(completed sections are in bold)
Introduction to Alaska Fishing
How to Catch a Kings
Tackle for Kings from shore.
King Fishing techniques from shore
Kenai River Kings
Kasilof River Kings
South Kenai Pensinsula: Ninilchik River, Deep Creek, Anchor River
Susitna River Tributaries (North of Anchorage)
Fishing Alaska can be a challenge even for a long time Alaskan. Alaska is a such a vast state, 2.2 times the size of Texas! It is further complicated by the fact that Alaska’s fishery is seasonal. Take for example Alaska’s salmon fishery. While many of the salmon runs last several months, the peak of the fishery may last one week or less. Fortunately Alaska has hundreds of fantastic fisheries that can be fished year round…if you know where to go.
The simple solution for someone unfamiliar with Alaska is to hire a guide. If you have the money, I highly recommend the use of a guide. A quick look at guided versus unguided success rates on the Kenai River gives you a good idea. During the 1999 early king salmon season, guided anglers kept a fish every 15.5 hours. Unguided anglers kept a king salmon every 41.9 hours. Of course unguided anglers often times are local fisherman who tend to release more fish since they can always come back another day. Still the guided numbers are impressive.
But what about those of us who can’t afford to always use a guide? Can we catch fish still in Alaska? You bet! The key is to fish the peak times at the best place. While it sounds obvious, its not as easy to do since the run timing can vary year to year and there are literally hundreds of place to catch any given species.
This guide is designed for the vast majority of us who come to Alaska, stay on the road system, and for whatever reason want to fish without the use of a guide. I am lucky that I have several boats available to me. However, I rarely use my boats. Part of the reason is that I much prefer to fish from shore. The same 40 pound king salmon caught from shore versus a boat is infinitely a greater challenge and thrill. From shore, it’s you against the fish. Not the captain of the boat versus the fish.
Another bonus about fishing from shore is it allows you to try different river and lake systems in a single day. You pick up your fishing rod and move. Not as easy when you have a boat in tow. Also there just isn’t that many places you can cover in Alaska with a single kind of boat in my opinion. The Kenai River is restricted to 35 horse power, the Big Su requires a jet engine instead of a prop, the Kasilof is a driftboat fishery. To truly fish these rivers, you need three different boats. I fish all three from shore with relatively good success.
We are going to use Anchorage, Alaska as the “base of operations.”
Most visitors to Alaska come through Anchorage. And of course nearly
half of the population of Alaska lives in or near Anchorage. So instead
of trying to cover all of Alaska, this guides is intended for those who
want to fish Southcentral Alaska without having to apply for another credit
card! Alright! Let’s go fishing!
The most important step! GATHERING INFORMATION
If you are reading this guide, you have already taken the first step…collect information! You first need to decide a few things. How much time do I have? What kind of fish do I want to catch? Am I looking to catch a single trophy fish or would you rather catch greater numbers of average fish? Are you willing to battle hoards of people or are you looking for a more peaceful (but almost always less productive) fishery? Do you want fish for the smoker or are you a catch and release kind of angler? All of these plus many other factors will come in to play as you decide where you want to fish.
This guide will give you a great head start in catching fish. Still the downside is that anything in print is usually at LEAST one season old. So once you have studied this guide, you still should take a few minutes to collect more recent information.
Okay lets collect some recent information. Once again books and fishing guides like this one are a great source of information. Knowing the history of each fishery is a must. It's true that history often repeats itself. Still we are now searching for more updated information.
Well you need a fishing license to fish so go get one! But instead of going to a neighbor hood gas station or even the mega mart, go get it at an established sporting good store. Check the appendix for the stores that provide me the best information. While I purchase a lot of my tackle at WalMart and Kmart’s since their prices are so competitive, I often make my purchases at locally owned sporting good stores. Often these stores not only have the exact lures in the right colors and sizes, but the people working at these stores always seem to be willing to help you find a fish or two. It’s definitely worth the few extra cents.
