Early Season Fly Fishing on the Kenai, the New September?



Many people ask when is the best time to fly fish the Kenai, and just about every guide, outfitter and lodge will tell you the same thing –“the fall.”  And yes, the fall is damn hard to beat with the trout and dollies on the sockeye spawn bite, the crisp air, changing colors and shots at dime bright silvers (not to mention steelhead, but as they say ‘thats a whole other story’). For those looking for pleasant weather and less people, the early season can be equally if not more epic depending your goals as a traveling angler.

Up until last year, our spring time coastal stream fishing has been poor to non-existent and for good reason, not enough fish and appropriate closures by Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Fortunately these stocks are showing a rebound and the fishing last year was lights out!


The early bird gets the worm when it comes to fishing for kings in small streams.

These coastal streams coupled with the traditional early run on the Kasilof and Kenai gives you the best shot at a king on the fly. For these smaller streams, single handed rods in the 8-10 weight with an intermediate head are ideal. A six to seven foot leader with 20 lb tippet is perfect for the job and long casts are not necessary. Fly selection depends on water clarity–sometimes big and gaudy (prom dress, articulated leaches in green and black) other times small and subtle does the trick. Small clouser flies tied with iridescence green are amazingly effective in these small rivers. Swinging, twitching and even dead drifting under indicator will typically illicit strikes in the early morning bite.

JP anchor

Center pins can be absolutely deadly when fishing slow pools in clear water conditions. Needles to say, guide JP is a master with the pin and is always looking for others to turn to the “dark side.”

The tricky part about fishing our coastal streams for king salmon is that these rivers are only open certain days, typically on the weekends, Mondays and occasional Wednesdays. If you are at Tower Rock during the latter part of May or early June, you will likely be here at time when you can fish the river. But your options are not limited to fishing for kings on these smaller rivers, there are other fly fishing options and thats what makes the Kenai peninsula a beautiful thing.

The steelhead fishing can definitely be worth the effort. Floating the Kasilof River during May, on a good day can produce multiple steelhead hookups with the occasional dolly and rainbow. The added bonus during this time of year is the little pressure if any from other anglers. This is mostly due to the fact that steelhead cannot be harvested and the river is typically very low this time of year therefor only seasoned guides are able navigate the low flows during the early season. In addition to targeting anadromous fish in the rivers, our local lakes can provide constant dry fly action. This fishing is numbers game. Most of the fish don’t break twenty inches, but weather permitting, you will catch hundreds of inches of rainbows in a day.

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A nice early season steelhead on the fly. 

Looking to fill the box and take home some filets? Trolling Cook Inlet for river bound kings combined with halibut is essentially a sure thing as it is much of the year. Many fly anglers shy away from this type of trip, but as a avid sport fisherman, I encourage everyone to at least give it a try. Cook Inlet and the marine waters around the Kenai Peninsula are some of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world and as traveling angler, its worth at least getting on the water and giving these amazing fisheries a shot.

So if you are looking to do some fly fishing on the Kenai peninsula and the fall doesn’t fit into your schedule or if you are simply looking for a different experience along with some serious savings, consider May and early June to fish at Tower Rock.



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