Rainbow Trout Fishing
Story & Photos By Nicholas Ohlrich

rainbow trout fishing on the kenai

A classic Kenai firecracker.

Rainbow Trout Fishing: Early Season Rainbows on the Kenai River

11th is a date that rivals Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries for some diehard anglers. This is the day the Kenai River opens to rainbow trout fishing. The Kenai is closed to trout fishing from May 1st – June 10th to allow rainbows to spawn uninterrupted. The stoke level of Kenai trout addicts is high. As trout finish spawning they move off the shallow spawning beds to the deep, main channel where they begin aggressively feeding on migrating smolt, old eggs, and flesh from the winter run of silver salmon. The June trout fishery is one of the most dynamic times of year when multiple patterns and presentations will catch fish. Adding to the complexity, or diversity, water temperatures and levels are the most volatile during this time as spring melt raises the CFS (cubic feet/second) of the river, flushing out the old eggs and carcasses from the winter. This is one of the best times of year to gain an understanding of how trout react to changing water temperatures and levels.

The basics to get the job done.

Food for Thought

How and when spring breakup starts will have a huge impact on the stage of the spawn, food supply, and consequently the population density and location of Kenai ‘bows. Having data about the spring and CFS will answer questions about what could be happening on the river and can help alleviate the urge to scour the river and/or rapidly switch patterns. An early and warm spring typically sees the trout finish spawning earlier, the smolt migrate earlier, and with higher water levels, the remaining food supply from the winter washes out earlier. Much of this can happen before the opener on June 11. If this is the case, fishing will be tough.  A late and cold spring will have the opposite effect, with below average water temperatures.

Alaska rainbows may be quite lethargic, but we could see an uptick in action towards the third week of June as water temperatures and flows increase. An average spring is the most ideal situation, providing ample food to supply a higher population of trout. Once this food source dwindles, the once-robust population of trout disperses back to Skilak Lake or migrates all the way to the Lower Kenai. Most anglers will not discover high concentrations of ‘bows from this time until the fall when they congregate below spawning salmon.

rainbow trout fishing with dogs

Guide dogs love June on the Kenai River.

Rainbow Trout Fishing: Where to Find Them

Focusing your attention on the main channel will expose you to the best of early season rainbow trout fishing: 18- to 24-inch chrome firecrackers. What makes these fish fight so hard during this time of year is beyond me, but the multiple blistering runs and aerial displays get me fired up every time one is hooked. While enjoying these hard charging, mid-sized rainbows, don’t let your guard down as there are some real beasts lurking amongst the crowd of average fish.

Let ‘Em Spawn

Avoid the urge to seek out fish spawning in the shallows. Spawning fish are under a ton of stress and have a much higher mortality rate than non-spawning trout. In addition to their vulnerability, ripping a big ‘bow off its redd is a great way to disrupt that fish from putting its genetics back into the system.  Catching a middle Kenai pig is much more rewarding when you piece together the right pattern, time, and location versus taking advantage of a fish that will hit anything that comes near its redd. 

A fall-fat bow in June! They exist.

Tying it Together

The Middle Kenai in June is a fantastic time to hone your skills on water temperature, CFS, and their effects on trout behavior. The chrome firecrackers will be there to confirm your decision-making process and are sure to put a huge grin on your face. Besides the fishing, soaking in the sun during the ultra-long days, watching Arctic terns dive bomb smolt, seeing and smelling the wild roses, or catching a glimpse of a newly born moose calf all add to the stoke of June on the Kenai.


Nick Ohlrich is co-owner/guide of Alaska Drift Away Fishing, and contributing editor to Fish Alaska magazine. For more info check out his website. Find more articles from our friends at Alaska Drift Away Fishing here.