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Alaska waterways

Kakhonak River

Kakhonak River Float Survey
August 3-7, 197

By - Richard Russell

August 3 - Bill Adint and I left King Salmon at 1145 for Moose Lake (Kakhonak River drainage) in Peninsula Airways Widgeon (pilot Georgie Tibbetts). Arrived at 1245 hours. Weather C.A.V.U. Landed on Moose Lake about one mile up lake from the outlet.

While readying our gear and inflating the raft, we noticed a small salmonid (about 250 mm in length) cruising the shoreline. During our trip down lake to the outlet, we tried casting lures from the raft and caught 2 small lake trout (400 mm and 410 mm). We had several other strikes but didn't get them. in. The lake outlet area has some rocky shoals and big boulders right adjacent to some deep drop-offs and we had a number of strikes from among these bou1ders. We also observed round whitefish in the outlet pools. We killed both lake trout. One was an immature female and the other was a male that would have spawned this fall. Both had 2 sculpins in their stomachs... and one also had a grayling fry.

The lake outlet was approximately 85 feet wide. The river bottom was large rubble. The water was clear. Flow was 2-3 f.p.s. Maximum river depth was 12-15 feet. Big boulders were present in the river and had to be dodged around as we floated down. Water temp. was 54F at 1400 hours.

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We fished the first two holes below the outlet and caught 2 grayling and one rainbow trout. Several lake trout were hooked but not landed. The grayling measured 323 and 348 mm in length respectively while the rainbow was 281 mm. Several smaller rainbows were observed in the lower pool. A sizeable creek
enters the river about 1/2 mile downstream of the Moose Lake outlet. We stopped and electroshocked portions of the lower 50 yards of this creek just above its confluence with the main river. We captured one round whitefish (258 mm),8 rainbow trout fry (27-30 mm in length) ,and several sculpins. Several larger round whitefish were observed but not captured with our Type V-Smith-Root, backpack electrofisher, (12 V. D.C.). The creek was clear flowing about 25-30 feet wide, with a current of 3 f.p.s. The bottom was small rocks and cobbles. Pools to 4 feet in depth were noted.

Below the confluence of the creek, the main river began to drop rapidly in elevation over about a mile in distance. Lots of little drops 3-5 feet were negotiated by lining the raft down them. We took some splash water on several of these but managed our descent without too much difficulty. Lots of big boulders (piano size) in the river had to be avoided and white water and associated hydraulics made the afternoon interesting.

We camped at 1930 hours about 1 1/2 miles downstream of Moose Lake. Had the 2 lake trout for dinner. We tried fishing in the rapids near camp. I hooked and lost 2 small rainbow trout and one lake trout in a half hour of fishing.

Saw ravens, harlequin ducks, and water oozles along river today. Just below Moose Lake we noticed fresh man tracks in the sand along the river in a couple of places ...probably an angler. Also saw bear tracks and weasel tracks.

August 4 - Began floating at 0930 hours. Weather was C.A.V.U. Water temp. was 53F.

We floated down through a stretch about 1/2 mile long of peaceful smooth flowing water. The water depths of the holes in this stretch exceeded 15 feet in places. A few round whitefish were observed and one 251 mm grayling was caught. One osprey, mew gulls, gray jays, and spotted sandpipers were noted.

Below this stretch the river again becomes rocky and rather turbulent for about 1/2 mile. During our descent through this second rapids area we got caught crosswise between a small drop and a large rock and quickly took enough water over the side of the raft to swamp us. A plastic bucket, that contained our electroshocker cathodes and our rubber gloves, floated out of the raft and these items were lost. Our spinning rods (which were loose in the raft) also some how went over the side, but Bill stripped and retrieved them. We spent about an hour bailing, retrieving items, and getting re-packed for the resumption of our descent. We reached Kakhanok Lake at 1200 hours.

