Kasilof River Fishing
Story and photos by Nick Ohlrich
Are you looking to find an alternative to the shoulder-to-shoulder “combat fishing” found on the Russian and Kenai Rivers in June and July? The Kasilof River could be a sweet reprieve for those looking to avoid the madness of the Kenai. Red (sockeye) salmon start entering the Kasilof River in late May, slowly building throughout June, peaking in July. While reds are present in late May, consistently catching doesn’t happen until about the third week of June. Depending on water conditions and whether the run is early, late, or on time, week three can still be inconsistent. As June fades into July, the Kasilof becomes more catching than fishing. Annual returns range from 500,000 to 1.7 million sockeyes, averaging 958,000. Per ADF&G..
The Kasilof red run began as a hatchery program in the 1970s, but hatchery production ended in 2004. Since then, the reds have become a naturally reproducing species, rearing in Tustumena Lake. Although smaller than their cousins on the Kenai, in my opinion, the thinner fillets cook more consistently.
Chrome limit of Kasilof reds.
Kasilof River Access
The Kasilof offers good public access for anglers who do not own a boat. Crooked Creek Campground provides easy access to the People Hole—a half-mile section of good water. As the name suggests, you will not be alone. Like on the Kenai, anglers are lined up along the bank “flossing” reds. However, the scene at the People Hole is less busy than popular places on the Kenai. Upriver of the Sterling Highway bridge, bank anglers can find some good water to fish as well, with fewer people.
For those with access to a boat, floating down from the Tustumena launch offers access to several gravel bars. But, with the recent closures for native-run kings on the Kenai, space in this section can get limited due to the increase of guides looking to put their clients on Kasilof reds as an alternative to Kenai kings. Floating down from the Sterling Highway bridge also reveals numerous gravel bars. Expect guides to be utilizing this portion as well. Once reds start entering the Kenai in July, many guides leave the Kasilof and free up bank space.
My setup for “flossing” is the same on the Kasilof and the Kenai. I prefer a 9-foot fly rod with 40-pound fluorocarbon main line connected to a barrel swivel. Sliding free on the main line is another barrel swivel, sandwiched between two 8 mm beads. The top bead prevents the swivel from getting reeled into the eyelet of the rod, while the bottom bead prevents the two swivels getting tangled.
The free-sliding swivel is where I attach pencil lead with a snap. For a leader, I attach 5-feet of 25-pound fluorocarbon to a 2/0 hook, which is tied on with a bait-loop knot. Depending on the type of water I am fishing I will slide a chartreuse, 8 mm bead onto the leader, or place a short length of chartreuse yarn in the bait loop. In most situations, I prefer the bead, but when fishing in deep water or slower water I like the yarn as it gives the hook a little more lift.
Arrow “A” is your main line, 40-pound-test with beads sandwiching a free-sliding swivel, attached to pencil lead. Arrow “B” is your 5-foot, 25-pound-test leader, with a free sliding bead above a 2/0 hook.
Avoid Trout when Flossing
Please avoid using orange, red, or pink beads, or yarn of those same colors, as it can appear to be food for trout. Trout are in in the mix with reds feeding on scraps from filleted fish. Impaling a large hook into a trout can not only disfigure them for life, but can also cause mortal hooking wounds. We lose a sizeable number of trophy rainbows every year on the Kenai during the red season because of this. While the Kasilof is not known for trout, they do exist and live in areas where reds are caught and filleted.
The Kasilof will always remain a special place for me because it kicks off my guiding season each year and offers relatively peaceful fishing before I move my operation over to the Kenai. For anglers interested in great sockeye fishing in June and July with fewer crowds, I encourage them to take the extra fifteen-minute drive past Soldotna to the often-forgotten gem surviving in the shadow of the famous Kenai River: The Kasilof.
Nick Ohlrich is co-owner/guide of Alaska Drift Away Fishing and contributing editor at Fish Alaska magazine. For more info, Nick can be reached at guidekenairiver.com.