2011 Year in Review
Time flies when you are having fun. I guess this explains why this past summer, like so many prior, slipped byway too fast. I am sure many of you that joined us this year will agree that summer time in Alaska seems to scurry along at an accelerated pace. The flow seems to reflect the urgency of nature; the need to get upriver and bury those eggs or the importance of gorging on nature’s short-lived bounty before winters heavy door slams shut. Everything about Alaska’s summer screams of the here and now. From the weather, to the fish, to the animals and the forests, each day marks a noticeable change…a tangible sign that nothing ever stays the same in The Last Frontier.
Yet while nothing stays the same, some things also never change. Things like the springtime arrival of Arctic Terns, longer days and millions of green leaves that appear seemingly overnight. There are also the first reports of fresh salmon. Big ocean fresh kings are the first to enter their natal rivers and this year both the Kenai and the Kasilof started the season with some very nice chinook being caught.
One unique factor to the start of this season was the record low water levels. A weak snow pack combined with an unseasonably dry and cool spring, kept both rivers on the super low side for much of May and early June. Low water is both good and bad. It definitely helps to bottleneck the fish but it also bottlenecks the anglers and makes the fish spooky. Salmon are more likely to scream through shallow sections of the river, traveling more at night and stopping less frequently. Many will flush in and out in the tidal sections of the river, awaiting water levels to rise upriver.
On both the Kenai and the Kasilof, good pushes of king salmon were arriving daily. Despite the low water, catch rates seemed very consistent compared to recent years. With very little fishing pressure on either river, the steady action was a great way to begin our season. As we entered early June, it was obvious the Kasilof was the most consistent option as most of the holes we normally fish on the Kenai were still too low. Moreover, the majority of the river was still impassable with a power boat. This would end up being the first June in 21 years of fishing the Kenai that we were unable to fish for king salmon above the Soldotna Bridge.
The Kasilof remained the place to be well into June, as despite steady numbers of kings entering the Kenai, the low water, no bait and single hook regulations, made catching fish a considerable challenge. The Kasilof on the other hand was seeing a strong return of both hatchery and natural king salmon. Normally we see a fairly discernible division between the arrival of natural and hatchery kings on the Kasilof River but this year the two run components were more evenly distributed throughout the overall return. Day in and day out the Kasilof continued to crank out very good fishing, effectively saving the day when low water was making the Kenai largely unfishable.
Unfortunately mid June yielded little improvement on the Kenai River. Low water essentially forced the majority of the fleet to fish the tidal section of the river where with enough water on the tides, some fish were encouraged to bite. Toward late June we did start to see a definite spike in action, again around the tides in the lower section of the river. Some of the fish were considerably larger and fresher than we had been seeing and hopes were high for the first steady signs of late run kings.
With the river opening to bait on July 1, anticipation was high. It was clear more and more fish were arriving daily and bait would only improve things. As expected, the first few days of bait were outstanding. After a tough June, the water levels and catch rates were finally feeling normal. All indications pointed to a strong July run and with very few sockeye yet in the river, commercial fishing pressure was light.
Fishing success continued to build into the second week of July. We were finally starting to see the first good push of sockeye salmon and along with them steady numbers of king salmon. Add in perfect river conditions and the table was set for what would prove to be the best week of king fishing we have seen in several seasons. That third week of July would not disappoint and the lower river saw excellent fishing for beautiful late run king salmon. Holes from the Horse Pasture, all the way to Eagle Rock were seeing daily pushes of chrome bright and aggressive kings, but overshadowing this decent king return was the building numbers of sockeye.
After not showing in any speakable numbers until essentially mid-month, the red salmon run was now in full force and counters were recording near record daily totals of over100,000 fish a day! Granted this made bank fishing for these silvery missiles
extremely fun, it did little to sustain our king salmon effort. Experienced Kenai anglers know that when an excess of sockeye hit the river, managers are forced to curb the run and prevent “over escapement.” This translates into excessive gill-netting in Cook Inlet and unfortunately the king salmon and the sockeye share a mixed migration. By the final week of July, close to 24/7 gill-netting had failed to contain the sockeye run, yet king numbers plummeted and fishing slowed considerably. The low counts prompted managers to restrict the sport fishery to no-bait for the final week of the season, beginning July 25. This essentially slowed king fishing to a crawl. Despite some remarkable mid July action, the late run went out on a quiet note and we started retooling toward the more abundant sockeye and silver salmon and of course, the trophy Kenai rainbows.
