Looking back on the 2014 fishing season evokes a myriad of special memories. While each and every season seems to take on a life all its own, this past season is particularity unique for a number of reasons. First and foremost was the fiery beginning to the summer season as the Funny River Horse Trail Fire took center stage in late May and early June. This 195,000 acre blaze transformed the Kenai Peninsula for a couple weeks as it burned very close to our local communities of Sterling, Soldotna and Kasilof before finally burning itself out deep within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Gaining national attention, the Funny River wildfire was the largest in Alaska during 2014. Although it really had little or no effect on the fishing, it did cast an eerie backdrop to early season king and sockeye salmon fishing.
With the Kenai closed to king fishing during May and June, the Kasilof was the only viable option for early season anglers and it did not disappoint. Despite no-bait and single hook regulations, the fishing was very consistent with a mix of both hatchery and naturally produced king salmon being caught on a daily basis from late May well into late June. By mid-June, the fire was largely done and loads of chrome bright sockeye salmon were pouring into the Kenai and the Kasilof Rivers. We focused primarily on the upper Kasilof as the solitude and the steady pulses of ocean bright fish provided tons of action and limit after limit of the best eating salmon available. The Kenai also saw very good fishing for sockeye in mid-June as large waves of Russian River bound fish marched through the middle river.
As we headed into early July, the Kasilof sockeye run continued to see great numbers of fish while the late run of sockeye on the Kenai was beginning to arrive in small but catchable numbers. It was not long into the month before the pulses became stronger and more numerous and limits became easier and easier. July also revealed some amazing middle river trout fishing. As more and more sockeye carcasses piled up in popular bank fishing holes, the trout seemed to practically double in girth. This flood of protein not only makes the trout bigger, it congregates them in certain areas of the river and makes them more aggressive.
July also marked the opening of the 2014 king salmon season on the Kenai and although participation was moderate, the success rates were extremely low. This was likely due to a dismal early run which ended with just 11 fish more than the minimal escapement goal of 5300 fish (despite a complete in-river closure during May and June). The late run seemed equally mediocre and rather than toil with low numbers and lack of action, we continued to pursue the abundant and very exciting sockeye salmon and also the excellent rainbow trout fishing. The late run of Kenai sockeye was very spread out this season with 10,000-40,000 fish days beginning around July 10 and extending all the way into the second week of August.
There was never really a particular peak, just a steady stream. It was enough to yield countless limits and many epic days on the river. We chased the sockeye into the second week of August before eventually transitioning over to newly arriving silver salmon.
The late run of Kenai King Salmon was a dud once again and the season closed early for the third year in a row. The final return was 16,671 fish and after subtracting the harvest from an abbreviated season, this adds up to 15,000 fish and change. With the low end of the escapement goal at 15,000, once again we saw the bare minimum.
Late July, early August is also the time when we start to see big numbers of silver salmon arrive in more remote fly out locations on the West Side of Cook Inlet and these silver returns were all very strong this summer. Big River Lake, Kustatan, Buchatna Creek and the Chuit all saw excellent fishing from the last week of July well into late August.
While the Kenai sockeye run lasted well into August this year they were eventually joined river wide by an invasion of pink salmon. They arrived by the millions and their sheer numbers were impossible to avoid while pursuing the final pulses of sockeye.
Somewhere around August 10 is when we normally switch over to silver salmon and this year was no different. We began our pursuit of Kenai Coho in the waters just below Skilak Lake and the fishing just got better and better well into late August. The run seemed a week or so late compared to most years and the best fishing was closer to the end of August rather than in the middle. Nevertheless it was a very strong silver return and there were many very good fishing days. While the water below Skilak Lake seemed to separate the species to a larger extent, the masses of pink salmon had also settled into many of their spawning areas and in many cases, this meant river wide occupation.
Trout fishing always becomes a challenge in the even numbered years when pink salmon and their sheer numbers make reaching the trout essentially impossible. Even when you can make it to the bottom, the trout are literally surrounded by real eggs and definitely not starving. Hence our perfectly matched single egg imitation becomes far less enticing. This abundance of spawning pink salmon prompted us to move lower on the river where we could get below the large masses of pinks and intercept newly arriving late-run silver salmon.
For the first two weeks of September we played the tides on the lower river and had great success with big, bright coho. The late run of Kenai Silver salmon was every bit as strong, if not stronger than the early run, and the fish were huge. They continued to arrive well into October. This remarkable return of Kenai silver salmon marks the third season in a row of better than average coho returns and even now as this newsletter arrives in your hands, thousands of these remarkable salmon are still finning in the Kenai’s low and frigid flows, depositing their prodigy into the gravel.
With the pinks finally fading away in late September and early October, trout fishing again became a viable pursuit. For most of October, the bead bite was “game on” and we saw some incredible fly fishing action for giant rainbows. Proof positive the massive numbers of pink salmon profit all in-river inhabitants, the trout this fall seemed incredibly well fed. This added girth only increases their incredible fighting power, making these resident rainbows one the Kenai’s most prestigious and rewarding trophies.
I am always left in awe at the huge transfer of energy all the salmon bring to the river. We are truly blessed to have such an abundant resource and a river with so much life. While we keep a concerned eye on our stocks of king salmon, other species such as sockeye, silver and pinks have all flourished in recent years. We also happen to have one of the most prolific trophy rainbow trout fisheries in the world.
As we move forward into 2015, we want to thank everyone who helped make 2014 one of the most memorable and successful seasons we have had in 24 years of business. We greatly appreciate all who used our services and we look forward seeing you back on the water very soon.
Take Care and Great Fishing!
Mark, Cindy, Faith, Caleigh and Emma