Fall fishing on the Kenai Peninsula is an exciting challenge for anglers. The fall brings a chill to the air, but there are still trophy size fish looking for a bite.
Late September through November can offer some spectacular fishing with plenty of opportunities to tangle with true legends. While the potential is there, this time of year is not for the fainthearted. Cold, wind, and rain, sometimes all at once, can make you earn your drift and every fish.
Fish Behavior Changes with the Weather
As the red salmon run—on even years reds and pinks—winds down, usually around the third week of September, rainbows begin transitioning from staging behind spawning salmon to areas food will funnel into. However, trout love fresh eggs and will seek out active spawning beds, making this time of year tricky to nail down wandering ‘bows.
Late-fall mornings can be frigid.
Entering week four, trout start getting into their fall routine. Anglers will notice a decrease in numbers of fish hooked and typically a reduction of girth, lower water, and not a ton of food, which makes trout grumpy. It only takes a few days of heavy feeding for trout to noticeably gain weight, and the same is true for losing it as food sources dwindle. The fourth week of September into early October is generally tough fishing as bites fluctuate and are inconsistent. This time of year will test anglers’ patience and tenacity; however, large fish can be hooked.
Pack a Variety of Bait
Mid-October is when late-run silvers start spawning and they will continue to intermittently spawn throughout winter. This spawn offers a much-needed food source for the ‘bows that will spend the winter in the Kenai. With a slow trickle of spawning fish, anglers should bring all the patterns as a plethora of fresh eggs, old eggs, and flesh will provide hungry ‘bows plenty of options from which to choose.
From mid-September on, water levels can fluctuate quite a bit, whether from an ice-dam failure or cold temperatures and lack of rain. Ice-dam failures from Skilak Glacier and Snowy Glacier are great at quickly raising water levels, dropping water temperatures, removing food, and really angering rainbow trout. Snowy Glacier does not have a huge impact on the middle river. When an ice dam there breaches, the water will rise, get colder, and make trout a bit grumpy. This event usually heals quickly and reduces the bite slightly for a few days or so.
Ice-Dam Failures Change Factors
However, when a Skilak Glacier ice dam goes, no one is stoked about it. At the beginning, water temperatures and levels drop slightly and often get food from dead water to flush, creating a nice bite. Shortly after, water levels dramatically increase while water temperature plummets. Trout move due to water and food change (trout hate changes) and become very hard to catch. This event can last a week or more from start to finish.
On the other side of the coin, CFS (Cubic Feet per Second) levels can rapidly drop if the ice dams are solid and rainfall is moderate to light. Cold air temperatures are great for dropping water levels. Low water consolidates trout, food, and angling pressure. The first few times the water level drops, and with that the water temperature, trout seem to be fired up and go on a feeding rampage. This is one of the rare occasions where a decrease in water temperature motivates trout to feed. Many anglers love low water conditions on the middle Kenai as it turns this section of water into a bank fishermen’s dream. Many nooks and crannies can be explored in search of Walter.
Fly Patterns & Presentations
Fall offers a variety of presentations and patterns. Bring all the weapons with you.
Much like June, late fall offers anglers a variety of patterns and presentations. Egg patterns, flesh flies, and streamers are all possible and depending on the conditions, all three will work equally well. Low water is great for swinging streamers and flesh from the bank where anglers can work fish deep to shallow. Feeling a big ‘bow grab a fly on the swing never gets old.
Folks running props need to check water levels and understand how much draft their boat has. The bar upriver of Bings Landing can get too low to cross as well as the gravel bar in Thompson’s. Late fall, depending on water level, is best fished with a small boat with an outboard jet, or launching a drift boat at Skilak Lake.
Late fall on the middle Kenai is simply an adventure. Bring layers, a heater, and all the patterns as conditions and bite behavior are constantly changing. Working through water, patterns, and bite fluctuations can reward you with the fish of a lifetime.
Nick Ohlrich is co-owner/guide at Alaska Drift Away Fishing and contributing editor at Fish Alaska magazine. For more information contact us at guidekenairiver.com.
Looking for more fall fishing reading? Check out Fish Alaska’s blog archive.