Here’s a fisherman’s frustration. Just as the weather turns warm, and you get the fishing bug, you realize it’s still not time to fish, at least on a river. Unless you’re a little desperate. Spring fishing in Alaska can be fun and productive.

Early Spring Frustration

The day before the Kenai closed for rainbow spawning season, I got a chance to take a run down to the river for a half day. Here’s my life’s experience on the Kenai before the trout closure. A February run in the freezing cold. Nothing. A walk in from Skilak Lake on a warm March day. Nothing. Maybe one other folly. I can’t remember.

On this day some folks reported catching trout at dusk, on the Kenai — on stonefly nymphs! In fact there was a good stonefly hatch going on all day. But we were fishing in bright mid-day sun.

Which meant I’d use…. huge leeches. Why not?

After a few hours in glacial Kenai Adam and I were freezing.

With no success for the first three hours, I thought, different year, same results, and thought about giving up.

“You want to leave!?” Adam asked as politely as someone who was about to start a new job, desperately counting his last days of freedom.

So I warmed up for a half hour, watched six people near us catch nothing, and switched to a green and black articulated Dalai Lama, for no good reason that I can remember.

I walked back down to the river when three of the six fishermen were calling it quits. I should have thought, they’ve spent a combined nine hours catching nothing. Instead I thought, “Great, open water!”

Adam hadn’t taken a break, and wasn’t going to.

I walked up to a shallow section at the Kenai-Russian River confluence to swing the Dalai Lama into a pool. Nothing.

I took two steps downstream, did the same thing, and got nothing on the swing. I let it hang. Then I felt a heavy tug.

The tug then became a run. Maybe a 20-inch rainbow? If I was going to lose my first spring Kenai fish it wasn’t going to be for being lazy. I followed it downstream and kept pressure on it towards the bank. Every time I brought it close it ran and ripped off line.

It jumped once, and wasn’t 20-inches. Maybe 23, I thought.

Adam and I finally landed and taped it.

Good and bad news. It was a healthy looking 25-inch rainbow. But I don’t think you want your first rainbow of the year to be 25-inches. Just saying. It’s like those days you get a fish in your first few casts and then nothing the rest of the day.

After another hour and two smaller fish we called it quits. I’ll know by November whether it was smart catching a 25-inch rainbow my first day out. I’m a little nervous.


As a member of the Alaska State Legislature, Les Gara has worked on a variety of issues, including public fishing stream access. He’s been fly-fishing Alaska since 1989 and writing on fishing for over a decade.