In summer of 2009 Kenai
Kenai King Salmon was my first target of my fishing expedition this year. Considering King fishing, I had two chances: The first being a run in June and the second a run in July. I chose July, and reserved flights, a lodge, and a rental car.
Unfortunately, King Salmon fishing was very slow this year, so I hesitated to book the chartered boat. Ship Creek and other rivers near Anchorage had already closed to fishing. A worker like me can't change the itinerary easily. I couldn’t help but revise my target from King to Sockeye, and if possible, I would try King fishing.
Northwest Airlines merged with Delta Airlines, and it became Delta’s subsidiary. It could be convenient for someone, but I feel that Northwest operation has looked like Delta ever since. In addition, its management also has been rationalized. You can see many automatic checking machines at the NW checking counter in the Narita Airport. Without any checked in baggage, you can directly go to the passport control after checking in automatically.
I arrived at the south terminal of Seattle International Airport 30 minutes earlier than expected. After immigration formalities, I headed to C gate where Alaska Airlines depart. I met three Japanese travelers there who seemed to be fishermen. I was very surprised because one of them asked me, Are you a Tokyo Angler ? ”. They told me they visit Kenai every year to catch Sockeye. While we were talking about a lot of fishing stories, a boarding time has come.
I took an Era Aviation flight at Anchorage International Airport, and arrived at Kenai Airport on time. I rented a car and headed to the lodge.
The lodge, Alicia Eagle Rock Lodge, is located in very convenient place. I could get to the airport, shops and fishing easily. After checking in, I went shopping. After shopping, I called Gary and arranged a fishing plan for Wednesday. It is getting more difficult to find a pay phone as a number of cell phones increases. I decided to go fishing tomorrow and went to bed early.
I woke up at 7 am. It is drizzling in the morning. The temperature was about 50 degrees. As soon as I finished eating breakfast, I headed to Swiftwater Park. I paid $6.4 at the gate, and entered the park.
There were a lot of cars, motor homes and RV and 4WD cars, along the gravel road. When I visited here 3 years ago, I didn’t see any car. Then, Sockeye fishing was closed.
You can’t use a light tackle and an easy rigging when a river is crowded. Not only will you cause trouble for other fishermen, but you can’t land fish easily. I used a Sage flight #12 rod with a #9 reel, and my tippet was a 16 lb test line. I guessed they would be strong enough to catch Sockeye. I didn't intend to do flipping this time, but I usually fly-fish using special flies . I had prepared a lot of flies tied in winter. I had studied a lot and tied many flies. I tied the fly I would use and began to cast. I had no space behind me, so I had to cast with a heavy lead weight.
I cast many times, but didn’t get any bite. Nearby people caught Sockeye one after another. I could hear fish beating the water surface with their splashes. I changed flies and tried different ways of drifting, but still no bite. Because the source of the Kenai River is the Kenai Mountains glaciers, so the water is very silty. I guessed the fish couldn’t see the fly clearly.
I hesitated to try flipping, and kept on casting intently. Kenai Sockeye is bigger than any other Sockeye in Alaska. After seeing such Sockeye that other fishermen had caught, I changed my mind and decided to try flipping next day.
I finished at 7 pm. As I had been in cold water for a long time, I had headache. It became a splitting headache while I was putting my fishing goods away. It was so bad I couldn’t have dinner. I took two tablets of medicine and went to bed early. I wouldn’t be able to fish next day.
It was cloudy and drizzling in the morning. I couldn’t get better any more. I drank a cup of orange juice and went to bed again. I had same experience as before. I might have fished too hard. I had been very busy in Japan and hadn't been sleeping well because of hot temperature. My physical condition might not be well enough to fish. I stayed in the bed and planned on fishing the next day.
I stayed in the bed until noon, and I felt like I was getting better. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I slept so long. I decided to take a walk around the lodge. I went to Centennial Park at first.
I saw many anglers fishing along the river. The park is very convenient for visitors because the parking spaces are near the river, and it has a public fish-cleaning table. In addition, the bank isn’t too steep and a current is slow.
I headed to Morgan Landing in Sterling next. I had visited before, but couldn’t find the way to the river at that time. This time, I asked the park staff directions to the river. She told me that I would be able to go down to the river at the corner of the parking area.
