King salmon season on the Kenai River ended August
first. We'd intended on fishing for red salmon the
following day, but an emergency closure nixed that
decision. Our next choice was going after trout.
Heading our sled to the middle river, it was a relief
to be fishing among so few people. Pristine riffles,
soaring bald eagles and the eerie call of common loons
meshed together, creating a spellbinding aura.
Letting our Hot Shots out, we'd barely settled in
before the first rod went crazy.
Dad set the hook and before he could eat up the
slack, a five pound redside cartwheeled through the
air. Releasing the stunning fish, we hit a dolly
varden nearly the same size at the bottom of the
drift. After plugging the tailout, we fired up the
motor and made the same run. "I want to hit that
shelf where we picked up an 11 pounder last week"
piped good friend and guide, Brett Gesh.
Perfectly hitting the slot, my green pirate size 30
Hot Shot dug deep; then the Cabela's IM7 Tourney Trial
rod tip nearly slammed the water. There was no time
for a set, line was being peeled off from the moment
of impact. Letting the boat drift down with the fish,
we finally saw a silver flash emanating from the
emerald depths. Reaching over the side, I admired a
seven pound rainbow as I slipped the hook from her
lip. Though it wasn't the big 'bow Gesh had released
here a week prior, it was a dandy trout.
Over the next few hours, Gesh, Dad and I would drift
that wide, sweeping riffle several times, and release
over 30 redsides and dollys. A buddy was fishing
upstream from us and doing just as well. At one point
he called us on his cell phone, beaming with
excitement as a young girl in his boat had just landed
a 13 pound rainbow. There are some monster size trout
to be had in the Kenai, though they are often
overshadowed by the salmon run.
When the king season ends, many guides pull out of
the area. A few stick around for some silver and red
action, while a handful head upstream in quest of
giant rainbow and dolly varden trout. Though we hit
it a bit early, we still managed to tie into some good
If looking to battle some monster size trout, you
don't have to look far from Anchorage. While there is
some world class trout fishing to be had in several
lodges throughout the state, a three hour drive from
the big city will put you on the upper Kenai, home to
The second week of August, through all of September
and into October is trout time on this river. During
these weeks, several salmon species are spawning, and
trout gorge themselves on what eggs break loose from
the beds. I'll never forget the first photos I saw of
October trout taken from the banks of the Kenai's
upper river. Twelve to 15 pound redsides were common,
with girths that would impress the most avid king
angler. Their auburn sides and brilliant spots were
images I'll never forget, and at that moment, I became
drawn to Kenai River trout.
There's a strain of trout here known as leopard
rainbows. They primarily range in the upper river,
though many are caught in the river's mid-section.
Identified by their excessive spotting, they are among
the most striking trout you'll ever see.
While my first attempt at these fish came two weeks
prior to the salmon spawn kicking in, we still had
good success on fish ranging from three to seven
pounds. Working Hot Shots and throwing metallic red,
size 10 Corkies on a bare hook, fooled many a trout.
We also had great success with popcorn shrimp -- the
prepackaged shrimp tails you buy at the market to go
on salads. Fish can't resist these shrimp, especially
when used in combination with a Corky.
When the salmon spawn commences and big trout move in
from the depths to feast, fly anglers can go to work.
Using a five to seven weight fly rod with a floating
line and 3X to 4X tippet is all you need. Early in
the run, when roe is fresh, various egg patterns are
productive. As the spawn draws to a close, flesh
patterns can be thrown with outstanding results.
Nymphing these patterns is a favorite method among
locals and guides, so strike indicators are essential.
Clipping on a couple small split shot sinkers helps you get down. When nymphing from a boat, short
casts are the rule, so overcoming additional weight is not a concern. Ten foot casts regularly yield fish.
During the peak of last season's run, Gesh was in
trout all day, every day he fished. Mind you, there
is little discrepancy when trout start feasting on
eggs; six inch trout are as hungry as 35" trout. That
said, Gesh and his clients averaged over 100 fish per
rod per day on most of his outings. These fished
averaged around 18", with numerous fish taken each day
in the mid 20" range and usually one or two up to 30".
Keep in mind, these fish are gorging themselves on
protein rich food, and rapidly accumulating mass. A
20" rainbow will weigh up to five pounds.
The biggest dolly varden Gesh's clients took last
year measured 33" and weighed 11 lbs. Compare that to
a 33" rainbow he landed that registered 15 pounds and
you can see the difference in girth among the two
species. These rainbows are like 'bows anywhere, they
go berserk when hooked; jumping, thrashing, diving and
dodging. Dollys tend to hang a bit deeper, relying on
muscle and turbidity to do their fighting.
There are two stretches of the Kenai to fish for big
trout; the upper river, above Skilak Lake and the
middle river, below the lake. While they both hold
plenty of fish, the middle river sees less pressure
from trout anglers. On the other hand, the upper
river, situated inside Kenai National Wildlife Refuge,
harbors more wildlife. Seeing grizzly and black
bears, moose and other wildlife is the norm on the
It should be noted, this season upwards of 10 million
pink salmon will make their way up the Kenai to spawn.
They do this every two years, and the amount of eggs
they will add to the river will only enhance the trout
Regardless of where on the river you choose to fish,
the potential to latch into that 15 pound 'bow is what
keeps you casting. Oversize dollys are also a strong
possibility. Having double and triple hookups are the
norm, and make for some exciting times on the boat.
They are memories never to be forgotten.
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