Anglers will have plenty of opportunity to target a number of species in the Kenai River this weekend — rainbow trout, pink salmon, sockeye and silver salmon.
The best fishing option right now, however, is for pinks below the Soldotna Bridge in places like Big Eddy, the Pillars and Eagle Rock, said Jason Pawluk, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Pinks are known for being aggressive both in what they will bite and how they fight. They are also good for beginning anglers and children and can be fun to catch on light gear.
Pawluk recommended fishing with hard tackle — any hard tackle, he said with a laugh. That includes spinners, spoons, poppers or similar tackle with a lot of flash.
The pinks, Pawluk said, are in good shape, quite bright and fresh from the ocean and are holding down river. They usually move in leaps from one spot to the next, but hold en masse in areas of slow moving water for longer periods.
“They are still condensed down low and so if you want to target pink salmon from the Warren Ames Bridge all the way up to Big Eddy or Poacher’s Cove area is the place to be and they will slowly work their way up to Centennial and Swiftwater and further up maybe within a week or so,” Pawluk said. “That’s a good thing.”
Fishing for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden has also been good the last few weeks and should continue to improve throughout the fall.
“You’ve got a combination of fish carcasses still being present in the river so flesh patterns and flesh and bead patterns are good,” Pawluk said. “We are starting to approach spawning of king salmon as well as sockeye, so bead fishing will start to pick up here really soon.”
Nick Ohlrich with Alaska Drift Away Fishing said rainbow action has been “pretty darn good” on fresh or old egg beads, depending on the time of day. Ohlrich said the Bing’s Landing area was fishing well.
“There are some big ones in there, but we are catching a lot of little ones, which is par for the course,” he said. “But it is good action.”
Colin Lowe, owner of Kenai Cache Outfitters, said trout fishing in Quartz Creek has been “five stars” in addition to trout fishing on the Russian River. Lowe suggested flesh and egg patterns on the Russian and beads on the Quartz.
“It’s August fishing, so everything is starting,” he said.
According to Fish and Game sonar estimates, the sockeye run has dropped off and is hovering in the 10,000 per day range in the lower river. But, the 1.48 million sockeye that pushed into the river are still headed through Skilak Lake and into the upper river.
Lowe said the upper portions of the river like the Russian-Kenai confluence and sanctuary area are “loaded” with sockeye.
“There’s tons of ‘em,” Lowe said. “We are just slaying fish right now.”
Dave Atcheson, local fishing instructor and author of “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula” agreed that sockeye fishing has been good.
Atcheson suggested anglers consider fishing the Peninsula’s lakes as fall comes. Usually the lakes turn off in the mid-summer because of the heat, but this year’s cool weather has helped maintain fishing, he said.
“I don’t think the lakes ever really turned off,” he said.
Try fishing the Swanson River canoe system of lakes or high mountain lakes — Crescent and Fuller — for grayling, Atcheson suggested. Also, as there are still insects abound, dry flies should produce, he said.
Silver salmon fishing remains unusually poor, Pawluk said. Guides and anglers have reported very slow catch rates, which lines up with Fish and Game’s testing and other silver runs, such as those in the Anchor River and Little Susitna River.
However, given the late timing of the Kenai king run, silvers could start to appear later than usual, but it is too early to tell, Pawluk said.
Lowe suggested fishing hard tackle outside of the fly fishing only areas of the river for silvers, but recommended purples, pinks, chartreuse and silver patterns for cohos on the fly. He recommended a silver tinsel flash fly.
Atcheson agreed, adding that if anglers weren’t having luck with bright patterns, dark purples and blacks might be better.
“It is good to change it up,” he said.
Atcheson also said to try big bunny leeches — big flies stuffed with died rabbit fur in all colors. An egg-sucking leech in purple, pink or green might work, too, he said. However, it is still early.
“We haven’t seen any,” he said.
Pawluk also reminded anglers targeting other species that any kings caught accidentally must be released immediately — no pictures — or anglers could be cited.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org