I reached the Kenai River easily by following the path. There were some locals fishing at the bank. Because this area is very far from the highway, the number of anglers was fewer than other areas. A fishwalk is built along the river edge and a boat fishing is closed in this area, so people can enjoy fishing safely and calmly.
I noticed local fishermen using sphere lead. They looked very suitable for the bank fishing, so I visited a fishing shop in Soldotna to buy it . The shop is located at the south side of the Sterling Highway after crossing the Kenai River.
After purchasing the lead, I went looking the river. There is a RV camping park at the north side of the river. You can pay to fish from the bank there. It is a good fishing hole, and you can usually see a lot of Sockeye being caught.
I felt a little bit better, but was not enough to have dinner. However, I hadn’t eaten sufficient food since the previous day. I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Soldotna.
I couldn’t sleep any more while laying down on my bed all night. But I felt better than the day before. I left the lodge at 3 am. Swiftwater Park was staying dark. However, because there is a fishwalk along the river edge, I could fish safely, I decide to stay in the car for a while because it was still very dark.
At 3:30 am, when I could see my foot slightly, I went down to the river. Surprisingly some fishermen were already fishing along the river. Any fisherman would want to fish in better conditions.
I didn’t hesitate to try flipping this day. I chose a 3/4 ounce sphere lead, and tied a 3 feet 16lb test tippet line. I chose a Coho fly, that is tied hackles sparsely on the long shank hook. It is very different from Salmon flies, but is very popular for Sockeye fishing.
Generally speaking, flipping is a kind of fly-fishing. You can do flipping in the fly-fishing only area. A fly-fisherman uses not only a fly-fishing rod but also a spinning rod and a bait-casting rod. He can also use a fly reel and a spinning reel, and a bait-casting reel. A common point between them is only not using a lure and a bait. The secret of flipping is to choose a suitable weight lead. You let it bounce on the bottom of the river. After drifting, you can pick up quickly and cast again. You have to repeat this process all day. Sockeye eat nothing after entering into the river from the sea. How are they caught by fly-fishers ? The answer is simple. It is not by fly-fishing, but by a fly hook. A fisherman makes a long shank hook cross a Sockeye’s going up way in the stream. If he is lucky, the hook will snag the fish's mouth. “ Fish on! ”. If he is using a suitable lead, his result is dependent only on his luck and how many times he casts.
The fish suddenly caught by flipping gets angry very much. Sometimes it manages to shake the hook off by jumping and rolling. When the hook is in right position, on the mouth, it doesn’t behave as violently. However, when snagged by its back or belly, it can be difficult to stop. My 16lb line was broken, as was my 24lb line. Finally, I decided to use a 40lb test line for a tippet.
Fishermen’s behavior is often controversial. In my experience, Americans unexpectedly follow the regulations very well, but Germans are terrible and Filipinos are the worst when it comes to fishing in Alaska. The German who was fishing my right side caught 6 Sockeye, even though there was a bag limit of 3 a day. It is illegal to disfigure the fish before quitting, but he did. He was cleaning his fish with smile. Filipinos also don’t care regulations. They snagged many fish and proudly caught a lot of Salmon.
I let my fly drift on the bottom of the river, and the fishing line stopped unnaturally. As soon as I hooked reflexively, a very strong reaction pulled up. “Fish on!”. Before this bite, I’d already lost three fish. So, I reeled in very carefully. Because the hook was stuck hard on its mouth, it couldn’t get away easily. I reeled it close before long. Another fisherman caught it by using a landing net. Thank you. It took two hours to catch my first fish.
After drawing the blood, I tied the fish to the stringer and started casting again. After a while, I got a second bite. I was using a very stout rod( Sage flight #12) and a 40lb test line. If a hook was stuck in the fish's mouth, I would not lose it. Although it was struggling to run away, I managed to reel in. Owing to my neighbor’s help. I caught two Sockeye. It was time to go back. I cleaned my fish, and put them into zip-lock bags. On the way back I visited a food processing shop and asked to freeze my catch. It was 3 pm. I decided to go to Centennial Park.
When crossing the bridge over the Kenai River on Kalifonsky Beach Road, I saw many people dip-netting in the river. both sides of the river are part of the Kenai River Flats State Recreation Site. I stopped and watched the dip-netting.
