For as many Septembers as I can think back, I’ve gone fall rainbow fishing with Alaska Drift Away Fishing on the Kenai River in search of Walter, their nickname for an elusive, giant, 30-plus-inch Kenai trout. It is some of the most fun you can have.
Whenever I get to fish with guides and co-owners Nigel Fox, Jeremy Anderson, or Nick Ohlrich, I always have a great day and fish hard. Normally I stay in our motorhome at Bing’s Landing late in September when my husband comes back from moose hunting, but this year I went early while Wayne was still out hunting. Pudge Kleinkauf joined me for two days of fishing on September 8th and 9th. Since our motorhome was in use on the annual trek north in search of moose meat, I was in charge of finding lodging for Pudge and me.
Right away I thought of the perfect location, the King Salmondeaux Lodge, on Johnsons Drive in Soldotna. Their riverside cabins would be ideal for Pudge and me for two nights and two days of fall rainbow fishing. I placed a call to their manager Leslie Cottrell, who is lovely to work with and eager to help guests. A quick Ravn flight and car rental at the Kenai airport makes for an easy trip for two Anchorage-based anglers.
We were delighted when we arrived at King Salmondeaux Lodge and saw the cabin was really clean and nice. There is a full bedroom on the first floor, which was perfect for Pudge, and a loft upstairs that I elected to occupy. The cabin sleeps a total of eight but we had it to ourselves with ample room. I played “Goldilocks” and tested all three of the queen-size beds in the loft until I chose the one in the middle under the window that was just right. After a comfortable night’s sleep, we were up early, ready to fish.
The morning started off a foggy one, not uncommon this time of year. We drove to Izaak Walton State Park to meet Nigel at the boat launch. He idled up to the launch in his impeccable Willie boat. As he waited for us to wader up, Nigel rigged a couple 8-weight G•Loomis IMX PRO fly rods with his starting bead choice. That’s one of the things we like most about fishing with Alaska Drift Away Fishing. They take their egg imitation seriously! Three expert guides work as a team to know where the trout have migrated, to stay on top of changing conditions from water temperature to river volume, and to know what food sources are available. These guys spend day after day on the water in their respective boats with clients and know this river at any given time. You could certainly go fall rainbow fishing on the Kenai yourself, but if you aren’t on the water daily, there is a major learning curve trying different bead or fly colors and sizes, as well as locations, before finding the right combination.
Early on, Pudge nabbed the first trout. She easily brought a healthy, 20-inch trout to Nigel’s extended net and he made quick work of a photo op and smooth release. I still love to watch Pudge fish. It’s awesome to me that after catching SO many fish for SO long she is still enamored with the activity and the fish themselves. The look of sheer delight on her face is real.
After a great day of fishing, Pudge and I headed back to King Salmondeaux Lodge to get cleaned up for dinner. We caught up with Leslie who gave me a tour of the property. It was then I realized their set-up is really ideal for almost anyone. While it’s easy to access their location right on the river, the property is secluded enough to give the feeling of privacy. Lodging consists of five riverside cabins that each sleep up to eight guests. Also on the riverfront, there are two deluxe cabins that feature four private bedrooms and two baths, a gourmet kitchen, and a living/dining area. Additionally, there are four roadside cabins that are efficient for small groups and individuals. Guests can book as little or as much space as they need—even the whole property for a wedding, event, or company trip. They have a list of amenities including Wi-Fi and Dish TV. Even better is a large pavilion equipped with barbecues, sinks, and smoker. There is a nice area to enjoy a nightly campfire, but most importantly they have 700 feet of Kenai River frontage where anglers can catch sockeye in the heat of the season. Centrally located on the south end of Soldotna, trips to Homer, Deep Creek, and Seward are all within reach, and so is easy access to fly-out fishing. Leslie can help you book various river and ocean excursions.
The next day we got to fish with Nick from Alaska Drift Away. Nick is quite a character and he kept me laughing all day. We also enjoyed the company of their friend Jeff who owns a fly shop in Virginia. The three of us fished hard, looking for Walter. We didn’t find any mega trout that day, but we all hooked and boated plenty of healthy rainbows. We know they are there, though, which means we are already planning dates for next year.
Whether you are looking for a place to staycation in the fall or in the heat of the salmon season, King Salmondeaux Lodge is the perfect location to base from. Their sister property, Kenai River Suites, is also an option to consider. Leslie can help you figure out what’s best for your trip. Contact her at 907-260-3474 to book your cabin or visit kingsalmondeauxlodge.com. You can also stop by and say hi at their booth at the Great Alaska Sportsman Show.
Melissa Norris is Publisher of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines. She feels privileged and grateful for all the amazing trips she and her family have gotten to enjoy around Alaska.
This blog originally appeared as part of the Alaska Traveler column in the April 2019 issue of Fish Alaska.