A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to board a plane bound for Alaska with ten days to spare. This would be my last Spring Break in college, and I wanted to make the best of the relatively short amount of time I had to enjoy it. Lucky for me, my good friend Shawn Coe had invited me up to his new pad in the last frontier, with the promise of Winter Kenai Rainbows and adventure. After hours of debate, I was finally convinced I wouldn’t freeze to death, and I packed my bags for the Great White North.
The most striking thing about the landscape of the Kenai Peninsula is the seemingly endless mountains that dwarf just about anything that stands amongst them. This is what I was greeted with when I walked out of the airport and into an environment that was 30-40 degrees colder than where I was coming from. Most of the three hour car ride to the house was spent with my jaw dropped, as I tried to absorb the scenery as the sun set over Cook Inlet.
Day one of fishing took place on the Upper Kenai River where we would spend the majority of the trip. Alaska received a frigid winter this year, resulting in the fact that several of the other systems we would have been able to fish were literally frozen over, and would not be fishable without an auger. Honestly I could have cared less because the first day I caught my first fish of the trip, and was surrounded with the most fantastic views that can only be fully appreciated if seen in person.
The second day proved to be a bit more adventure than I bargained for however when we decided to rig a one person raft to float two people for a day long float. I’m sure we got several uneasy glances from old-timers from their cabins as we floated by with a porcupine of fly rods on a 7 foot inflatable, with a seat made from a cooler and a person sitting 3 feet above the water. The whole day we battled (by we I mean Shawn who rowed the entire time) through 15-20 mph wind with temperatures never quite clearing 28 degrees. Though conditions were not ideal, the scenery on the Upper Kenai is impossible to beat.
The next few days were spent hiking into various areas of the upper river with relatively consistent fishing. We were treated to better weather, though we could never seem to escape the bite of the fleeting Alaskan Winter and its harsh wind. The main attraction for the winter fishing personally was the chance to catch an above average Kenai Rainbow on a spey rod. Winter can be a great time to target these fish on the swing, since the water is 33 degrees and a slowly swung fly can entice a hungry fish to emerge from its winter lay and take advantage of spring. However for several days, reforming ice sheets and condition changes gave an advantage to Shawn who was jigging a sculpin under a bobber.
Though I love fly fishing, it is time wasted on a big trip if I don’t spend a little bit of time sight seeing and devolving into a tourist. It is for this reason that I jumped on the opportunity to drive to Homer for a day to eat some great seafood, drink some local brews, and drool over the otherworldly scenery.
As the trip was winding down, we decided to spend the last day of the trip hiking ten miles along our favorite stretch of the river, and make it our longest day yet. With high hopes from some pretty productive days in the rear view mirror, we set out to fish as much good water as we could without risking hiking out in the dark. After 8 hours of fishing and wondering what happened to the predicted “best conditions of the trip”, I finally got the grab I was looking for in the last run of the trip. Though there are larger fish in the Kenai, getting this fish despite the difficult conditions we were dealt made the whole trip for me, and I could fly back over the Gulf of Alaska in utter bliss.
A world of thanks to Jamie and Shawn who put up with my antics for 9 days and drove me all over the Kenai Peninsula, and gave me a place to stay so I didn’t have to sleep in a tent during the late winter conditions. Shawn is a guide for Chasing Tales Alaska, which I can highly recommend if you want to experience this beautiful place for yourself.