The outlet of this interconnecting river is deep. The bottom drops away to deep blue water within just a short distance. As we wanted to get a goodly distance down the lake today and due to our aforementioned delays, we didn't fish the outlet of the inter-connecting river...but headed down the lake instead. The lake bottom comes right back up a short ways down lake. We took .the left channel around the large island just below the mouth and a half hour later arrived at what appears to have been an old geologist's camp on the point (east side) just before the lake widens out. The area is marked by an old storage rack or lean-to on the point and several rusting 50-gallon fuel drums nearby. We landed and investigated further and found probably 20-25 old sheets of plywood, what appears to have been a cabin foundation, miscellaneous cans and garbage, and a pile of treated 4" x 4" x 5' square red wooden pilings. There were also the remains of an Avon raft deteriorating on the beach. As the drums had to have been hauled in by helicopter or a large amphibious plane, and as I found ore samples in the area, I surmise it was a base camp for geologic investigations. It was a nice spot for a camp. Someone had been there recently poking around.

We paddled down lake for 1 1/2 hours and arrived at a small creek entering the lake from the SE about 3 miles west of the interconnecting river (with Moose Lake). This would be t he 6th small creek down the lake from its NE end as shown on the 1:63,360 Iliamn a C-3, Alaska geologic survey quadrangle. We had lunch at this creek. We noticed small fish working the surface waters just inside the stream mouth but were unable to capture them. One appeared to be a grayling while the others were probably lake trout. We walked up the creek about 300-400 yards and fished a couple more holes. The waters were very clear and water depths didn't exceed 4 feet ...but no more fish were observed. The creek gets rocky (large boulders) just above where we stopped. Stream width was 15-20 feet and flow was an estimated 2 f.p.s. The lower 114-mile had some gravel suitable for sockeye spawning.

We left this small stream and paddled across Kakhonak Lake. The upper lake area is separated by 2 islands from the lower lake area at this point. The 3 channels between the islands and the mainland are in reality small sections of rapids where the lake elevation drops 4-6 feet over distances of 50-75 feet.

During slightly higher lake levels these rapids would be inundated. We went through the northernmost channel. Bill fished for a few minutes at the outlet of this channel, but had no success. Thc bottom drops off immediately below the rapids and I doubt if he was getting his lure down deep enough with the current being as strong as it was. Several shallow weedy inlets near this area appeared to be ideal pike habitat.

Another 1 1/2 hours of paddling brought us to the small creek entering the lake at T. 8 S., R. 29 W., Section 14 (Iliamna B-4 quadrangle). Enroute to this creek an easterly wind (10-15 m.p.h.) arose so we tried trolling lures for a while. The wind pushed us along at an appropriate speed, but no strikes occurred. We beached the raft on a sandy spit near the creek outlet and walked up the creek for about 3/4 mile. Near where we beached the raft we found several tin cans and an old campsite where either some fishermen or floaters had spent some time.

The small creek (20-30 feet wide) had a sandy bottom and slow flow (1 f.p.s.) for the 400 yards above the lake. Above that the bottom was mostly boulders with intermittent gravel patches. A little sockeye spawning and rainbow trout spawning could occur in the stream. We caught a couple of small grayling and observed round whitefish and juvenile rainbow trout in the creek. We saw one frog, a family of spruce grouse (young flying now), semi-palmated plover, terns, sand pipers, an osprey, bear tracks and otter tracks along this creek. We also observed fresh beaver cuttings. The rocks on the creek bottom were heavily covered with algae. Volcanic ash was still evident on exposed rocks and amidst the bank vegetation. Caddis fly larvae, and emergent mayflies were abundant.

At 1815 hours we left the above creek and continued down lake with a brisk tail wind pushing us along. No sizeable inlet tributaries were observed along the south shore of the lake until 2115 hours when we reached the creek at T. 8 S., R. 30 W., Section 25 (Iliamna B-4 Quadrangle). The lake throughout this stretch appeared to be quite deep. We didn't fish due to the lateness of the hour and the wind. We saw one porcupine, a few diving ducks, and an active osprey nest with one adult in attendance (nest in the top of a tall spruce tree) along this shore. The shoreline was fairly densely vegetated with spruce and birch. It was also quite rocky.

We camped at the outlet of the creek in Section 25. Saw a rough-legged hawk on a bluff just up lake from our campsite. The weather turned calm as we were making camp and the no-see-ums really came forth.

August 5 - Awoke at 0530 hours when a cow moose walked by within a few yards of camp. Later this morning saw a varying hare just behind camp.