One of the best places to get up to date information is the State of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game. Many of the biologists that work for Fish and Game are also avid fisherman. They spend a lot of time in the field so they are always a good source of information. They have a number of guides for each fishery as well as up dated weekly fishing reports that can point you in the right direction. They also have a maps of every lake they stock in the Southcentral area with instructions on how to get there, what they stock, and even data on their sampling efforts on the particular lake. A must have for the people who like to trout fish in lakes. You can write to them, call them on the phone, or even better visit their office. However, the best way to get the info is via the internet.
The internet is just loaded with good information. The problem is that there is so much information on the net. If you use a search engine like Yahoo, Alta Vista, or Google and try looking up “fishing and Alaska” you will find every fishing guide in Alaska’s home page. That doesn’t help you catch fish… unless you have money! But lots of good information exists.
I know not everyone is net savvy or even has a computer, but the information is just too useful not to mention. So here, I’ll mention how I use the information I collect to gain an advantage. I have attached a list of websites where the information exists. If you think the information is useful enough you can call the information sources for the most part. The advantage of the internet is that it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The added bonus is that some of the information is constantly updated on the net.
The weather in Alaska can be play a crucial role in whether you catch fish or not. In many of Alaska’s fisheries its not so much you need to know the barometric pressure or see when a cold front is moving through. The weather is important for two reasons. The first is that rainfall affects the river levels. In Alaska its not only the rains that can trigger an increase in water levels. Since many of Alaska’s top streams are fed by glaciers, warm sunny weather can also cause a dramatic increase in water levels (and water clarity) as well. Each stream is just a little bit different and I’ll try to explain that later in more detail. Perhaps the most important thing is how comfortable you are fishing. Fishing while you are cold is no fun. First it usually means less time on the water. Second, even if you do hook a fish, you fumble around because you can’t feel your hands or your fingers. We’ll talk more about clothing in a separate section.
The King of Salmon…the King Salmon!
Timing: Late May to end of July. Peak from June 5 to July 4.
The King Salmon, also called the Chinook Salmon, is Alaska’s largest
salmon. The world record weighed 97 pounds 4 ounces and it was caught
in the Kenai River in 1985.
These fish are ultra rare. But they do exist! To catch one of these monster kings, there really is one place to go: The Kenai River. But fishing the Kenai River is not so easy. While a few dedicated fishermen hit the Kings from shore, 99% of the fishing is from a boat. Even if you have a boat, if you have never fished the Kenai River, this is one river where a guide is virtually mandatory your first time out. The river is crowded and shallow. Even the guides require 20 man-hours per fish retained. The unguided angler often requires double that time. Conventional wisdom says to fish the last half of July for the big fish. But the world record was caught in May, and my biggest fish of 71 pounds came on July 4th (technically the second run but certainly not the peak). If you want to try for a fish of lifetime, book a guide or go with someone who knows the river. That really is the best advice I can give.
Fortunately for the average angler on a budget, there are other King Salmon runs that offer superb action from the shoreline. Let’s concentrate on these fisheries. While the fish are smaller, they are MUCH more plentiful. Now remember, “small” is a relative term here. It’s still pretty darn exciting to land a 25 pounder fresh from the ocean fishing from shore. In fact, I would have to say any King approaching 30 pounds caught from the shore, requires much more angling skills than any big fish caught from a boat.
The best time to catch King Salmon in Southcentral Alaska from shore is the month of June. The general rule of thumb is to start down south on the Kenai Peninsula in the beginning of June and work your way up north at the end of June.
Realistically you can catch kings on the Kenai Peninsula about the last
week in May. Fish actually show up in late April, but catch-able
numbers don’t begin to enter the rivers till Memorial Day.
Rudy's Tackle Recommendation
Many of the e-mail I receive deals with the different tackle I use here in southcentral Alaska. So here is my humble attempt to list the basic gear I use here in Alaska. Keep in mind that the gear I list is what I use, I have friends who are really good fishermen that disagree with me completely. If any of you know of a better way or suggestions, please e-mail them to me. I am always looking for a better way to enjoy fishing!
