2018 Fishing Season in Review

2018 Fishing Season in Review

Happy New Year everyone!  We hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are excited about what 2019 will bring.  If you are like us and made your New Year’s resolution to spend more time on the water then you should begin planning your Kenai River adventure now as peak times are already starting to fill up.

Before we can completely focus on 2019 we have to take a look back and review what happened on the water during the 2018 season. In short it was an exciting year with some surprises but ended with a bang!


Rainbow Trout

Kenai River rainbow trout season opens on June 11. Our first trip this year was on the 13th and produced great fishing, low and clear water made us step up our stealth game but this was not complicated at all. Swinging streamers produced the best results (we absolutely love catching trout on streamers).

June Rainbow Trout

The environment for Kenai bows became quite spicy after the first week of the opener.  The water level tripled in size, washing their once consistent food source down the river.  This event caused the trout to spread out over 50 miles of water prematurely.  Rainbows always spread out across the Kenai, but usually in early July.

Kasilof King SAlmon

The story for Kings on the Kasilof was much the same but different for the build up and let down of trout on the Kenai. We were guiding full swing by Memorial Weekend, and the fishing was right where it should be. Each day produced several hook ups, some of the fish came to the boat while others did not. As the season progressed into the first week of June we were greeted with wonderful tide levels and surges of fish on these tides. During this time hooking 10+ fish was not uncommon.

Kasilof King Salmon

Right when we felt that the peak of the run was about to hit, a large tide cycle came, which drastically slows the amount of fish entering the river. The productivity of fishing slowed, but it wasn’t a shock. The closure of 1st run Kings on the Kenai led to artificial lures only on the Kasilof. With little fish entering the river catching became tough. If bait were still open we felt that the fishing would not have been much better. For us artificial only is not a deterrent, a strategy shift is needed but we will still get fish, but fish need to be in the river.


Red Salmon

If only one word to describe the red run on the Kenai during the 2018 season could be used…interesting, would have to be it. Fish and Game predicted an off year for Kenai River reds, and mostly they were right. Most bank anglers were struggling, which could be felt while targeting rainbow trout (more on this later). Then the king fishery on the Kenai went to catch and release, which typically puts more pressure on the reds. Many thought that reds would be closed at some point towards the end of July.

If the above seems like a pretty ugly picture we would have to agree with you. However, despite all the curve balls, we had a strong red season. Were we nervous about how the red season was going to shake out? Absolutely, but in times of potential turmoil with many variables at play, we decided to focus on the things that we could actually control (it seems like this is the best policy with life period). For us, it was tactics and technique.

July Red Salmon

On most years when there is a “normal” return of reds precision is not as important due to the amount of available fish. This year we quickly figured that precision and timing would become paramount in filling limits early and beating the crowds. This strategy paid off well, admittingly there were a couple of tough days, but most of the season was filling limits or ending just a few fish short. The most important part was happy clients returning home with fish and stories.

Besides catching fish we learned so much about movement and patterns of reds in the area where we target them.  To the tune of knowing when they would start to move, where they were going to, and when they would bite.  These reasons are why we could take advantage of the few windows of opportunities and capitalize.  

Looking back, yes it was an interesting setting for catching fish, but despite the potential for tough fishing we had an absolutely fantastic red fishery and look forward to applying our new knowledge in 2019!

Rainbow Trout

Unfortunately, our pink-sided friends found no reprieve at finding an easy food source.  Mother Natures temper tantrum in mid-June forced Kenai bows into exile and that is where they remained through July into August.

july rainbow trout

Typically reds provide a much need source of food for trout during July and early August fueled by bank anglers throwing carcass, egg and skins of filleted red salmon back into the river.

We found trout in their normal zones during this time, but not in high numbers.

It was very surreal floating along the mostly vacant shorelines of the Kenai which normally is a shoulder to shoulder with anglers.

Bite fluxes where also inconsisitent and quite weird, our historical “go to” patterns struggled with consistenty and the complictaed and often tail chasing changing of patterns kept us scratching our heads.

