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Alaska's Big Time Trout  at Cabela's

Alaska's Big Time Trout

Author: Scott Haugen

Rivers, lakes and streams throughout The Last Frontier teem with trout. If you're looking to score on a trophy fish, you may not have to travel as far as you think.

A fat Alaskan rainbow
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.

Char are also caught, along with 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 trout.

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 colossal trout.

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.

A nice Alaska rainbow
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 upper stretch.

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 fishery.

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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