The little creek was partially dammed off in places near the outlet with fresh beaver cuttings. It was a very small creek with a muddy bottom. Flow was about 1 f.p.s. Saw no fish in the lower 200 yards of stream.

At 0945 we 1aunched the raft and paddled across to Christianson's cabin at the outlet of Kakhonak Lake. Strong easterly winds came up as proceeded but these were tail winds and we were able to proceed without much problem.

Following our arrival at Christianson's, we walked back along the SW shore of Kakhonak Lake to a major inlet stream that enters the lake about 1 1/2 miles SE of the Kakhonak Lake outlet. The stream drains a series of lakes. Enroute we fished several areas along the Kakhonak Lake beach. Between us: we caught one small rainbow trout in about one angler hour. The creek where it enters the lake is very slow moving. It flows through what I'd consider ideal pike habitat (partly flooded grassy flats...occasional big rocks) near its outlet... a good looking area for muskrat and nesting ducks. Moose tracks were quite abundant. The creek itself was about 30 feet wide with an average flow velocity of 1 f.p.s. It ran over a mud and sand bottom. It meandered a good deal in its lower mile. Holes occurred on each bend ...the deepest was approximately 10 feet deep. I observed sculpins, three-spined stickle backs, round whitefish and juvenile rainbow trout in the creek...caught one 225 mm rainbow trout and hooked two others. Didn't see any pike. I did see another frog along this creek. Didn't see any good saimonid spawning areas.

We walked back through the rain and east wind, to Christianson's cabin. We decided to spend the night there.

Water temp. in Kakhonak River at 1700 hours was 56F. We fished from 1815 until 2045 hours in the upper half mile of Kakhonak River. Juvenile rainbow trout were very abundant in the riffle areas. Nineteen were caught and measured and many more were hooked and lost. Those measured ranged in length from 117-364 mm. In addition, two grayling and one lake trout were caught. No sockeye were observed. The lake trout was very skinny. The largest rainbow trout (364 mm) was a developing female (would have spawned next spring). Its stomach was full of midges and white socks.

Kakhonak River at the outlet of Kakhonak Lake is approximately 200 feet wide. It has a cobble and small boulder bottom and a flow velocity of 3-4 f.p.s. The bottom materials arc covered with algae. About 250 yards below the lake the river slows and enters a long deep pool (actually a small lake). Portions of this upper 250 yards are suitable for rainbow trout spawning.

Observed a bald eagle and several greater yellowlegs along the river tonight.

Spent the night in James H. Christianson's cabin. (His address is 6416 Arctic Blvd., Anchorage, Alaska 99502, according to a legal notice on the door). Rain and east winds to 40 M.P.H. continued all night.

August 6 - Up at 0830 hours. Still blowing a steady 35-40 M.P.H. out of the east and raining intermittently. We left the cabin and headed downriver at 1115 hours.

We paddled downriver about one mile and fished for about an hour just below the second lake-like pool. Caught seven rainbow trout in this hale. Hooked several more.

Continued downriver. While descending a swift chute we took in quite a bit of splash water...and my paddle got away ...which necessitated a run down the bank in order to retrieve it.

About 2 miles downstream of the lake outlet we encountered the first waterfall... a 12-14' drop. This falls doesn't drop in the classic manner (one straight drop). A couple of large rocks deflect the water in a 2-stage drop. Adult sockeye were observed attempting to jump the falls on two occasions. None were observed in the pool below the falls, however we portaged around the falls. ..about 150 yards portage.

Just downstream of this falls the stream enters another long, slow pool. We fished this pool for about an hour and caught five more juvenile rainbows. Had to patch a small hole in the raft at this point.

We encountered the 2nd falls approximately 1 mile downstream of the first falls. It was about a 4-6 foot drop. No sockeye were noted at this falls. We portaged around it (75 yards). A small side channel with a minimal flow bypasses the falls.

The third falls lies only a scant 1/4 mile below the second. It is on a blind left bend as one descends the stream. Large rocks cause the river to split into 3 channels, which plunge down into a single chute. Two of the channels drop about 10 feet. The main drop wasn't visible from where we landed the raft (the rocks obscured it), but I'd estimate it probably drops about 6-8 feet over a series of short steps. We portaged around this falls also (about 30 yard pack). Didn't see any sockeye at this falls.

