Early-Season Fishing on the Kenai Peninsula

Story & Photos by Nick Olrich

Early-season fishing on the Kenai Penninsula offers a variety of options for anglers that are itching to get the open-water season underway. The top three options that come to mind are trolling for spring kings on Cook Inlet, first-run kings on the Kasilof and trout on the Kenai. I’m not going to put in my two cents on trolling the salt for kings as I have very little knowledge on the subject, but it is a great fishery and worth looking into if fresh king salmon strikes you as a good idea. 

One of the biggest challenges facing early-season anglers is keeping the regulations straight, and this year new regulations are being implemented on many water systems, including the Kenai and Kasilof.

Kasilof River
Early-season on the Kasilof is one of my happy places. In recent years, single-hook and artificial bait have been the standard for targeting first-run kings. I absolutely love this regulation, as it reduced the fishing pressure and increased the success rate. Anglers looking for success should run K-13 Kwikfish, small Spin ’n Glos and Cheaters. Chrome, pink, chartreuse and orange seem to produce the best results. Bank anglers do extremely well with the “sockeye swing,” adding colored Cheaters and beads above the hook for an attractant.

Steelhead on the Kasilof were a pretty well-kept secret until recent years when unhealthy amounts of anglers began targeting the Crooked Creek area. Fish and Game reacted quickly to protect this small run of native fish. This year targeting steelhead on any Tustumena drainage, upper Kasilof and lower Kasilof River is prohibited from May 1 through June 10.

Kenai River First-Run Kings
The first run on the Kenai has been pretty quiet, with closures protecting the king run in recent years. Last year saw a better return of kings to the river, convincing lawmakers to open the river to catch and release, then to retention. This year, new regulations will be affecting the first run of kings on the Kenai and you may want to sit down for this one: From January 1 through June 30, downstream of Skilak Lake, king salmon 36 inches or less may be retained. I highly encourage those that wish to target kings on the Kenai to keep a close eye on the emergency orders that ADF&G puts out during the season, as the regulations will change as the run progresses or declines.

Kenai River Rainbows
As of now I haven’t heard of any changes affecting the trout. Remember that the Kenai closes to trout fishing from May 1 through June 10 (to protect spawning trout) and keep in mind that this rule does not pertain to the entire Kenai system, so study up before you head out.

April on the Kenai can be pretty awesome trout fishing. Beads, flesh flies, streamers and nymphs will all catch trout during this time. Rainbows are actively eating as much as they can to strengthen up before spawning. I recommend targeting the main channel of the river; this is where you will find the highest concentration of food and non-spawning fish. Not all trout spawn every year so it is important to leave the spawners alone so they can replenish the Kenai with more pink-sided beasts in the future.

If you do stumble into a dark fish (spawner), be extra careful, keep the fish in the water and release them quickly as possible; these guys are under a ton of stress and have a high mortality rate during this time.

Tying it Together
Whether you find yourself trolling the salt for kings, scouring the river for a powerful takedown, or swinging a streamer to feel the hit of a lifetime, be sure to check regulations before heading out to your favorite early-season spot and enjoy the short but awesome spring fishery. I hope everyone has a wonderful and productive spring this year!

Nick Ohlrich is co-owner/guide for Alaska Drift Away Fishing. For more info check out their website at www.guidekenairiver.com or contact them at info@guidekenairiver.com or 1-877-999-8677.