By Stacey Sutherlin
There I sat cheering on the Kenai River Brown Bears hockey team when I received the message.
“Do you work tomorrow?” I quickly replied with, “I don’t.” Getting this message from Chuck meant only one thing, fishing! A few messages exchanged and it was set, we were floating the upper Kenai River in the morning. This trip would mostly be focused on fly fishing for trout on this world famous river. However, I had never fly fished before. Chuck was going to bring an extra fly rod and a spinning rod for me just in case.
To say I was excited was an understatement. Once the hockey game was over I needed to get home and get everything ready! Winter in Alaska isn’t a warm time of year and so dressing warm in the morning was a must as well as making sure I had proper gear for the day that lie ahead.
- Warm Clothes
- Rubber Boots or Waders
- Hot Hands
- Fishing License
These were just the necessities. As I packed my day pack, I packed a few other things just to make sure I had all I needed to be prepared in case something unexpected happened.
The morning rolled around and I needed to run to town to get my fishing license. I had just moved to the Peninsula a month prior and I had been patiently waiting for a fishing trip. Being a non-resident costs can add up quickly therefore I waited until I knew I would be fishing before purchasing my license.
As I left the house to meet Chuck and the crew, I grabbed one of my spinning rods we used back in Oregon all the time for trout fishing. I was told I didn’t need to bring tackle, so I headed out with my day pack and my spinning rod setup.
Once I met up with Chuck and the crew, we headed north to drop my truck off where we would pull the drift boat out, then we all headed up river to the boat launch where our adventure would begin. We were floating a part of the river that was designated to drift only and was also catch and release only for rainbow trout.
It was a foggy cold day on the river with a high of 35*. We got on the river a little later than planned. There were a handful of other drift boats in the area just beginning their days drift as well.
We began our float, 6 of us total, in a 20 foot Willie’s drift boat. For me I was ecstatic to just be floating the Kenai and if I caught a fish, that was even better. We set up my spinning rod to bounce the bottom with a weight and a flesh fly with some beads, similar to a dead drift setup on a fly rod. Everyone else in the boat was fishing with their fly rods.
I still had never fly fished and felt a bit intimidated with trying for my first time. We slowly drifted down river. Suddenly it was “Fish on” for Chuck’s son who landed a nice dolly varden in the boat. A quick kiss and a release and we were headed back down river. We stopped at a gravel bar and all bailed out of the boat, those with fly rods brought in a couple spawned out salmon.
We then loaded back in the boat and headed back down stream. Chuck’s daughter pulled in a nice trout along our drift. As the day went on we drifted down to the last gravel bar before loading up for the day.
This is where I laid my hands on a fly rod and with some quick instructions from Chuck’s friend, Shane, I quickly learned what the term “10 and 2” meant and how to cast. With all that learning daylight was fading.
Then unexpectedly Chuck reeled in a nice 26” rainbow, it was the most beautiful fish! It was his birthday fish since the following day was his birthday, what a catch!
Chuck came down and offered some assistance to me. The last cast and the last 10 minutes of our trip it happened, my line went tight and I had a fish on!
Keeping my rod low and to the side to keep control of the fish I was reeling in, the excitement that came over me and the smile on my face told a story in itself. What was in reality less than a minute felt like the most famous 5 minutes of my life. Chuck took video of this moment and his young daughter grabbed the net.
She, in all her 11 year old glory, netted my first Kenai River rainbow trout for me that day. This wasn’t just a trout, this was a beautiful plump trout that would bring me joy for years to come. My first fish on a fly rod and my first Kenai River trout. Some quick photos and excitement on the final catch of the day as the sun began to set, I gave that colorful fish a quick kiss and released it back into the mighty river.
What’s with the kiss you ask? Legend says it is an old tradition to do with luck. It symbolizes a ‘kiss goodbye’ as well as offering a mark of respect to the fish and a thank you for the sport.
The Kenai River, without a doubt, is Alaska’s most famous fishery. Rainbow trout fishing usually begins to peak in September. Depending on where you fish the Kenai, it is catch and release fishing only for rainbow trout. The most common technique for catching trout on this river with a fly rod is dead drifting. As trout remain below the surface to feed due to the river’s speed and size, using a dry fly wouldn’t tend to be as productive.
The flesh fly is used to mimic the decaying flesh of salmon that have died in the river. The dead drifting setup typically consists of about a 10 foot leader with a strike indicator attached near the fly line, then a small sinker either a split shot or twist on about 20 inches above the fly. You want the least amount of weight as possible, but you want to keep your fly on the bottom of the river. With dead drifting presentation is everything.
It is these very techniques that I learned just that day as the sun faded that led to landing such a beautiful rainbow trout on this world famous river.