August began with a variety of fishing options on the Kenai River as well as on our fly out trips to the west side of Cook Inlet. The huge red return continued to provide fresh pulses of Kenai sockeye well into August and with a limit of six, this was a very attractive option for those wanting to take home plenty of fish. Capping the day with an afternoon of spectacular trout fishing made for some very well rounded and fun filled days.
Across Cook Inlet and in locations such as the Kustatan River, Buchatna Creek, Big River Lake and even the Chuit, swarms of fresh silvers were returning to their home streams in hordes. The Kustatan had an especially strong return this year with solid fishing well into the third week of August. Fly anglers especially enjoyed sight fishing the clear waters of the Chuit and Buchatna Creek and both of these rivers yielded many epic days for those wanting to wade fish.
Back on the Kenai, the first significant pushes of early run silvers were providing limits in the lower river by Aug. 10. From this point on, we saw very consistent fishing throughout the month. From mid August on, we focused largely on fishing for silver salmon in the morning hours and then enjoying the great trout action for the remainder of the day. With the abundant sockeye run, the trout were extremely well fed and healthy. Staging largely behind pods of spawning king salmon, big rainbows were easily fooled by passing flesh flies and single egg patterns. After 21 years of guiding the Kenai, the trout fishing remains my fondest pursuit, as the quality of the fishing and the awesome scenery combine to make the perfect experience.
As August transitioned into September, we began to see the larger and very fresh late run silvers enter the system. We commonly move lower on the river during this time to take advantage of the more condensed schools entering from the ocean. We were not disappointed on these trips to tide water as nearly all yielded complete limits of beautiful coho. Throughout the month we witnessed wave after wave of late run silvers and fishing throughout the river was very productive. Ever changing water levels and river conditions did effect fishing at times, but overall this was an awesome September to be on the Kenai River with relatively light pressure and lots of very exciting fishing.
The great fall fishing opportunities spilled over into October this year, much as it has in recent seasons. I can remember a number of years where we saw our first snow in the last week of September and October brought true winter like conditions to the Peninsula. Recent years have revealed a softer side to October on the Kenai and they have been very enjoyable. Even if it is a little bit cold in the mornings, this feeling of true solitude on one of Alaska’s most popular yet spectacular wild rivers is well worth the extra layers.
As fall faded into winter, the Kenai slipped into its winter slumber and with the new year it is now time to look ahead toward next season. Before we turn the corner on 2011, I want to personally thank everyone that helped make this year so successful for us. We hope your visit to Alaska was more than just a quality experience, we hope it becomes a lifelong memory. On behalf of my family and the entire MGF guiding team, we appreciate all of you very much for your patronage. We greatly look forward to welcoming you back in the near future and to all the new faces for 2012… we sincerely hope your first trip to Alaska is everything you dreamed of and more.
Mark, Cindy, Faith, Caleigh, and Emma
2011 Fishing Reports:
2011 Fishing Report, August 21
Fishing on the Kenai River has been nothing short of spectacular for the past week to ten days. Sockeye salmon are just finally beginning to slow their migration upriver but are still available in catchable numbers throughout the system. Up until just a few trips ago, we have been giving anglers the option to sockeye fish rather than pursue silvers as for those interested in maximizing the number of fish they take home, the six fish limit per person for sockeye easy tops the two fish limit for coho.
For those interested in catching fish that actually strike a lure, the silver fishing has been the obvious choice and this run has also been very good. We have seen numerous limit catches on silver salmon over the past week and this should only continue to be the case as we enter the peak time for the early run of Kenai River coho.
Once we reach the daily limit on salmon, many of our anglers have decided to spend the remainder of their day catching and releasing rainbow trout and dolly varden. With the king salmon spawn in full swing, hoards of trout have converged on the king salmon spawning ground below Skilak Lake and fishing for trout has been nothing short of amazing. Doubles, triples and even four hookups at once have become common. In three to four hours of trout fishing, a group of four anglers has easily seen 75-100 fish come to hand. This is definitely the best trout fishing we have seen in the past three or four seasons. This incredible fishery should only continue to improve as the sockeye spawn hits full stride in the next week to ten days. Single egg patterns and flesh flies have both yielded excellent results.