Dip-netting, as the pictures, is a very simple fishing style in which people stand in the river and hold a big net. It is very simple but requires huge patience. Only Alaskan residents can do this with a special licenses.
I wanted to try my special flies again at Centennial Park. The bank was not so steep that I would be able to land up Salmon easily. I tied a special fly looked like plankton and started casting. Although I cast many times, but got no bite. I changed my fly, but I still only caught two baby Salmon. I guessed adult Salmon don’t like my fly.
Upon Returning my car I was greeted by a Korean. He offered me a Korean cup noodle. He told me he and his family came from Anchorage and he’d like to teach Salmon fishing to his kids. It was very cold, and I was happy to have a hot noodle cup. I accepted his offering and enjoyed it very much. Thank you very much.
I headed to Gary’s house at 6 am. On the way, I visited Pillars State Park. Because It had a boat landing, I wondered I wouldn be able to fish from the bank. However, a current was very swift and its bank was very steep. It looked almost impossible.
My friend, Gary, is a director of Kenai Peninsula College and lives in Kenai. We met at Kenai Fishing Academy (KFA) in 2003. I’ve been contacted with him ever since. His house is built on the riverside and his boat is always moored to his fishwalk in summer. We were going to fish Kingsalmon by his boat.
I met Gary and Dave Atchison, and Dr. Dave Wartinbee at the entrance of the house after a long time no see. Dave is a coordinator at KFA, and Dr. Wartinbee is a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College. We got on the boat right away. I would try a bait fishing with salmon egg, and they each would be back trolling with Kwick fish.
I had heard King fishing was slow this summer, but there were a lot of chartered boats with full fishermen.
We pulled out 30 yards line, and let the bait and lures stay on the bottom by the jet-planers. Gary set the boat speed a bit slower than a current around the holes. After drifting past the holes, we would returned upstream. We tried this several times.
The daily bag limit for King’s limit is only one fish per fisherman. We figured out how many King were already caught to count on the rods. Very few fishermen have ever caught a KIngsalmon.
We finished at 8:30 am as they had to go working. I knew they had managed to just fit a fishing trip with me into their busy schedule. I heartily appreciated their courtesy and expected a next fishing.
I bought a new landing net at Soldotna Ware House. I deeply understood that I wouldn’t be able to catch any fish without it. After that, I went to the confluence of the Kenai River and the Moose River, where I had always wanted to fish. This spot is the only space that bank fishermen can catch Kingsalmon along the Kenai River.
I headed east on the Sterling Highway and turned right over the bridge that crosses on the Moose River. I reached Izzak Walton State Recreation Site quickly. This is where the Moose River meets the Kenai River. There is little difference in altitude between two rivers, and the confluence area looks like a lake. Because of this, many Salmon rest there on the way upstream.
After preparing my fishing gear, I headed to the confluence. I intended to catch Kingsalmon by fly-fishing. I had tried fly-fishing for Kingsalmon once in the Anchor River, but I was a novice at the time. I used #12 rod and #10 reel with 24lb test line tippet. I tied a salmon fly. This time, I chose not a sinking line but a floating line and attached a lead (a sprit shot) on the line.
The current was very slow and a strong head wind was blowing southwest. The wind gathered a lot of logs and sticks to my way and on the bottom of the river. Because Kingsalmon are bottom feeders, I had to keep my fly on the bottom. This caused a lot of snagging. If I change to a lighter weight lead, the fly wouldn't sink quickly. If I use a heavy weight lead, I have to struggle against a lot of snagging. In addition, the head wind was making my casting very difficult. Too bad! However, I continued casting patiently.
Although I was casting for a couple of hours, I didn’t get any bites. I reluctantly gave up fishing for Kingsalmon. However, regretting that I had caught no fish. I decided to try for Sockeye. The water of the Moose River was clearer than the Kenai River, so Salmon could see the fly clearly. I expected my special flies would work well. I had tied a lot of flies in winter, so I couldn’t easily accept the fact that my flies wouldn't be no effective.
