What Dollies on the Middle Kenai River Tell Us
Blog by Nick Ohlrich, Alaska Drift Away Fishing
Dolly Varden are found in most of the Kenai Peninsula’s lakes and rivers, and throughout Alaska. Their fall spawning colors are absolutely incredible, offering a visual treat that any angler can appreciate. At the bottom of the river, dollies and rainbows cohabitate and feed on the same food sources. That’s the reason anglers often catch both while targeting rainbow trout. Above the water your indicator (bobber) tells you what is happening below but catching more dollies than trout can indicate other points to ponder.
One thing I’ve noticed on the middle Kenai River is what dollies tell us about trout behavior. If you are fishing the middle Kenai and the majority of what you’re catching are dollies and small rainbows there is probably a reason for it. It could be weather/water related, time of day, fishing pressure, or your pattern/presentation.
Although aggressive and less particular on what they are willing to bite, dollies seem to feed when the trout are not; well, mostly. Often, morning bites during the fall are comprised of small ‘bows and dollies. Later, the bite transitions into medium ‘bows and fewer dollies. Later yet, the big rainbows begin to feed with fewer dollies caught. I love this pattern as it gives anglers the ability to hone their skill set, catch fish, and be ready to handle a big ‘bow once they start feeding.
If I’ve been fishing salmon for a few days and am getting back into the trout game, the number of dollies I am catching quickly helps me sight-in my patterns, especially during peak bite times when I know the fish I want to tangle with are feeding. Remember, dollies are not as picky as trout, especially big trout. So, if the water and weather are stable, you are fishing during a peak bite, and small ‘bows and dollies are what you are catching, there are three possibilities.
The first is there is something wrong with what you are using, which could be pattern, set-up, or both. Second, are you surrounded by boats? If so, odds are you and your comrades are all only catching small ‘bows and dollies due to the pressure. Big ‘bows are there but don’t feel the need to feed with all the commotion above them. Lastly, your location or drift line could use some reconsideration.
Years ago, when the Kenai River had more king salmon, a great indicator for the king spawn/trout bite to take off was a few days of crushing nice-sized dollies in the 22- to 26-inch range. As the spawn became more consistent you would catch fewer dollies, with mostly ‘bows being caught some days. Some people speculate a large portion of the middle-river dolly population moved to the bottom portion of the upper-river canyon, as the decline of king spawn in the middle river and appearance of more dollies in the canyon during that time overlapped.
As always, looking for reasons why you are or are not catching, and finding informational pieces to put together to gain a wholistic view of the problem, will put bigger fish in your net and increase the frequency of those adrenaline-pumping encounters.