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On the cheap...
Posted by Michael Strahan on May 17 2005
Welcome to Alaska! You're in for a good time here.
Sounds like you're already aware of the combat fishing situation on the Kenai Peninsula, so I won't bore you with the details of that. Personally, I don't mind jumping in with the other folks to fish for reds, etc. It's fun to watch people when you don't have a fish on, anyway!
If you can scrape together enough cash, I suggest you consider hiring a guide for a half-day trip on the lower river. The Kenai River boots out some HUGE king (chinook) salmon, and it would be a shame to miss out on that. I prefer the morning time slot, because the fish have had a chance to rest all night and they seem to be more receptive in the morning hours.
As far as reds (sockeye), most of us who live here consider them to be the best eating of all Alaska salmon. The fillets are the perfect size for barbecue, and they're delicious. You don't have to spend a lot of money on tackle either. All you need is a rod with plenty of backbone, a spinning reel loaded with 20-25-lb. line, some coho flies, split shot, a hook file, polarized sunglasses, hip waders and possibly a net. I like split shot because I can fine-tune my weight to meet the conditions (which change as you move from one spot to another along the bank). The keys to successful sockeye fishing are needle-sharp hooks (sharpen all your hooks until the point digs into your thumbnail when you drag it across) and keeping your line just at the bottom. Ideally, you should be pulling your line in a gentle arc, and should feel your sinker ticking along the bottom. This is where the fish are. By the way, reds run fairly close to the bank, so you really don't need to wade way out into the river. They're often only ten feet or so in front of you. Be sure to wear polarized sunglasses! You can tell if the glasses are polarized or not by taking two pairs of them and putting them together lens to lens. Rotate one pair 90-degrees to the other and if the lenses turn dark (as you look through both lenses), the glasses are polarized. If they don't turn dark, they're not polarized. Polarized glasses cut the surface glare and allow you to see fish beneath the surface. They also protect your eyes from wayward hooks and sinkers; a very important consideration. It's not uncommon for a fish to come unbuttoned close to shore, and if you have a lot of pressure on the fish, your sinkers can fly toward your head like a bullet. Be careful!
Coho flies are the standard terminal rig for red fishing. If you don't know what a coho fly looks like, a photo can be found at this link: < http://www.lynxcrossing.com/resources.html >. Look toward the bottom of the page. You can find coho flies at Walmart or Carr's grocery stores in Anchorage (along with the rest of the gear). The flies run 3 for a buck or so. You will want four or five dozen flies and at least half a dozen packs of re-usable split shot in the large size.
You need heavy line for reds because you're fishing in a combat zone. You're not going to have a lot of time to play with the fish in that situation. In fact, if you let the fish run, you'll just make everyone mad because they have to reel in while you're messing around. Use heavy line and get that fish on the bank ASAP! You'll probably want to pick up a fish bonker of some kind (I use a hammer handle). Most folks fillet their fish right at the river, so you will want a good fillet knife and some plastic bags. Most of us use a small backpack for our stuff.
If you fish the Kenai-Russian River confluence (and I suggest you do), you will probably take the Russian River ferry. It costs money (I can't remember how much, but it's under $10 round trip). The ferry stops running at 11pm, so unless you plan on spending the night on the other side of the river, you need to be on that ferry by 11! Some folks opt to spend the night and it can be very productive. There are less people, and the dim light makes the fish less reactive, in my view. If you go that route, bring a small plastic tarp, rain gear and possibly a sleeping bag. Brown bears commonly use this area, by the way, so be alert. They can show up anywhere any time, but seem to prefer the later hours. I wouldn't be barbecuing any steaks over there. There will be people fishing there all night (it doesn't really get totally dark at that time of the year, by the way).
Bring spare line. Otherwise, if you get spooled, you're done fishing.
I don't know what your lodging plans are for your stay, but if you haven't made plans for Anchorage yet, you might consider Tracey and Kim Harmon's "Lynx Crossing" bed and breakfast. <http://www.lynxcrossing.com >. They're right next to the airport. Tracy and Kim are fishing fools (and Tracey is a bona-fide Okie), and they would be happy to provide more detailed fishing tips for you. They're really set up to cater to fishermen, and they have a freezer for your fish, and can set you up to package it all for shipping. You may want to call them.
Best of luck!
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