Alaska experienced a record setting snowfall this 2012, the effects of this massive snowfall are felt across the state. Record snow falls means enormous amounts of mountain and glacier run off, basically the rivers are flowing at a much faster rate than normal years. All this water melting and pushing its way towards the ocean has begun to effect the fishing quality of salmon runs for all anglers alike. The Sockeye salmon run follows generally two “runs” during the Alaskan summer months. One “run” being in June while the second “run” comes in July. A “run” is a large influx of salmon moving toward their spawning grounds. This gives anglers one last opportunity to harvest their quota of salmon before the spawning process begins.
The lifecycle of the salmon is an interesting one. A salt water fish, not meant to live in freshwater, head from oceans to rivers on a quest to spawn. The spawning cycle is essentially the last effort of survival and restarts the life cycle of the salmon population. Once a salmon begins to spawn, their flesh and bodies deteriorate, giving their offspring the ultimate sacrifice of themselves; this sacrificial gestures purpose is to feed their hatchlings eventually making them into larger fledging fingerlings. These fingerlings will then travel to the ocean for 2-3 years, generally speaking, to “fatten up” into large 5-10 lb Sockeye salmon.
The main mission of this Alaska fishing trip was to go fishing with my brother and his daughter, this was Taylor Manelicks first fishing trip. Fishing in one of my favorite childhood fishing spots, it wasn’t long before Taylor got her first fish nibble. As we arrived at the creek, Dad (Auggie) carried Taylor down stream to an over hanging limb; the perfect place for hiding trout. Taylor put her pink colored hook in the water and in the blink of an eye something tugged her Barbie fishing poles line. Immediate laughter and excitement ensued… Taylor really enjoyed her self. This was the most memorable and special moment of the entire trip. I could not have been happier as her sweet little face said “can we go again?” Dad and Uncle Austin said ” whenever you want!” After catching Taylor’s first fish, the fishing game plan changed and we headed South.
Heading to the Kenai Peninsula this 2012, to fish the legendary Russian River Red salmon would be dismal at best. However the catch isn’t always as important as the adventure itself. The overflowing headwaters of the Kenai River made fishing for Red Salmon extremely difficult. Fishing the “first run” of Sockey Salmon was very anti climactic. Not experiencing any luck of the Kenai river, hiking toward the Russian River Falls was the best option. The hike to to falls was around 2.3 miles from the Pink Salmon Parking lot, not to bad of a hike. The only problem is walking through brown bear territory, the concern is keeping your salmon after you catch it… Several piles of large bear scat littered the trail, but not to much of a concern as the owners were not present to claim it.
Reaching the “red hole” was easy enough and the fishermen littered the river banks. Shouldering up to the fishing spot and fishing for an hour or so provided only eight snags (on the river bottoms rocks) and one brown bear encounter. As we left the fishing hole and began to walk up the ankle busting trail, we had an adrenaline filled encounter. Cresting the hill near the fishing grounds Greg and I came nose to nose at 4 yards from a 500 pound female brown bear. I yelped “hey bear” while simultaneously jumping behind a small spruce tree(as if it would save me). The bear was very uninterested as we didn’t have any salmon, and trotted off across the trail. Hiking back to the parking lot and changing our fishing game-plan was the best option. It was later decided that we should probably stick to Rainbow trout fishing, and using rafts to float the Kenai River was our best tactic. Using “micro flesh flies” to simulate dead salmon chunks, a 9-13ft leader with a strike indicator, and one split shot 18 inches above the fly was the key set up. Putting our raft in the Kenai River, fishing began immediately.
Auggie the captain and oarsman of the boat, believe it or not, had the hardest job of the trip. The oarsman must keep the vessel floating strait ahead downstream while steering the boat float safley through the “best holes” while dodging rapids. Auggie put me in the hot spots the entire time, and I credit his long oar sets to the trips fishing success. Thanks Augg.
After fly fishing and producing several trout and one monster 23 inch Dolly Varden, I decided to hike back up near the Russian falls and try one more time for Sockeye salmon. Upon arriving at the “honey hole” and heavy moving water, I knew the key to catching a salmon in the fast moving current would be heavier weight. Using a longer leader with a heavier weight, I needed to feel the weight bouncing off the bottom of the river. This new tactic allowed me to feel my fishing gear touch bottom and put my monofilament in a direct line with the low swimming salmon. After five minutes of fishing with no other fishermen insight besides a meandering brown bear, I hooked into a large Sockeye. “zzzzzzz,zzzz,zzzz” the line bailed out of my fly reel as the salmon screamed down stream. The heavy current made the fish feel three times as heavy, out of fear of breaking my 7-8 weight rod, I bowed my rod down stream. The fish using the current to his advantage snapped my line after a 5-10 second fight.
So exhilarating! Fighting a sockey salmon on the Russian River with only one brown bear to combat fish with, is rare indeed. Usually there are fishermen standing shoulder to shoulder, however the dismal salmon run discouraged fishermen from treking to the Kenai leaving the river all to me. Quickly retying my home made “Russian River Fly”, I was fishing again in no time. After another two hours, I hooked two more fish in the mouth, only losing the fish down stream in other hard fights. Not having any fish to clean, I wasn’t to worried I didn’t “catch” a salmon. I felt the rod pull hard and the salmon swim with mighty strength, fun enough to have one on the end of my line. The trip was highlighted by Taylors new enthusiasm for the outdoors and new found excitement in fishing. Grandpa, Auggie, Sarah, Paxson, Taylor, including me Austin Manelick had a wonderful time spending moments together in the great outdoors.
The fishing report:
Kings Salmon: Closed throughout most of the state.
Kenai River first Sockeye run: dismal at best : Fast moving water makes it difficult to use the “floss technique” on the Sockeye Salmon. Heavy weight with a “Russian river” single hook fly is the best method.
Technique: Use a 5 foot leader off of your heavy splitt-shot weight, attach the Russian River fly. The more material on your Russian River fly makes your fly sit higher in the water, more material equals more boyancy. The Salmon swim low to the river bottom, remove material from you fly until you get your weight and hook bouncing off the bottom. You must bounce your weight off the bottom or you waste time fishing.
Second run: Picking up on the Russian River as Sockeyes begin to make their way toward the Russian River Falls. Hike up river and spot for fish in the river before attempting to fish.
Trout fishing as usual is great on the Kenai River, you need to have the correct flies in order to hook them. Steak and EGGS patterns and or white micro flesh flies seem to be working the best. Use single egg pattern bead for a secondary option as the salmon have began to spawn.
Caution: With high fast flowing rivers, the bear population cannot fish as well. Be careful and bring bear spray or handgun with you. People have reported being chased by bears on the public walking trail systems.