Find yourself in the Kenai fishing rut? Every year it's the same thing -- stalking Russian River reds in June, backtrolling kings and flipping for reds on the Kenai in July, jigging for Cook Inlet halibut when you get a chance.
If you're looking to fill the freezer or catch a huge fish, those options are hard to top. But if a fishing adventure is what you're after, the Kenai Peninsula offers opportunities to get off the beaten path and broaden your fishing resume.
The easiest way to escape the crowds and catch fish until your arm tires is to visit the ATM machine, withdraw a handful of hundreds and hire a pilot to fly you into a remote river. If your budget doesn't allow that kind of cash outlay for recreational fishing, don't fret. It may take a little work and initiative on your part, but there is a variety of fishing accessible on the Peninsula's road system that will keep you busy throughout the summer.
One of the first chances to wet a line and catch a fish comes on the unofficial start of summer -- Memorial Day weekend. The Anchor River, Deep Creek and Ninilchik River are all open for kings on this three-day weekend.
Be warned -- this fishery is no secret. Most likely you will have to contend with crowds, especially at the Friday midnight opening or Saturday morning. Still, it doesn't compare to the combat fishing on the Russian or Kenai.
The reason to give these rivers a try is there size. All three can be fished easily from the bank. You don't need any special gear -- just a stout rod and reel -- or years of knowledge. Find a deep hole, toss in a Spin-n-Glow or a glob of salmon eggs and you've got as good a chance as anyone on the riverbank.
Fishing success can vary significantly from year to year. High, muddy water can make it tough, and run sizes can be up or down. But if you're looking for a fresh option to catch a king, consider a visit to the Anchor River, Deep Creek or Ninilchik River in late May and early June.
In June, the masses hit the Russian for reds. But that's also a perfect time to try trout fishing on this clear, Kenai River tributary. Don't be put off by anglers standing shoulder-to-shoulder when the reds are in thick. Trout tend to hold in different water than reds, allowing trout anglers to avoid the worst of the crowds.
The Russian is a flyfishing-only river this time of year. If you haven't tried your hand at flyfishing before, don't be intimidated. It may take a few trips to get the feel of casting and properly presenting the fly, but it's not nearly as difficult as many seem to think. And remember, you're doing this because you want to try something different. A big part of the fun is learning something new.
Bring your waders and plan on doing some walking. For a real adventure, hike to the falls and pick your way down the river, fishing as you go. Bring polarized sunglasses so you can spot the fish hanging in pools, behind rocks or in the soft water near shore. Both dry flies and nymphs can be productive, so try both.
Once July hits, it may be hard to resist the pull of the Kenai's famous king and red runs. If you have the willpower, though, there are more peaceful, if less glamorous, fishing options.
How about a hike into a mountain lake to fish for grayling? July, with its long, warm days is a perfect time to give this angling experience a try. It's not for the weak of legs and heart, though. Climbing and sweating is usually involved.
Fuller Lake is one option. It takes about an hour to hike to the lake, home to a hungry population of grayling. Throw small lures with a spinning rod or tempt them with flies. The fish aren't real large, but the action can be good, especially if you have access to a float-tube and you're willing to lug it up the mountain.
Crescent Lake also offers good grayling fishing. The hike into the lake is a little longer -- about 6 miles one way. Ride in on a mountain bike to cut the traveling time or reserve the U.S. Forest Service cabin and stay overnight to make the trip more manageable. Like Fuller Lake, catch grayling on Crescent with either spinning or flyfishing gear.
One other mountain lake to consider is Ptarmigan Lake. This hike takes about two hours, but is a little less strenuous than either Fuller or Crescent.
August offers several good choices for anglers looking for something new.
If you haven't had your fill of salmon fishing, August is a good month for silvers. Yes, the Kenai and Kasilof are probably best bets, but there are other options.
Drive north through Nikiski to the Swanson River for something different. This is a small, accessible stream that is fished from the bank and can be easily waded. Clear, shallow water allows anglers to look for fish as they bolt up river. Because the access to this river is so close to Cook Inlet, fishing is heavily influenced by the tides. Both flies and spinning gear can be effective.
August is also a good time to return to the Anchor River and Deep Creek for silvers. By August, the water level of these rivers has usually dropped, making them easy to wade. Fishing on these streams can also be highly influenced by the tides, but don't forget to try the early-morning bite, too.
Before putting the fishing gear away for the summer, don't forget the Kenai River offers world-class trout fishing in the fall. Both the upper and middle sections of the river hold trophy-size rainbow trout. When the salmon are spawning, filling the river with eggs and sending the trout into a feeding frenzy, fishing can be hot. It's not uncommon for anglers to catch 20-30 fish a day this time of year.
Fishing with beads or flesh flies tends to work best. This can be done with either a fly rod or spinning rod.
The Kenai Peninsula offers myriad fishing opportunities. Try something different this summer and break out of the rut.
Tony Lewis is an avid fisherman who lives in Kenai.
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