'Communing with nature': Early season fishing not just about the bite

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2010

After months of changing out lines and tying new flies to pass away the winter months, another fishing season has begun, and last weekend in Cooper Landing numerous anglers took to the waters of the upper Kenai River in pursuit of trout.

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Anglers at the outlet of Kenai Lake get warmed up by the early morning sun.

They were not disappointed.

"Usually fishing now is more about communing with nature," said Colin Lowe, owner of Kenai Cache Outfitters in Cooper Landing, "But this year, guys are catching four, five, even six fish in one float."

Lowe said part of the reason fishing is so good so far this season is the weather has been unseasonably warm. On Sunday the sun was high in the bright blue sky and shined warmly. Caps of snow were lingering on mountaintops, but at lower elevations the white stuff is on the retreat, giving way to gravel bars of smooth rocks and river waters flowing fast and open.

On the riverbanks, tree branches remained devoid of leaves, but the swelling buds were a clear indication that this would not be the case for much longer.

Eagles were taking advantage of the good visibility. Dozens of the raptors used their high perches to scan the water for a meal -- a late-season silver salmon thawing from the bank, or, better yet, a still live specimen all spawned out, but still swimming. At least one bird must have gotten lucky, and magpies -- a blur of black and white -- scavenged the bony remains from the water's edge.

"We're ahead of last year in terms of ice on the river," said Robert Begich, Sportfish Area Manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "Most years, under the right conditions the fishing in that area can be fun, but this year -- with the water open and the trout moving -- the needle is pointing to some good fishing."

Piscatorialists shouldn't procrastinate though. There's less than a month left until this fishery closes on May 2.

"It's a seasonal spawning closure to give trout a break during a critical period of their life history," Begich said, "But until then, it's a good shoulder season fishery, and people who've got the itch are using it."

John Godsey, of Eagle River, was one of those looking to scratch his early-season fishing itch.

"I came for two things: rainbows and a good time," he said.

Godsey was putting his raft in just downstream of the bridge at the outlet of Kenai Lake with the intention to float to Jim's Landing several miles downstream. A few dozen other anglers had the same idea.

A believer of catch-and-release trout fishing, Godsey said he had already pinched back all the barbs of the hooks he'd be using. There was a little left to do on Saturday morning other than throwing a few rods, his tackle box and a bit of lunch in his raft.

He packed the remainder of this equipment under the could-not-be-broken gaze of his fishing companion for the past 10 years: an eager-to-be-on-the-water black Labrador-mix named Jenny. She sat still in the bed of Godsey's truck until he gave the "let's go" command, and he didn't have to give it twice.

"The fish are there," he said. "You just have to stimulate them, and I brought a lot of tackle to do that."

To entice trout still feeding on late-season silvers, Godsey brought flesh flies and a few egg patterns, but he said he was expecting to rely more on his other fly patterns.

"We recently had a stone fly hatch-off," Lowe said, "so they've been hitting on black, brown and root beer-colored nymphs.

Black articulated leeches are also doing very well."

Lowe said flies that mimic small fish prey have also lured many trout to bite.

"They've really been keying in on sculpin patterns in black and olive," he said.

Still, as most successful trout anglers could attest, the conditions on the Kenai River are constantly changing, and as water levels rise and clarity lessens, having the correct fly and the right amount of weight to fish it in a particular stretch of water can make all the difference in the world.

"Basically, you hit the holes with everything you've got," Lowe said. "You don't move on until you've tried everything because trout can be extremely selective at this time of year."

Godsey said while he was hoping to bring a few rainbows or Dolly Varden up to the boat, he wouldn't call the day a wash if he didn't end up with any bites.

"I'm not at the house, I'm not at work, and the river's not crowded," he said. "So in my book, it's already a good day."

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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