King Salmon Gear
Tackle for king salmon gear that I use can be broken down into two different groups. The first is the gear I use for all the other rivers with fish averaging more in the 20 to 40 pound range.. the second is the gear I use on the Kenai River for trophy Kings in the 50 pounds and up range (the current world record is over 97 pounds from the Kenai River!). The major difference between the two gear is that on the Kenai, I mainly fish from a boat and the rest I fish from the bank.
King Salmon Gear - Bank fishing
The gear we use for fishing Kings from the bank differs from the Kenai
River gear mainly because the fish tend to be smaller and you are casting
or flipping your gear all day long instead of merely holding the rod as
in a boat. The gear needs to be lighter so that you don't get too tired
to fish all day. The salmon in streams such as the Kasilof River, Ninilchik
River and the streams north of Anchorage tend to run from 20 to 50 pounds.
Heavy gear is often unnecessary to land these fish and you'll enjoy your
day a lot more if you use lighter gear.I should note that an exception
to the flipping rule is Ship Creek at Low tide and when fishing in
the main part of the Big-Su at the confluence of
tributatries. You'll need heavy tackle to Hold onto 20 to 50 pound kings in a very swift current. Combine that with 1,000 people fishing next to you and you can see the need for heavy tackle.
Rod & Reel.:
“Flipping” Rods & Reels
Flipping is an active technique that works for almost any salmon as long as there is a decent current. I’ll explain the details of the technique in another section.
I use at least three distinctly different combinations when fishing from the shore. My main flipping rod that I use on many occasions is a 10 feet 8 weight flyrod. Fly fishing purist may hate me but often I use only mono with no fly line on this outfit. The thicker fly line has too much water resistance to fish the fast flowing Alaska streams. I also tend to use splitshots or lead and surgical tubing for weight on the fly rod. I have yet to find a suitable fly line that can sink fast enough to fish the Alaska streams effectively. So why do I use a flyrod? It easily is the best balanced and lightest outfit that I can find. I can easily fish with a flyrod all day long. I have been experimenting with attaching an ultralight reel to my fly rod and it has worked amazingly well. With the reel seated farther back, the line has less of a tendency to wrap around the handle or reel as you flip thousands of times per day. Yet the spinning reel allows me to pick up line much faster than a single action flyreel. If you keep the reel small enough, the balance of the rod remains good.
One of my favorite outfit may be a bit lighter than most. I use a 10'6" fenwick legacy ultralight action rod (rated for 2-10 pound test) matched by a small spinning reel I got in Japan. The reel would be considered light even for the smaller species of salmon, but I have not had any problems using it for Kings. The reel is loaded with only about 100 to 125 yards of 17 to 20 pound test mono line. I have only been"spooled" on one occasion and that King was almost surely snagged in the back or tail. I rarely cast when shore fishing. I prefer to "flip" line out as we fish within 15 to 20 feet of the shore line in about 90% of the time. The longer rod allows me to flip out that amount of line effortlessly all day long. The longer lighter rod also allows me to use the new spectra line with much more confidence since the rod acts as a shock absorber.
My final rig that I use on occasion is a 8'6" baitcasting rod with an Ambassador 6000 reel. I use this rig mainly for streams in which I expect to have a chance at a 50 pounder or in a slightly larger stream with heavier current.
Plunking is basically bait fishing from shore using relatively heavy
weights and roe. For plunking, I use my 8’6” baitcasting rod with
an ambassador 6000 reel loaded with 20 to 40 pound test. Although
many of my friends using a spinning rod and reel for this kind of fishing,
in almost all cases the baitcasting reels have a larger and therefore smoother
For shore fishing I use much lighter line than on the Kenai. The fish
are smaller but much more numerous than on the Kenai River. If I break
one off, no big deal. Yet, I rarely have broken line on a King even when
I use line as light as 14 pound test. In fact, when I am fishing for pure
fun, I have often landed kings over 30 pounds on line as light as 8 pound
test. people don't realize how hard it is to break monofilament in the
8 to 14 pound category. As a test, try tying line from your rod to a hand
held scale. Start pulling on the rod until you get a major bend in the
rod. have a friend read off how many pounds you are pulling. you'll be
amazed at how little pressure you place on the scale. Give it a try!