2011 Fishing Report, August 6
The late run of kings on the Kenai had some very good times but ended as a below average return. The middle of July saw some excellent fishing for big Kenai kings but the seemingly strong return of late run king salmon was also accompanied by a larger than normal return of late run sockeye. This allowed commercial managers to allow extra time for both set and drift gill nets in Cook Inlet and this fishing pressure greatly affected the numbers of king salmon making it back to the river. By the last ten days of July, fishing for king became less consistent and beginning July 25, ADF&G restricted the king fishery to no bait causing success rates to fall dramatically. Overall it was a productive July for kings and we did see more big fish than we have seen in several recent seasons. The sockeye return was one of the top five ever recorded to the Kenai River with a total estimated run strength of over 6 million fish. We saw several days where the counters estimated over 100,000 fish entered the river in a single day. These numbers made fishing for sockeye very productive and even with the limit increased from three to six fish, limits were the rule. Even now in the first week of August, we are still seeing good numbers of sockeye moving through the system and are still catching decent numbers of fresh, ocean bright reds. As of Aug 6, there are still no significant numbers of silver salmon entering the river but this should change in the next week to ten days. Trout fishing has been good throughout the river and the fish appear to be fat and healthy from the glut of sockeye meat in the river. Kings seem to be beginning their spawn so aside from flesh flies, beads are also starting to be a good bet for trout.
Big River Lake, the Kustatan, Buchatna Creek, the Chuit have all been very high and flooded due to recent excessive rain fall but silvers are present in all these systems. We have been fishing alternative spots due to the high water but for the most part are still finding limits. The water is currently receding and we should start to see very good fishing in all these West Cook Inlet locations. In the next week to ten days we will reach the seasonal peak for these fly out coho fisheries.
Cook Inlet Halibut:
Halibut fishing has still been very good south of Anchor Point but heavy wind has cancelled a fair share of trips in recent days. The average size of the fish has remained good and on the days when the wind allows access to the water, limits have been very steady.
2011 Fishing Report, July 11
The Kenai River entered July with a definite upswing in fishing success. The river opened to the use of bait July 1 below the Soldotna Bridge and a good number of king salmon were taken as a result. Since then, fishing success has remained steady and can be rated as average to good. Our boats have primarily stayed in the lower river within tidal influence and have been averaging between 1-4 nice king salmon per trip. Fishing for kings should only continue to improve over the next two weeks. The first decent pushes of sockeye salmon are just beginning to show and those putting in their time from the bank are taking a some nice red salmon. We have yet to see the really big numbers enter the mouth yet but this should occur any time now.
Cook Inlet Halibut
Halibut fishing in Cook Inlet has been excellent with a fair number of larger fish beginning to come in from the Gulf of Alaska. The average size of the fish has improved and we have seen some very nice catches in the past week along with very favorable tides. Tides are now on the upswing and will be so for the next week so fishing will likely not be as productive for as long during this week long cycle. Good tides return around July 20.
Remote Fisheries: Fly Outs
Big River Lake and Wolverine Creek have definitely started to slow down for sockeye as it seems the majority of this run has already come and gone. We should soon see the first good pushes of silver salmon and there are already some reports of silvers arriving in the Kustatan. We will likely be transitioning over to coho from sockeye this week on our fly out trips and this should only get better and better into the first couple weeks of August.
2011 Fishing Report, June 27
The past week to ten days on the Kenai River has been challenging for those pursuing king salmon as low, clear water and limited numbers of fish have resulted in low success rates. While fishing upriver is usually a very good bet for us at this point in the season, the low clear conditions have made this a poor option. As a result, we have been fishing in the lower, tidally influenced section of the Kenai and this has produced some very nice fish for us in recent days. As this is the historical transition between the early and late run king salmon runs, we do not expect huge numbers of fish to be entering the system at this time but as we approach the first week of July, we should start to see improving numbers as well as some larger, late run kings. Warmer weather and rain in recent days have combined to raise water levels and put a bit of color in the river and these factors can only help the fishing. Only time will tell. For additional details regarding the status of king salmon fishing on the Kenai, please see the following report from Alaska Department of Fish and Game:
The early run of king salmon on the Kasilof has definitely peaked and we are now on the back side of the early run and the front side of seeing the late run arrive in good numbers. Fishing success has slowed some but ample opportunities at both residual kings and newly arriving king salmon still make fishing the Kasilof a good bet. In recent trips, our boats have had decent action for both natural and hatchery kings and with the Kenai being tough, fishing the Kasilof has been a welcome option. This fishery should start to pick up steam each day as the numbers of newly arriving and larger late run fish begin to improve.
Kenai River Trout:
Trout fishing on the Kenai River has been slower than normal, largely due to the low water and clear conditions. This will improve as the we move into July. Even with conditions being a challenge, we have seen some decent action for rainbow trout and dolly varden. Although not the predictable, non-stop action we are accustomed to, we have been able to land 30-60 fish in a full day of fishing.