Mid-late July is still one of our favorite times of year to target trophy Rainbow Trout on the Kenai, this was just an off year but was a great example of how delicate an ecosystem is.

Fortunately Trout anglers on the Kenai are quite spoiled with what we consider “good” fishing, a tough day on the Kenai is usually better than most strong days on other fabled trout fisheries.


Silver Salmon

We were delighted with a great return of 1st run silver salmon to the Kenai. We’ve historically seen Aug 10-25 as the best time to get into solid fishing, by the 10th it was game on and the party lasted into early September. Besides quality we were seeing quality also, 10-12lb silvers were a very nice average. Their hard fighting and mellow flavor make these ones of the most sought after salmon in Alaska.

August Silver Salmon on Kenai River Alaska

Silvers are awesome for many reasons, but the wide range of tactics and presentations is one of our favorites. Backtrolling, casting spinners, twitch baits and fly fishing are all very effective and offer anglers a chance at a variety of techniques. Anglers of any ability level or technique preference will have success and a great time. We tend to book fast during peak times if you are thinking about fishing Silvers contact us soon and lock in your trip.

Rainbow Trout

Early August was not the normal fishery that we know and love, not a shocker tho. The red run and lack of food kept trout spread out, while the known areas where food and trout congregate became quite competitive to trout anglers and made for small bite fluxes and very spooky fish. We did coax a few quality fish to bite and passed the time with some hard fighting mid-sized fish.

Guide and happy client with a kenai river Rainbow Trout

Mid August fished historically the same, though. This is one of the few times during the season where you know the fishing is going to be tough. Fish are transitioning as food sources deteriorate and salmon are not quite spawning. The trout are constantly on the move forcing us to leave no stone unturned. Consistently inconsistent.

The end of August made up for the tough trout fishing thus far, and we knew it was only going to get better. pink salmon began spawning early giving us some great action and a solid congregation of trout to work with. Some absolute slab Dolly Varden were caught during this time also. It was wonderful to see the Kenai bows coming to life and stacking on the much-needed pounds.


Rainbow Trout

The 2018 September trout fishing on the Kenai River was one of the best years we’ve seen since 2014. A large return of Pink Salmon provided a ton of water to work with and many spawn beds packed full of fat trout.

Early September picked up where late August left off, we were seeing more and more pinks in staging areas and on beds, while the few kings that made it into the river where spawning as well. Large bows could be found in their classic spots and each day began knowing that you will tangle with at least one fish over 25″. Life was good and only about to get better.

Mid September was when the full party began. Nice concentrations of big bows began moving up river following the food, The average day during this time was a Disney moment, Mickey Mouse was actually spotted riding a unicorn. 26″ rainbows with 15″-17″ girths was normal and several a day made it to the net. Then there where the super beasts, several bows in the 14lb + category were landed and many more lost. We hooked and heard of several other bows in the 20lb+ range that were tickled, but not landed. On pink years, especially when conditions are perfect close encounters with the true monsters of the Kenai emerge and circulate on the river.

All good things come to an end at some point, unfortunately, the end of September was a tough deal. A glacial ice damn broke and brought the water on the Middle Keani up significantly. Before the ice damn failure, the CFS on the Kenai was dropping nicely. The slow increase in water level at the beginning of the flood made for incredible fishing as eggs and carcass that had been sitting in slow current started washing down river.

Once the water began rising quickly our lives became hard while life was wonderful for the trout. Eggs and chunks of salmon flesh could be seen washing down the river everywhere. So much food became readily available, the middle river was in a serious glut, and many Pinks were still spawning below Skilak Lake. The fat lady was singing.

September greeted us with 3 weeks of fantastic fishing and perfect weather. There were only a few days where we had to deal with rain and/or wind. Most days were filled with warmth, sunshine, and fat rainbows. We felt blessed.

****For an in-depth look at the months and targeted species keep scrolling down and check out our monthly fishing blog report from the 2018 season.