Pat Murphy of Seward releases a rainbow trout caught above the Sterling Highway bridge at the outlet of Kenai Lake Saturday. Murphy said it was his first fish of the season.
Photo by Will Morrow
Open water, pleasant weather and rumors some of them even substantiated of big rainbow trout have been drawing anglers jonesing for the first bite of the season to the upper Kenai River in recent weeks.
"It's a nice way to start the season," said Pat Murphy of Seward after landing a rainbow at the outlet of Kenai Lake, above the Sterling Highway bridge.
"I fish on this river as much as I possibly can. This is the first time I've been over here this month."
Murphy wasn't alone in his pursuit of rainbows as several anglers waded from the bank, cast from the edge of the ice on Kenai Lake, or anchored up in boats or float tubes hoping for a bite.
"I'm actually surprised there's not more people it's been real crowded," Murphy said.
Murphy didn't have to work too long to land his first fish, getting a bite after 30 minutes of casting with a green egg-sucking leech.
Other anglers were finding success casting spoons with spinning tackle one tandem of fishers had an eight-rainbow morning, though all eight fish were caught by one member of the duo.
Troy Mallatt of Kenai casts for rainbows below Jim's Landing.
Photo by Will Morrow
On the other side of the bridge, more anglers were preparing for a drift downstream, inflating rafts and sorting tackle before taking to the water.
"We actually came out in February and got fish," said John Kuest as he, Kurt Gibson and Jeff Lyons prepared their fly rods for the float down to Jim's Landing. It's a nice time to be on the river without the crowds, Kuest said, "and the weather just got nice at least some people think it's nice."
Matt Gebhardt of Palmer and Donnie Mays of Anchorage started their day anchored in a drift boat above the Sterling Highway bridge at the outlet of Kenai Lake, however, after slow fishing there, they opted to drift downriver.
"We did pretty good at the lake last weekend, but this morning there wasn't much happening not for us anyway," Gebhardt said as they prepared to cast off from Sportsman's Landing. "Hopefully, it's going to get better this afternoon. We're chasing them."
While some anglers drifted downriver in boats, others used the highway to access different spots along the river, stopping at various pullouts along the Sterling Highway which have easy access to the river's bank.
Troy and Dawn Mallatt, recent transplants from Jackson, Wyo., and now living in Kenai, parked at Jim's Landing and hiked a short ways downstream, where Troy started casting a fly at the bottom of a riffle while Dawn and their dog Tucker took in the scenery. While Mallatt wasn't getting any bites, he suggested that the main reason to be out on the river early in the season is just to get loose and get to know the river.
Parts of the upper Kenai River were to close today under 2004 regulations, but changes made by the Board of Fish for the 2005 regulations, which take effect today, keep the entire upper river open to fishing through May 1. Anglers hoping to wet a line also will have the opportunity to harvest one rainbow trout of 16 inches in length or less under the new rules and should be sure to check the regulations before hitting the water.
"There were sections that were open until (May 1) anyway, but this gives more area to fish," said Dave Atcheson, an avid angler from Sterling who is the coordinator of the Kenai Fishing Academy at Kenai Peninsula College and author of the book "Fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula."
"Most people fishing this time of year are fishing catch-and-release anyway. Most are good stewards of the resource, so I don't think it will impact negatively," Atcheson said.
Chris Degernes, formerly the Alaska Division of Parks and Recreation area superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula before being promoted to chief of field operations for the entire state last fall, said getting out on the river early in the season made for a nice experience.
Degernes was preparing to kayak from the boat launch at the outlet of Kenai Lake down to Jim's Landing with Denise Dutile of Soldotna, Sue Krafft of Ninilchik and Ingrid Corson of Anchorage, as well as her dog, Trapper. While she said her group might have been the only ones on the river not fishing, she added that an April outing on the river makes for a nice transition from winter to spring activities.
"This is kind of an annual spring thing to do put the skis away and get the kayak paddle out," Degernes said. "People are anxious to get out and play, and so are we."
Said Atcheson, "There's not many people around, and we've got great weather right now. It's been beautiful, and everybody's got spring fever."
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