The Moose River along with Russian River is one of the biggest tributaries of the Kenai River . A lot of Salmon come up in the spawning season. I changed flies and did drifting and twitching. But no bite made me exhausted. A next Filipino caught 5 Sockeye by snagging. He stretched the line 100 yards, and reeled in quickly. It was completely snagging. I moved to upstream, because I hated to see it. However, he soon appeared near me again. I decided to quit fishinig for the day.
On the way back, I visited an internet café. As having dinner, I checked my e-mail box on the internet. I found an e-mail from Valerie. I had already sent an e-mail to her before visiting Alaska. At first, I was going to call, but I remembered it wasn’t easy to find for a payphone. I decided to visit her directly.
She lives in so-called Old Kenai. Russian people had settled there once upon time. A lot of Russian Old Churches remain in the area. She wasn’t at home, but her house was near the sea, so I went to the beach.
There was a vast Alaskan sea, Cook Inlet, in front of me. There were a lot of people dip-netting along the beach. Salmon were waiting for the timing near the shore before entering the rivers. Although people were only dipping in the sea, they sometimes caught Salmon.
Some families were picnicking and dip-netting along the beach. Parents were taking turns dip-netting. Unfortunately, it was drizzling and a chilly wind was blowing, but they kept on standing in the sea patiently regardless.
I began fishing at 6:30 am at Swiftwater Park. Many fishermen were already fishing there, and I fished next to an American couple.
I tried flipping and got my first bite around 8:00 am. My hook was in its mouth, and a tippet was a 40lb test line, so it wouldn’t be broken. I carefully reeled it in. The fisherman next to me caught it with a landing net. It was a male Sockeye.
I caught my second Sockeye at 10:00 am. It was a middle sized female one, netted by the guy next to me. Around noon, I caught my third fish. It was a Jack that came up 1 year earlier than other fish. It was a bit small but was a nice fighter.
It was the time to go back. I quitted fishing and cleaned my catch on the bank. On the way, I visited the food processing shop again. The total weight for all three fish, without guts or heads, was 13lb. I called Valerie at the shop. We arranged to meet at 5:30 at the Kenai Information Center.
I had met her for the first time three years earlier. We were talking at a nearby coffee shop. She said her son, Jake, came back from university in Oregon, and he was working as a fisherman now. She said we would go to see him at work.
We visited his company. The business was on the cliff near the beach. The fishermen have to climb up and down 200 step stairs. It was just dinner time, so many young people were having dinner in the dinning room. I hadn't seen him in three years. He looked fine and bigger.
After that, Valeried and I visited Captain Cook Park at the end of the road. There was a camp site in the grove. Valerie said bears appear frequently here. However, a lot of people were camping there. The warning paper on the bulletin board announced that a black bear had appeared in May. Incredible!
It was my last day in Kenai. I managed to keep good health, but I had only a half day for fishing left. I went to Slikok Creek Park. The park is away from Kalifornsky Beach Road, and you can't find it easily. In addition, it is a day use park, so few people visit here. I found only one car when I arrived.
I walked down the path to the river.
There were only three fishermen on the bank. A long fence had been built along the bank to protect river vegetation. I had to fish outside of the fence. The river was deep but not swift, so I chose a lighter pencil lead. I started flipping.
Luckily, I got a bite quickly. Because I saw the hook was stuck in the fish mouth, I enjoyed reeling it in. The fish tried to run away and go behind a sunken log. I was thinking about where and how I would catch it. The fish was so strong that I couldn't net it easily. There was nothing let to do but grab the line and pull it up. Unfortunately, the line was broken. Next time, I would be more patient.
At first, I thought I was lucky. However, aftert that I had no bite. I had patiently been casting for three hours, but got not a single bite. Fishermen appeared one after another, but they gave up soon without any bites. Although I could have stayed in this big area alone, it was no worth it. I quit fishing at 12:30 pm. My Alaska in summer was almost finished.
I returned to the lodge, and packed up my fishing gears and belongings. My flight to Anchorage was at 5:25 pm, but I checked in a bit earlier. After checking my baggage, I visited the Kenai River once again. I stopped my car at the observation platform near the river. I could see the Kenai River Flats along the river. When it is sunny, you can see the Kenai Mountains capped with snow in the south and Mt. Denali in the north. But that day they were hidden by cloud. I stayed in Anchorage the last night of my trip, and returned to Japan the next day. It could be hot and humid in Japan.