Another possibility is the new spectra lines. The sensitivity of the line helps me to feel every pebble that the weight bounces over. With the new lines you can feel the "life" of the fish when they hit lightly instead of just wondering if it is another snag. The major drawback of spectra line is the unnerving tendency for the line to get wrapped around your rod tip as soon as any slack line occurs. Over the past 2 years I have broken 3 different rods due to this tendency. Twice it was mainly due to the fact that I was fishing in low light conditions and didn't see the tip get tangled when the fish did an 180 turn and came back directly toward me.
My mainstay for shore fishing is 17 or 20 pound extra limp mono. I like trilene xl but any of the good lines seem to work just as well. Do not buy the super cheap stuff. The only thing between you and the fish is the line. Why spend hundreds of dollars on your gear and trip and have a great trip ruined because you thought you'd save a few pennies by buying cheap mono. I've used them on rare occasions when I have no choice and they just aren't any good.
There are times though when you need to go with some heavy weight line. In a crowd like Ship Creek or in fast raging water like the Big-Su tributaries, I often scale my gear up appropriately. In places like this, I use line as heavy as 40lbs test. Don’t worry, it’s not too much line. The heavy line helps to protect your line from all of the rocks, limbs, and other people’s lines. When a 50 pound king goes broadside in fast moving current, you’ll wish you had 100lbs test instead!
The terminal gear for shore fishing for kings varies widely and is mainly a preference amongst the fisherman. I have used and caught Kings on everything from a size 8 royal coachmen to a 2 ounce spoon. Since I often retie leaders and hooks as they get nicked and dull as they bounce along the bottom, I really didn't have time for complex flies. Also when fishing near the bottom,if you don't snag the bottom a few times, you aren't fishing deep enough so you don't want to lose too many expensive spoons and spinners. In a single day of fishing, I retie a fresh hook maybe 6 to 10 times a day. I have settled on a few rigs that take minimal space in my vest that seem to work anywhere I have fished so far. My "tackle box" consists of the following gear plus or minus a few oddities. Assorted colors and varieties of lil-corkie driftbobbers, a few spin-n-glos, split shots and a few larger weights, and flo. Red and chartreuse yarn, plastic and glass beads,snap swivels, and size 2 through 3/0 gamakatsu octopus hooks, and 10 to 30 pound leader material. It all fits into a single pocket. More often then not, my lure is a simple yarn fly. A single hook with a piece of yarn tied above it. This simple rig often out fishes anything else I have tried.
Of course the selection of lures and bait depends on the style of fishing
you will be doing. There are two primary techniques I employ for
shore fishing for kings.
There are two primary techniques for catching King from Shore on the
Kasilof and other rivers. Many of these techniques can be easily transferred
to other streams in Alaska. While there are variations, the two techniques
are what I call flipping and plunking.
In most situations, flipping is the more productive of the two methods as long as there is sufficient current to allow a good drift…more on that later. Flipping is a great technique to learn because it works on any stream that holds any salmon. It’s the only way to go when fishing for the Kenai red salmon. In almost all of the cases, one of the most effective set ups I use is a red glass bead on top of a 1/0 to 3/0 gamakatsu with a piece of chartreuse yarn on the egg loop of the hook. This simple rig has accounted for more salmon of all species than probably any other set up I use. Who said salmon fishing had to be expensive?
