Kasilof Sockeye: Drift below Tustumena Lake offers solitude and good numbers of sockeye salmon.
Changes in our king salmon fisheries have led us to further diversify and look for additional and exciting new fishing trips. One of these is the float from Tustumena Lake on the Kasilof River down to the Sterling Highway Bridge.
Sockeye salmon migration patterns on the Kasilof differ greatly than those of the king salmon. For one, they arrive in greater numbers and they move upriver at a far greater pace. Whereas the majority of the early run king salmon are only going as far as Crooked Creek (which is just above tide water), early run Kasilof Sockeye are headed for Tustumena Lake, the largest lake on the Kenai Peninsula, and then onto one of several smaller tributaries beyond that. They move through the river in waves as tide after tide brings new packs of fish pulsing in from Cook Inlet.
This rhythmic succession is very consistent from mid-June through late July. The objective in a successful day of sockeye fishing is to position yourself in good shoreline drifting water and fish hard, hoping a strong push of tide bright fish pass by just in front of you. Hopefully it will be long enough for you to have a ton of fun, and also put a limit on the bank. If you pick the right spots and the right times, this is an almost daily occurrence on the upper Kasilof.
The float also offers a very remote feel as it departs the slackwater section of the river just below the lake. The slow current makes a small outboard motor a handy tool for pushing the drift boat for several miles through the frog water and on to the fishing locations. Once the current picks up, we can put the motor away and grab the oars as the river makes a nice drop in elevation. There are a few mild sections of white water, along with some huge rock infested riffles that cascade through large undeveloped swaths of boreal forest.
Soon the float will encounter a few remote cabins and then eventually civilization with upscale homes, ranches and lodges. We have a number of favorite stops to intercept the sockeye and most are shallow gravel bars on inside corners where the sockeye seek a break from the Kasilof’s strong flows. While not quite as large on average as Kenai Sockeye, the Kasilof still produces some very beautiful sockeye salmon and they are awesome fighters.
I have many great memories from the past several seasons floating down this section of the Kasilof. It is simply a very peaceful and tranquil trip in the drift boat and typically a very successful fishing adventure. The incredible scenery coupled with fast and furious fishing action is easily becoming one of my favorite early season trips and one I highly recommend. Anytime between June 5 and July 10 is ideal for this float.
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