2015 Year In Review
2015 came and went like a wildfire and in reality, this is exactly how our season began, again! In a repeat of the previous spring, very little snow and warm temperatures made the Kenai Peninsula ripe for a fire and sure enough in early June, a 10,000 acre blaze once again burned in the refuge below Skilak Lake. This fire again got very close to the Kenai Keys subdivision and actually burned a number of structures before eventually heading out towards Skilak Lake. It was another ominous beginning to our season but compared to the 200,000 acre fire in 2014, it was much less of a distraction.
We began our 2015 fishing season in Yakutat this year and we did some guiding for spring steelhead via Glacier Bear Lodge. This was a great experience and after fishing the Situk River for the past 16 years it was a lot of fun to show that beautiful river to some great people that had never caught a steelhead before. Hooking wild steelhead in the crystal clear Situk River is very rewarding and always a challenge. This is always a special trip and I look forward to seeing everyone there again this coming spring. If you think you might like to join us, just let me know. If you have ever dreamed about wild Alaska steelhead, the Situk is truly one of a kind.
All in all it was a great beginning to the 2015 season and upon returning to the Kenai Peninsula, it was time to shift focus to the Kasilof River. With the pre-season closure on the Kenai, the Kasilof was the only option in late May and early June and it definitely did not disappoint. Good numbers of king salmon were available from late May and well into late June. Many kings could be seen rolling in regular holes like the People’s Hole and the Traps and the numbers of fish definitely helped the fishing success. Given we are fishing with a single hook and no bait, we did manage to land 1-5 fish a trip for a solid couple of weeks and I was impressed with the consistency of the action. Most of the fish were tide water, sea-lice chromers and they fought really well in the early season flows of the Kasilof.
After enjoying the king salmon action it was time in mid-June to head upriver and chase the now abundant sockeye salmon. These silver bullets were arriving in the tens of thousands daily and the upper Kasilof is our favorite place to intercept them. We launched the drift boats just below Tustumena Lake and rowed down several miles before deciding on a strategic gravel bar. Many mornings we were able to literally land right on top of travelling masses and the ensuing melee was a blast. We saw regular limits on these great trips and this has become one of our more regular and enjoyable trips from mid-June into the first week to ten days of July.
July 1 marked the opening day for king season on the Kenai River and the fishery began with no bait, single hook. Fishing in the first week to ten days was fair with boats seeing 1-3 fish per trip. Although sonar numbers were not excessively high, they were a definite improvement over the past several seasons where we saw near record low returns. Although we did take a small handful of king salmon trips this season, the overwhelming majority of our July anglers choose to fish for the far more consistent and abundant sockeye salmon.
As we entered the second week of July, sockeye fishing on the Kenai was very good. Even though the number of fish was moderate compared to peak times, there were very few people fishing so a lot of fish were making it through. It seemed like we had the river to ourselves for over a week before sonar numbers began to reveal larger pulses of fish and the crowds began to swell. Overall the late run Kenai sockeye run was a good one although the way the fish arrived was unusual. Normally we see a series of days or a week where a very large percentage of the return arrives all at once. This season the fish came in very steady waves with few large spikes and the run seemed to continue much later into August than normal. This year one could find newly arriving sockeye salmon as late as the third week of August. Needless to say we appreciated the large and consistent return of sockeye this season and missing a limit was very rare.
Eventually the positive king salmon numbers allowed the department to project meeting the escapement goals for kings and thus the use of bait was allowed in the fishery on July 24. Of course this resulted in very good fishing for a couple of days before returning to more normal king fishing for the remainder of the season. Allowing bait also changed the management plan for sockeye and allowed set gill nets more fishing time. In the end, the king salmon return, which was expected to meet the middle to upper end of the escapement goal, only barely met the lower end.
We stayed with the sockeye run well into August as our early run of Kenai Silvers were late to show. They finally arrived with a vengeance in the third week of August and this ended a very successful and lengthy sockeye season.
The silvers may have been late but once they arrived, the action was incredible. The early run fish were super aggressive on the tides and the high numbers of fish lasted for several weeks. As we entered the first week to ten days of September, no discernable pause seemed to occur between early and late runs as the steady stream of fish on the tides just kept coming. The onslaught of silvers continued until it again hit a peak in October. With the river super low and fish everywhere we saw some of the most epic silver salmon fishing ever with literally hundreds of fish in all the holes. Ironically, with the season largely passed, very few people were on the water to see this incredible late season silver run.
No seasonal Kenai recap would be complete without mention of the incredible Kenai Rainbows. These resident species and monarchs of the river continue to amaze me as I have the privilege of seeing just how prolific and varied their population really is. Every season it seems more and more are discovering just how fun targeting big rainbows can be for the day. It presents a challenging and a very hands on experience with the potential for huge rewards. Even among Alaska destinations, few places hold as many large wild trout as does the Kenai and any hook up could be a double digit fish. We saw a number of really big trout come to the net this year and each one was completely unique.
Fly out Fishing this year was very productive although typically dependable Wolverine Creek did not see fish in June like it normally does. The run did finally arrive but it was later than the normal mid-June time period and more like mid-July before the run completely materialized. By this time we were beginning to see very good numbers of silver salmon on the Kustatan River and this fishery just got better and better and better. We fished the Kustatan well into late August and were still seeing ocean bright sea-lice silver salmon. We also flew into Bachatna Creek a lot this season and it was its usual outstanding self. The ability to sight fish so many silvers is always a lot of fun for people and this small river provided outstanding fishing every time we visited it. The Chuit as was also very good for silvers this year and like Bachatna Creek, the Chuit is always one of our favorite rivers for fly fishing.
Halibut fishing in Cook Inlet was productive as always and our guests landed a number of very good sized fish this season. We also saw great fishing from both Homer and Seward and overall it was a very successful season on the salt water. Now we look forward to winter kings in Homer and then more halibut again this spring as we gear up to do it all over again!
As always the season went by very fast but it definitely stood out in a number of ways. The run timing, especially for the sockeye and silvers, was later than I remember seeing it and also notable was the improved numbers of king salmon. Both the Kenai and the Kasilof saw considerably more kings this year compared with more recent seasons and their record low returns. Hopefully this resurgence in king numbers points toward positive things to come in the next several seasons, only time will tell.
It is so very hard to remember each and every day but it sure is fun to look back on all the great pictures and all the very genuinely great people I get to meet over the course of a season. I know I speak for all my guides and my wife and family when I say thank you to everyone that has supported our guide business through the years. It has been very rewarding to see our business grow and we are very much looking forward to many more seasons on the water. Hopefully we will see you next year and if there is ever anything we can do for you up here in Alaska, please contact us anytime.
Mark, Cindy, Faith, Caleigh and Emma
Here is a link to our 2015/2016 Kenai Current Newsletter:
Kenai Current Newsletter 2015/16