This week we sat down with Electa Kean, who's hosting our fall Rainbows on the Kenai trip this September, to talk to her about why she loves that time of year in the watershed. Our questions are bolded with her answers below.
Fall fishing for rainbows is awesome for a lot of different reasons, but my favorite thing about this trip is that it combines many different elements of quintessential Alaskan life: autumn colors, large and plentiful trout, fall run steelhead, silver salmon that will still strike occasionally, bear and moose sightings, and migrating sandhill cranes. Fall is one of the best times to fish trout on the Kenai. While there’s still a lot of natural food in the water, trout can be quite aggressive as they fight to build up weight in preparation for the winter. They can become so heavy during this time that their physical shape changes (around their head and shoulders) and you can easily catch a 25” fall trout that puts up the same fight as a 30” spring trout. With trout, steelhead, Dolly Varden, whitefish, and holdover salmon all present in the river, a good day of fishing can easily turn into a great day of catching fish.
An average day on the water is fairly predictable using a 7 wt rod, floating line, 12’ leader, typically fishing with “match the hatch” egg patterns. Note: most guides use 8 wt, 11 ft switch rods now. When the bead bite is off, we switch up to flesh flies instead Some areas of the river allow a main hook with a dropper which can be quite effective in determining the color and size bead or flesh fly preference of the fish for that day based on water temp and light conditions. It’s fun too to fish leeches in the fall, especially if you’ve had some cold nights already. This is a very special style of fishing on the river and is complicated with more than 2 people on the boat. But what a blast when you get that heavy strike on a leech.
The weather in the fall can vary a lot. Dressing in layers is absolutely necessary. The Kenai River is a glacier fed river so is normally about 10 degrees cooler on the river than the ambient air temp in town. If you add a slight breeze to that and overcast skies and it will start to feel chilly. But as soon as the sun gets on the river, even at 40 degrees you’ll likely start peeling off your first layers of gloves and stocking caps. Rain gear is always a must, even if rain isn’t predicted because your rain jacket is a great wind breaker as well.
There are 2 main areas of the Kenai River system - the Upper Kenai and Lower Kenai. Most local Alaska’s know the section from Skilak Lake to Bing’s Landing as the “Middle” although it is not officially designated as Middle Kenai by Alaska Department of Fish and Game. This Middle section is my favorite section to fish in the fall and depending on water level and conditions is the portion of the river that you’ll see most people fishing; some anchored boats will still be back-trolling for Silver Salmon. And, if the water conditions are good, there are multiple gravel bars that allow you to get out of the boat and work a section longer than the quick float-through.
Early season rainbow fishing can be hit or miss and unpredictable. Early season is dependent upon the timing of the salmon run and King Salmon quantities that return. AK Department of Fish and Game closed spring rainbow fishing through June 10th each year (to allow for unfettered rainbow trout spawning activity) so spring fishing has a strong start around mid June but then can wane as more natural food builds up in the river. The rainbows are also coming out of winter where there’s been lower quantities of available food so they often look lean and lanky. There’s also a period of time in the summer/early fall that the Kenai is flooded with Red Salmon and there are so many Salmon eggs in the river that the rainbows have gorged themselves during a feeding frenzy known as “the glut”. The odds of a trout finding your 1 bead in a river full of matching eggs is much lower than in the fall. In the fall, the natural food is decreasing but the rainbows have been well fed all summer long and look like torpedoes. They are chunky, healthy, and have a lot of spunk and attitude. I’ve had spring days that I’ve caught 70+ fish each day and spring days that I’ve caught less than 5 fish each day. Fall days lead to a more consistent experience with nearly constant action in the boat. Doubles, and even triples, are not unusual in the fall.
In the fall, trout are all about the beads. But finding the right color and size can be tricky. And during a “pink year”, or later in the fall, flesh flies can be quite effective as well. As I mentioned before, leeches will turn on the bite but require a different cast and retrieve style from the boat. Best course of action is to try either a bead or flesh fly that matches what is floating in the river already. If that doesn’t produce success in the first 20 casts (from shore) or 20-30 minutes from a float, time to change it up. Try a different color or size. Or switch from beads to flesh. Sometimes, you have to go off the charts and try something dramatically different. But when you find what works, you can oftentimes use that fly for the entire day.
If you want to know more about fishing the Kenai this fall, read about our upcoming trip with Electa and book your spot here!