Another variation I use for King salmon is rig using two single hooks. Once again in size 1/0 to 3/0 I egg snell the two gamakatsu octopus style hooks about 2 to 3 inches apart. In between the two hooks I place two of the smallest size little corkies with flo chartreuse and flo. Orange or red being the favorite colors. Once again , I always use a piece of flo. Chartreuse yarn. The rig is attached using about 3 to 6 feet of leader running up to a sinker. I prefer the surgical rubber tube lead on a three-way swivel. The longer leader you can handle seems to result in more hook ups. But you need to be able to control the flip. The techniques is a little more complicated then just throwing the hook upstream and letting it bounce downstream. You don’t use the reel at all in this technique. The following instructions are for right handed people. Hold the rod in your right hand. Strip off enough line so the lure doesn’t hit the ground when you hold the rod pointing straight up with your right hand. Now with the left hand strip off more line so when you extend your left arm while holding onto the line, you can still hold the lure off the ground. Now just flip the lure out and let go of the line. The lure should flick about 10 to 20 feet in front of you depending on how good you are. You don’t need to cast very far at all.
Usually a 45 degree cast upstream works the best. Salmon run up river along the edges for the most part. 10 to 20 feet from shore is plenty far. FISH NEAR THE SHORE LINE. Casting upstream a little bit, varying it as you go, you need enough weight that you can feel the weight bouncing along the bottom. Not too much that it will hang up though. THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART!! As the line swing in front of you, you want to slowly sweep the rod toward the bank (usually on the downstream side) so you will have constant tension on the line. The idea is to keep the line all the way to the lure as perpendicular as possible to the bank. This insures that if a fish hits, instead of momentary slack as the lead bounces past the fish and then you feel the bite, you feel the fish immediately.
Imagine if you cast your lure and weight upstream and let it dead drift
down without any "pull." The lure would be pulled downstream below the
sinker as the sinker kept on grabbing the bottom. If a fish hit the lure,
you wouldn’t know it until the sinker bounced 4 feet down to the fish,
then four feet past the fish until the line tightened up. By then the fish
will be long gone! KEEP LIGHT BUT CONSTANT TENSION ON THE LINE BY DRAGGING
THE LURE SLOWLY TOWARDS THE SHORE. Keeping a constant "pull" on the line
is the key element in the flipping technique. As soon as you feel something
different from the bottom you have bounced by for hours, set the hook!
Better to look foolish, then to lose the fish you have been waiting all
day for. Most of the time though, the fish will tear your arm off because
you only have 15 feet of line out…if you keep some tension on the line.You
can use coho flies for this technique but by far the best is to use premium
ultra sharp hooks like the Gamakatsu, VMC, or Owner type hooks. I know
for a fact, that my hook up ratio is at least doubled by the use of ultra
sharp premium hooks. They also punch a very small slit through the fish’s
mouth that helps keep the hook from backing out. I use this technique not
only on the Kasilof, but for Kings I use it on the Ninilchik, Ship, Montana,
and many other places where the water is flowing at a fairly decent pace.
Flipping for kings is the exact same technique used to slam the reds when
they start running up the river. It also has proven effective for silvers,
chums, and pinks as well.
Any type of rod can be used for flipping. My favorite by far is a fly rod. The light well balanced fly rod allows me to fish much longer than my traditional king outfit with a spinning or baitcasting reel. The longer the rod, the more water you can cover effortlessly. Of course in crowded conditions a shorter rod is the way to go. I tend to stick to long rods and make room. I use 9 to 12 foot rod whenever possible.
Plunking is simply a term I use for still fishing on the bottom. The main bait of choice is cured salmon roe. 90 percent of time the rig is simply a sliding sinker of about 2 - 4oz, tied to a leader of about 3 feet long attached to one or two single hooks with some type of floater ahead of the hooks like a spin-n-glo. I use the smallest possible floating device that will allow the bait to move in the current.
Once again, the fish tend to concentrate near the shore. A cast of 30 feet is a long cast. I’d say more like 10 to 20 feet is the best distance. Plunking works best in pools of slower moving water. I use the technique effectively in the Kasilof River. It even works relatively well in the rivers up north of Anchorage despite the ban on bait. The Kings will come up and mouth a plain spin-n-glo. It’s an extremely easy way to fish, and of course you can fish all day since you don’t need to be flipping or casting the rod at all.
