Some places in Alaska transcend the descriptors that those well-versed in conveying the state's grandeur all too frequently employ. Superlatives like magnificent, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring can only go so far to describe a place of epic beauty and purity. One of those such places is Crescent Lake on the Kenai Peninsula.
Tucked in the Kenai Mountains and Chugach National Forest, its gin-clear water sits at about 2,000 feet above sea-level, roughly five miles north and east of Kenai Lake and about the same distance south from the split of the Seward and Sterling highways. What draws anglers is the lake's robust population of Arctic grayling.
We are hosted by Ingram's Base Camp in Cooper Landing on the eve of opening day on Crescent Lake. Steve and Diane Ingram's place sits a few hundred yards downstream on Kenai River from the outlet of Kenai Lake. The Noorduyn Norsman that transported us to Crescent Lake can be seen sitting on floats in the river, stationed in front of Ingram's. Accompanying us to the lake was Shane, a visiting angler from Phoenix, and Ingram's Base Camp guides Ryan and Eric.
Ingram's provides a staging point for travelers to the Kenai Peninsula. In addition to this unique trip to Crescent lake, they provide lodging, guided fishing, float trips, flightseeing and an air taxi service. The property boasts a main lodge and ten cabins and can therefore host quite a large party. Check them out at www.ingramsbasecamp.com or by calling 866-595-1213 or locally at 907-595-1213.
Our flight is short and within 15 minutes of departure, we are circling the long and narrow lake, aptly named for its shape. The water is so clear that you can make out sub-surface structure from the air. Upon landing, the guides retrieve a small boat and we use this to ferry anglers to various productive points around the shoreline. Before we have left the landing area, Shane and I each catch a grayling on small dry flies. I'm using a #16 Royal Coachman.
The lake is absolutely packed with fish, and they are regularly dimpling the surface. An average fish is about 14 inches, with bigger specimens ranging to 18. Their blue-green iridescent bodies and dark, shimmering spots speak volumes about the water quality. Dorsal fins of bigger fish are heavy enough to droop to one side of the body.
Gradually, I hike my way along the shore, casting to rising fish. Switching to a #8 green Woolly Bugger, yields an immediate increase in action. The fish sometimes hit it when it strikes the water, get a bit more frisky when it begins to drop and turn downright carnivorous during the strip. Having fish hit a moving fly is my favorite hook-up, so I stick with this presentation for the rest of the day. I start to count fish caught on this fly and end after about three hours of casting and 50 landed grayling. Melissa keeps pace with an ultralight spinning rod and a 1/8 oz. Panther Martin spinner. Best estimates at fish tally for the five of us in a five-hour window is 200.
We had the lake all to ourselves that day, which added a greater touch of wilderness experience so close to the road system. This type of day-trip is a great way to experience a different kind of fish and fishing, sandwiched into the schedule between salmon and halibut. It's also good for children and novice anglers who need a lot of action to hold their interest. Finally, it's good for the die-hard fisherman to take the time to appreciate the grandeur of a pristine, high-mountain lake, and the willingness of an Arctic grayling to attack almost anything thrown its way.