The river again slows down below this falls. We continued downstream for about one more mile and then camped on a big bend. Observed a couple of old sockeye skeletons near camp. Noticed a couple of small salmonids jumping in the slow waters near camp. Also saw red-throated loons, magpies, two small hawks, and some diving ducks prior to camping.

August 7 - Light drizzle this morning, overcast, and E. winds still blowing. Began floating at 0934. Saw 3 floatplanes go over apparently flying the river just before we departed.

Observed mallards, scaup, and pintails in big, slow tributary that enters the river from the south about one mile above the Kakhonak River outlet. Saw no fish in this area. We fished just downstream of this tributary, but only got one strike apiece and didn't land either fish. There were noticeably fewer fish in this area than upriver.

Reached 4th and last falls at 1130 hours. The falls marks the outlet of Kakhanok River. It was 10-12 feet high. Sockeye were schooled below it (estimate 10,000) and some were attempting to jump it. I photographed them jumping. Gulls were observed on the bar below the falls. Two dead sockeye were observed nearby.

We had lunch at Brannum's Kakhonak Lodge. Bud was in Anchorage, but Billy (his nephew) had flown 2 anglers up to the Kakhonak Lake outlet for the day. The camp caretakers indicated that 36 guests have visited the lodge this year. Each group of guests fish Kakhonak River at least once during their 10-day stay. The lodge will remain open until late September. It was also reported that some Kakhonak natives fish for sockeye just below the falls. According to the caretakers, no one else has floated the river this summer. The lodge has 2 skiffs, one of which is suitable for lake trolling. They also have a C.B. radio suitable for contacting Iliamna and Kakhonak.

We were picked up by Hedlund Air Service at 1345 hours who took us to Iliamna. From there we chartered Iliamna Air Taxi to King Salmon.

Fish Caught by Species and Capture Method, Kakhonak River Drainage Float Survey, August 3-7, 1976

[Webmaster’s Note – In the PDF document there is a table of fish caught by species and capture method.]


Rainbow trout - The Kakhonak River and tributaries to Kakhonak Lake support rearing populations of rainbow trout. Heaviest concentrations observed were in the upper Kakhonak River proper area. Rainbow trout fry were captured in the inter-connecting river between Moose Lake and Kakhonak Lake. Gravel suitable for spawning was observed in the upper Kakhonak River area and in portions of the inter-connecting river between Moose and Kakhonak Lakes. Some tributaries may have spawning areas in their upper reaches. No large rainbows were observed or caught.

Lake Trout - Three lake trout were caught (2 in Moose Lake and one in upper Kakhonak River). Several others were hooked in the inter-connecting river between Moose and Kakhonak Lakes and in Moose Lake. None longer than 450 mm were hooked or observed. Two were killed...they'd been feeding on sculpins. Trolling in Kakhonak Lake didn't produce any lake trout, but more extensive fishing certainly would.

Grayling - Five grayling were caught during the trip. While present throughout the system, they aren't apparently abundant in any one area of the river or stream.

Sockeye Salmon - Apparently some sockeye are able to leap the lower 3 waterfalls under certain water conditions as I saw a sockeye twice try to jump the uppermost falls (4th falls upstream). I didn't see any sockeye in the tributaries to Kakhonak Lake or in uppermost Kakhonak River. An estimated 10,000 sockeye were schooled below the lowest falls just above Lake Iliamna.

Other Species - Round whitefish, sculpins, and three-spine sticklebacks were also noted in the drainage.

Angler Use - Apparently some angling occurs at the outlet to Moose Lake, on certain tributaries to Kakhonak Lake, at the outlet to Kakhonak Lake, and below the lowest falls on Kakhonak River. One private cabin and canoe were observed.

Float Rating - Difficult in the rivers due to big white water, 4 waterfalls, and numerous swift rocky areas. The lake is very suitable for small hand propelled floating craft. It has lots of sheltered areas and fine scenery. One should always beware of easterly winds, however.

Complete river log

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