A few hints. When tying your hooks, use an egg loop snell. The advantage is that you can put roe into the loop leaving the hook completely exposed. This insures better hook ups once the fish hits. When the fish are hitting but not taking the bait completely, I have a small trick I like to use. I tear the wings off of an old large spin-n-glo. I reverse the body so the t hin end is pointed toward my rod. Then I place the spin-n-glo body up from my hook about 6 inches and pin it there using a tooth pick. Then I place roe on the hooks. This allows for the roe to be held off the bottom, but when the fish hits, it only feels the roe and no hard plastic body. I think it helps in the hook up ratio, especially when the water is clear enough that an attractor is not needed.
For plunking, I find that the places are the slower moving water directly upstream from faster flowing waters. I have found that fish seem to be the most aggressive after just entering a pool. This is after years of watching fish in many clear water streams. I always fish the tail end of a pool if given a choice.
The easiest way to learn is to watch others around you. It’s not rocket science. It is a game of perseverance. These fish migrate upstream, a hole that was ultra hot this morning may hold nothing in the evening. On the other hand, it works the opposite way as well. Ask the locals if the tides make a difference. In the Kasilof River, up by the main campground, people say 4 to 6 hours after high tide is how long it takes for the new fish to make it up to the campground area. A benefit of using short line is that you can get repetitive casts into prime area. If your hook isn’t in the water in front of the fish, you aren’t fishing. If you watch people that are "ALWAYS" catching fish right next to you, take a look. They are making more casts, concentrating harder, using sharper hooks, etc. Watch and learn. Nobody has the monopoly on good ideas in this game!
Final pieces of advice…use the best gear you can afford. Make sure the drags on the reels are good because these fish will test your gear to the limit. When setting the drag, don’t just pull on the line above the spool. Have someone hold the line near the lure and pull with the rod. You’ll be surprised how much harder it is to pull line out with the rod bent. Also always re-spool with fresh line every year. Its amazing how strong fresh line is. You could easily land a 20 pound king on 8 pound test…well maybe not easily but it can be done. If you doubt me, take your rod and tie the line to a hand scale. Pull on the rod so you have a good bend. You’ll be surprised how hard 5 to 10 pounds of pull will bend your rod if it doesn’t break it first.
The main reason for fresh line is that line gets weaker when it is stored,
exposed to sunlight and coiled tightly on the spool. It is the only thing
connecting you and the fish. Also abrasions on a 20pound line will quickly
turn the line into a 2lb rating! I respool every 4th or 5th time out. I
also cut off 4 to 5 feet of leader material every hour or two. There is
nothing that will turn you off from fishing faster than waiting for hours
and after finally getting a hit, your line breaks with a simply pull. Relatively
speaking, it’s CHEAP! GET NEW LINE and CHECK YOUR LINE OFTEN
Kenai River gear
Rod & Reel:
Although many people fish successfully with spinning gear, I feel that the better drag on the baitcasters is a major advantage when fishing for Kenai Kings. You just don't want to take any chances with the potential 100 pounder! I have still not decided on a single reel, but the smallest reel I use is an ambassador 500, and the largest I use is a Penn320 gti. I mainly fish with an ambassador 6000 or 7000 size reel. You really don't need too much line for fishing the Kenai since you will be chasing the fish around in a boat. If you have more than 75 yards of line out in the water, its almost guaranteed that you will lose the fish with all of the boat traffic. I am comfortable with a reel that can hold 150 yards or 20 pound mono. I prefer the larger reels mainly because of the large disc drag and not because of the line capacity.I prefer an 8'6" medium heavy action rod. After trying all different types of rods over the years, cheap and expensive, I have settled on the Ugly stick brand and Lamiglass as my mainstay. The really expensive rods like Loomis don't have too much advantage because you are not really casting. Although plenty strong, the thinner walls of the more expensive rods are more prone to breakage from stupid things like stepping on them. Since I am often running the boat, I have my rod in a rod holder more often than not so the extra weight of the rod is not a detriment.