Remote Fly Outs:
Big River Lake and Wolverine Creek have been consistently producing limits of sockeye salmon. The bear sightings have been relatively light but we are seeing a few black and brown bears occasionally. This run should continue to build in the nest week to ten days before the first silver salmon start to show in mid to late July.
2011 Fishing Report, June 12
Kenai and Kasilof Rivers:
As we enter the seasonal peak for both the Kenai and the Kasilof early run king salmon, both rivers have been producing some nice fish. Of the two, the Kasilof has definitely been the most consistent. The Kenai is seeing good numbers of king salmon entering with each passing tide but low, clear water conditions have made them difficult to catch. That said, our boats have been catching one to three king salmon per trip and we have released fish in excess of fifty pounds that have fallen between the slot limit of 46-55 inches. We do expect catch rates on the Kenai to improve significantly as water levels begin to increase. Both rain, and warm weather resulting in glacial runoff, will improve river conditions. One the Kasilof, the run has been strong and steady for the past week to ten days. A mix of both hatchery and natural kings have been providing consistent action though fishing pressure has increased with the less than stellar water conditions on the Kenai. Fishing on the Kasilof should continue to provide anglers ample action at nice, fresh king salmon for at least another week before the run finally begins to taper off and the first late run king salmon start to show.
2011 Fishing Report, May 31
First and Foremost: A sincere note of gratitude for all in our great country who have severed in honor and allow us to enjoy the finest country in the world. God bless all service men and women across the United States!
Fishing on the both the Kenai and the Kasilof Rivers has been very good so far, especially considering how early in the season it is. For May, both rivers have far exceeded the catch rates of recent years past, and the strong returns seem to be only getting better. The Kasilof river has had a fairly even mix of both hatchery and natural king salmon present and each tide continues to bring more bright king salmon into the river. Fishing success, while not red hot, has been remarkably consistent, with each trip yielding a good number of opportunities. Boats are landing between one and five kings per float and the fish have been big, bright and healthy. This return should only continue to improve as we head into June and historical peak of June 10-20. The water is still super low, and the fish are holed up in the deeper runs making them easier to corral. The Kenai is also very low for this time of the season but like the Kasilof, it is rising daily. Fishing on the Kenai has been very good for May and much of the action has centered around the tides on the lower end of the river. Boats are seeing a good number of bites each trip with some very solid king salmon in the 40-50lb class. A large, wild king salmon of this stature, in low water conditions, can yield a very memorable and exciting battle. This run should also only get better as we move toward the historical peak in mid June.
Salt Water: Deep Creel Marine Fishery:
Both inshore king salmon trolling and deep water halibut fishing have been very good so far this season. Boats putting in their time for kings have seen very consistent success on a mixture of both feeder kings and adult spawners. In comparison to the last few years, king salmon fishing in the salt has been significantly better this year. This is yet one more reason to be cautiously optimistic that we are headed for a robust king salmon year. Only time will tell, but all indications so far are positive. Halibut fishing for good eating size flatfish has been outstanding as well. Our boats are catching upwards of 100+ halibut per trip and essentially hooking fish as soon as the bait hits the inlet floor. Anglers are able to release fish after fish and can easily expect to retain their two fish limit.
2011 Fishing Report, May 22
As we enter the early stages of the 2011 fishing season here on the Kenai Peninsula, the most newsworthy element to report is low water. With temps only climbing into the mid fifties daily and very little snow left in the low country, both the Kenai and the Kasilof are flowing at record low levels. Warmer temperatures will soon begin to melt the glaciers and summer rains will also help to raise the water levels so current conditions are not likely to last very long.
King salmon fishing on both rivers has been slow so far with small pushes of fish entering both systems with each tide. For us the majority of the action has come from the smaller Kasilof which opened to the use of bait on May 16. Each day a handful of opportunities has allowed us to boat at least one nice fish per trip and most of the activity has occurred in relation to the tides. Soon we will begin to see larger numbers of fish entering both rivers daily and fishing success will ramp up accordingly. Our first fish of the season was a beautiful 30 plus pound native king on the Kasilof, a great way to christen the coming summer.
In the salt water off Ninilchik and Deep Creek, trollers have been finding consistent success on king salmon headed our way and the action has been far better than we have seen at this point in the season for a number of years. How this will eventually translate into actual success on the river is yet to be seen but good numbers of king salmon in the marine environment can only be a positive sign. Halibut fishing has also been very good with limit catches of nice eating size flatfish filling fish boxes daily.