It's June 11th..... Anglers from around the globe are descending on a tiny little mountain town in Alaska known as Cooper Landing. A town of about 250 year round residents, Cooper Landing is home to some of the most prolific runs of salmon in the world. Cooper Landing is the destination of choice for thousands of anglers looking for their shot at the first run of Sockeye Salmon as they make their way up the Kenai River into the Russian River.
The traditional first run of Sockeye Salmon's run up the Russian River is the unofficial kick-off of the angling season on the Kenai Peninsula. With this medium-sized run of Sockeye Salmon comes a new food source for the resident Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden that will sustain them throughout the summer, fall and even into the winter months. Trout feed heavily on salmon eggs and rotting flesh throughout the year and the first run of Sockeye brings in a fresh supply.
Though many anglers are targeting Sockeye Salmon this time of year, there are opportunities for more traditional fly anglers to hit the water in search of the elusive giant rainbows of the Kenai. If you're into dry flies, nymphing, swinging streamers or dead drifting egg and flesh patterns, this time of year can be a fly anglers dream! With so many ways to target hungry Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden, there's no shortage of variety to keep even the most astute fly angler stimulated.
If catching 30 or 40 Rainbows a day on the Russian River on dry flies isn't your cup of tea, swinging streamers with a spey rod on the Kenai for the 25-30" class rainbow trout may be up your alley. Booking a guided trip this time of year can take quite a bit off of the learning curve as a good handful of the guides who operate on the upper Kenai River are year-round residents with lots of experience chasing these fish around. Opportunities to land a Sockeye on the fly rod are also available and may even consume an entire day of fishing itself.
Though June 11th is the official opening of the Upper and Middle Kenai River, there are also plenty of options for anglers arriving in mid to late May and early June. Cooper Landing will prove to be a great jump-off location for other amazing fishing just a short drive away.
During May and Early June, the Lower Kenai and Kasilof Rivers are open for King Salmon fishing. Though much of the King Salmon fishing on the peninsula is done from a boat using a back-trolling technique, adventurous anglers can take their shot at the "king of fish" by swinging big flies with big spey rods on either river.
There are also some smaller rivers on the peninsula that offer chances at these fish by the same method. The trick to knowing when and where to go all hinges on the current fish and game laws that can change daily. The seasons traditionally open up with specific King Salmon regulations; however, these regulations are ever-changing through "Emergency Orders"
With millions of salmon around, the primary goal of anglers is usually attempting to fill the freezer with limits of fresh fish; however, this can still be a good time to target Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden as the water is warming up and more and more food is present (especially in the form of fresh flesh from harvested salmon). Though the fly fishing for Trout and Dollies is not as epic as mid-August through October, there are still plenty of fish willing to take a large variety of fly patterns on an equally large array of methods.
If epic fly fishing is your thing, where any cast could land you a monster Rainbow Trout or 15 lb Silver Salmon, then the later part of August through the end of October is prime-time on the Kenai Peninsula! The Kings and Sockeye are spawning and a wave of Silver (Coho) Salmon are pouring into the rivers.
The fall trout fishing is epic! This time of year is famous for the "bead bite" where you could easily have 40-50+ fish days, with a realistic shot at 30" fish on some stretches of the river. Silver Salmon are also a favorite target of fly anglers as they readily take a fly and put up an epic fight!
The fall is also a time when the rivers start to come down. Bank angling becomes much easier and the later the season goes, the less crowded it gets. The angling options this time of year are also so numerous and wide-spread that it tends to disperse people around quite a bit, offering you your own little slice of fishing paradise.
The winter months offer even the most hardcore angler great angling opportunities. A good portion of the Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden make their way to the lakes; however, there are still plenty of fish to chase around if you can handle the unpredictable weather.
My personal favorite thing to do during the fall is to swing flies with a spey rod for trout. There's nothing like the tight line grab this time of year! Though much is shut down in terms of vacation rentals, retail stores, etc... you can still find plenty of places to stay and have a comfortable visit.
Considering that nearly every time of year on the Kenai Peninsula offers a variety of fly angling opportunities for visitors, it's easy to see why Cooper Landing, Alaska is truly the perfect place for anglers of all abilities to serve as home base for their Alaskan vacations. Whether beginner or pro, make Cooper Landing your next fly fishing destination! It won't disappoint!