Although my biggest fish out of the Kenai came on Cabela's 65 pound test ripcord line ( similar to spiderwire) I would recommend the use of monofilament line. As I mentioned before, you don't have too much line out when fighting the fish and stretch qualities of mono I believe help to absorb some of the shock of a big fish. When I hooked my 70 pounder on the no stretch spectra line, every time the fish turned toward me, I had slack line. You just can't reel fast enough. Not a good feeling with a fish of a lifetime. If I am drift fishing I use 30 pound Hi-vis yellow or green mono. The Kenai river is very silty due to its glacial origins and the line diameter does not spook the fish as readily. I have yet to see a difference in catch rate when drift fishing with heavier lines. I feel that 30 pound mono is bit of an overkill, but I am trying to land the first sport caught King over100 pounds so better safe than sorry. The hi-vis mono helps to track where the lines are in the water when fishing with multiple people from the same boat. If I am back trolling or pulling plugs, I like to use thinner line in the 20 pound test range so the plugs I am using can dive deeper.
Although I use hi-vis line, I still like to use low-vis line for the leader which is usually anywhere from 2 to 4 feet long. I prefer the Maxima ultragreen leaders in the same pound test as the rest of the line.
for Kenai Kings I go out of my way to use only premium tackle. That means sampo or similar quality swivels and the best hooks you can buy. Although I use Gamakatsu hooks exclusively, I have been impressed with the "Owner" and "VMC"hooks. I use 4/0, 5/0, and 6/0 gamakatus red Octopus hooks. I also try to replace the hooks on all of my plugs with the Gamakatsu trebles but the largest I can usually find are size 2 which are a bit small. Make sure if you use hooks from store bought plugs to bring along a file to sharpen the hooks.When I am drift fishing, I use a combination of large and small spin-n-glos and lil corkies, oakie drifters and some yarn. The lures we use look more like Christmas ornaments, but often times a large gaudy lure is just what is required in the murky waters. The size of the lure depends mainly on water clarity. The spin-n-glos and lil corkies are basically stacked on top of two snelled single hooks. Click here for a picture of the different spin-n-glo combinations we use.When we are back trolling we will often use the same rigs as drift fishing but run them behind a diving planer. If the water is shallow enough (under 15 feet or so) I often use a large plug with no diving planer. I like to attach my planer so it slides on my leader instead of being fixed because I think it helps it dive better and less leverage for the fish when it is hooked. My favorite plugs are magnum wiggle warts, magnum hot shots, larger flatfish and Kwikfishes. Fluorescent colors in red and chartreuse work well as do the metallic finishes.
Fishing the Kenai effectively requires a lot of experience. If it is your first time, I would highly recommend a guide. The guides generally out fish non-guided boats by at least a two to one margin. Also when bait is legal, the use of salmon roe increases your chances by at least a factor of two according to Fish & Game sources. Other effective baits include the use of a sardine or herring fillet on your plugs, especially in the lower river and when the fish are still bright and fresh from the ocean. Make sure you check the regulation, they usually ban bait (including all scents) until they are sure the escapement is high enough. The Kenai River can be overly crowded and I have seen some pretty good fights (between fishermen) occur. Remember to be a bit more careful and courteous on the Kenai and you shouldn't have any problems. Stay away from boats that have a landing net held up high as that is the signal that a fish is on! Conversely, if you hook a king, even though it is nowhere ready to net, make sure you hold your net up high so other boats know to avoid you!
I hate to say this about my favorite state, but fishing in Alaska has gotten so crowded that it is almost out of control. There are plenty of fish to go around, my opinion is that although not perfect, the state fish & game department here in Alaska does a good job in maintaining healthy fish stocks. The problem is that road access to many of the streams here in Alaska are severely restricted. Wherever there are roads to fishing holes, there are hundreds if not thousands of people fishing a single stretch, especially on the weekends. If you are fishing from the bank try fishing very early or very late. I fish from midnight to about 8:00am almost exclusively.
