too, as even though they're not biting they sometimes get snagged by accident or the egg/hook drifts right past their open mouth.

Fly Guy, this is how I hooked that sockeye on my 3wt rod -- in the smaller streams you can see the trout lined up right behind pairs or clusters of spawning salmon, and it's the trout you're trying to get to bite. In this case, a red went for the egg for some reason (or got snagged in the mouth), and so I had the option of either trying to land it or breaking it off.

If/when I return, I'm going to try to find some smaller/smallish streams (size of our rivers here) that have runs of sockeye or coho within easy driving distance of Anchorage or Juneau, then try to time my visit in either July for the sockeye or late August/September for the coho. The trout fishing was more challenging than I expected (though I guess it's to be expected given how much pressure the Kenai Peninsula gets) and the salmon were much easier to catch but only the silvers could actually be kept and eaten.

The Puget Sound actually has a large odd-year return of pinks and guys fly fish for them from some of the local beaches and parks here in Seattle, but that kind of combat fishing doesn't sound super appealing to me so I haven't tried it yet. :P I'd much rather hike/walk in a bit to find a spot where I'm not shoulder to shoulder with someone else!
You can read a few backcountry reports here: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/

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Re: TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by neil d » Wed Sep 18, 2019 12:52 pm

Really excellent photos! Gotta say the rainbow is my favorite, but the sockeye on the 3 wt must have been an absolute blast! Thanks for sharing.

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Re: TR: Kenai Peninsula, AK - 9/6-9/8/19

Post by canukyea » Thu Sep 19, 2019 9:09 pm

windknot wrote:
Wed Sep 18, 2019 11:23 am
We used big weighted streamers in a variety of colors on 8wt fly rods when fishing for coho, which will strike at anything flashy when they're still fresh from the saltwater. The streamers are tied directly to 10lb tippet or mono which is tied directly to a floating or intermediate line, as we weren't fishing very deep -- no need for a traditional leader. We actually hooked a few sockeye on accident (the season is closed for sockeye as they're all spawning/spawned out now, and not good eating anyway once they've turned) when targeting silvers.

When targeting trout/dolly varden, we used 6wt rods to throw beads (colored to look like salmon eggs) about 2-3 inches above a bare size 10-12 hook, with a few split shot about 10-14" above that to get the bead down on the bottom of the river, and finally an indicator that can be adjusted depending on the depth of the water. It's fly fishing, but only technically -- my dad remarked that it was much more similar to fishing with a worm and bobber than "traditional" fly fishing. But once the salmon are spawning, salmon eggs (and then later, decaying salmon flesh) is the primary food source for all fish so they won't really eat anything else. We ended up hooking sockeye as bycatch with this method, too, as even though they're not biting they sometimes get snagged by accident or the egg/hook drifts right past their open mouth.
Ah yes the indicator float, convenient for covering water from a boat. As awful as this sounds, I'm discovering that it can be quite effective in backcountry lakes as well.

If I get out to Alaska sometime, I'll bring an 8 weight!
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