Spring fishing: worth the work

Casting a fly in April a tricky but rewarding endeavor
This photo, submitted by Laurie Johnson, was taken March 14. She writes, “We stopped to take photos of the swans on Kenai Lake when this man started fishing ...”

Fly fishing in the spring can separate the men from the boys.


With daily changes in water levels, conditions, temperatures and feeding habits of rainbow trout, the few weeks before the May 2 river closure can be frustrating for inexperienced fishermen.

But those who know how to fish this time of the year welcome it after months of winter-induced cabin fever and the doldrums of ice fishing.

Colin Lowe, owner of Kenai Cache Outfitters in Cooper Landing said current conditions on the Kenai River are good; mostly on par with a typical breakup.

"One of my guys was out yesterday and landed about a 20-inch fish and it was fat and pretty," Lowe said. "It is not quantity this time of year. It is more about experience and the quality of the fish you catch."

Most fish are still in "energy conservation mode" and are holding up in slower water and deep river holes, Lowe said.

This time of year rainbows are mostly feeding on three different patterns -- small smolt, flesh and eggs and leeches and sculpin, said local guide and co-owner of Alaska's Angling Addiction Lee Kuepper.

A smaller smolt patter works well in softer water toward the bottom with a natural swing presentation, Kuepper said.

"Anywhere you see the sockeye spawning in the fall is where the eggs are being laid and a alevin pattern with a little bit of a yolk sac on it or just a very small bait fish pattern imitates those properly," he said.

Flesh patterns and eggs dead drifted near the bottom also work well, Kuepper said.

"There are still some silver eggs ... and along with the increase in water flow with the spring melt off, the remaining salmon carcasses that have been frozen on the banks start to get washed in," he said. "A really old, washed out flesh pattern can also be used."

Leeches and sculpins work best in blacks and olive patterns, Kuepper said. Lowe said he heard good results from fishermen slowly stripping leeches.

"It is by no means spectacular out there, but when you are working for the fish it just makes all the fish that much more special," Kuepper said.

Dave Atcheson, author of "Fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula" and local fly fishing instructor, agreed spring is a tricky time of year.

"Trying to match the hatch you've got to look and they'll be kind of honed in on one or just a couple," he said. "You've got to hope you have those in your tackle box and they can be a little selective."

Atcheson said it's also a good time to experiment with dry flies if it's warm outside.

"There will likely be some hatches or some larva in the water so people fish nymphs that imitate the larval stage," he said.

The Kenai River drainage is closed to rainbow trout fishing from May 2 through June 10 for the spawning season. Other portions of the Kenai River and its tributaries, as well as other Kenai Peninsula drainages, are restricted or closed to all fishing activity during a similar time frame. Anglers should always check the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's 2012 regulations summary for Southcentral Alaska, or call the department with questions before fishing.

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

Tight Lines returns as a regular weekly feature in the Peninsula Clarion and online at www.ExploreTheKenai.com/tightlines May 24. If you have a favorite fishing photo, a story to tell, or a recipe for cooking up your catch, share it with us by emailing tightlines@peninsulaclarion.com.


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