The Kasilof River
The river I fish first for Kings is the Kasilof River. The run typically starts around May 15th and peaks around June 10th. Many of the king salmon fisheries are weekend only fisheries, have bait restrictions, or fall under the “keep one fish, and you are done fishing” rule (Still make sure to check the current regulations! I don’t think the judge will buy your argument about some guy on the web said it was okay!). None of those apply to the Kasilof River during the peak of the season. Be careful early in the season as they do have bait restrictions to protect a very small steelhead population. It’s a great place to go to catch early fish, catch & release (even after keeping one), or spending the day relaxing and fishing with bait. For whatever reason, the early kings here caught from mid May to June are chrome bright fighting machines!
Most of the kings caught in the Kasilof are hatchery stocked fish that originate in the Crooked Creek fish hatchery. The best fishing is from the Confluence of Crooked Creek and the Kasilof River downstream to the first major bend located maybe a half mile downstream. In faster current you will find people flipping. In the slower slack water, people will be plunking. The best advice I can give it go down to the river & watch…especially in the afternoon when it is crowded. Notice how different sections of the river are being fished by different techniques. You’ll likely notice that there are several locations that consistently yields fish. Those places tend to be crowded during the day but you can find lots of space from 2 am to about 8 am.
Besides the fishing is infinitely better in the early hours. There are a couple of reasons for this. The no brainer reason is because during those early hours, you will run into maybe 10 anglers where several hundred at stood during the day. With fewer people on the water the fish are much less nervous and when you add the cover of darkness, the fish will travel extremely close to the shore. As the fish cruise up the shallows, you can actually see the wakes on the surface. For whatever reason, at night much more so than during the day, the wakes are easily discernible from the rest of the moving water. “Sight casting” during the night for Kings can be as exciting as it gets. If you mission in Alaska is to catch as may kings as possible, sleep during the day and fish at night from midnight to noon.
Ninilchik River, Deep Creek, and Anchor River
These three rivers are great early season opportunities for fisherman. Of the three I have had the best luck at the Ninilchik River. This is mainly due to the fact that the Ninilchik River seems to be the least affected by heavy rains of the three rivers . The major drawback to these three streams is that they are all “3 day weekend” fisheries meaning they are open only on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
Still, if I had to guarantee a king anywhere in Southcentral Alaska on the road system, I would likely go to Ninilchik River the second weekend it is open. I’d go stand in a good hole well before midnight on Saturday and as soon as the clock hits midnight, I’d be flipping a corky rig. It is as close to a guranteed king in a combat fishing zone as you can get.
Deep Creek is affected much more by the early spring runoffs and rains. But if the water is clear, you can catch kings. I can’t say I have ever caught a king in Deep Creek. I would recommend fishing 2 hours before and after high tide closer to Cook Inlet. There are a few holes to be found above the tidal influence to the bridge. If you can find any hole deeper than three feet deep, you probably have a good chance of finding holding fish. I’ve caught some nice steelhead and silvers in Deep Creek but I just don’t know enough about this fishery.
The Anchor River is a great fishery. Lots of good sized kings in this river. Once again, in the tide infuenced areas I would concentrate my efforts at high tide and during the time the the tide starts to drop again. Further upstream, you just need to find the deep holes (and all the people!). This river is more influenced by rain so check before going by calling any of the tackle stores in the area or by checking the web for the river level.
Finally for this area, there is a fishery I have never tried but would
like to some day. It basically is surfcasting for kings on the beaches
south of the Ninilchik River. You need to check the regulations carefully
but there is no reason why you couldn’t catch a king by surfcasting from
shore. Many of the boats trolling the area are within easy
casting range so why not? I have heard of limited succes by fisherman
tossing large spoons and herring under a bobber.
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