Shades of golden oranges and reds paint the trees on the Kenai Peninsula, the air turns brisk and the rivers and lakes are ready to give up their secret – the best fishing of the whole year. Shoulder to shoulder combat fishing has ended. The rivers and lakes, teaming with fat trophy sized rainbows, are ready for some serious fly fishing. We chose the last week of September to take advantage of the variety of species available; rainbows, Dolly Varden, grayling, steelhead, silver/Coho salmon, king/Chinook salmon in the Inlet and halibut.
We returned to Crooked Creek Retreat and Outfitters where we had fished the prime season. Dorothy Baker, the owner/outfitter, runs a tight operation and everything comes off as planned. She welcomed us again to her beautiful log lodge. Booking a trip with Dorothy guarantees a fishing trip with quality fishing, lodging and meals. Plus, her experienced guides always makes us realize what a top notch operation this is.
On our first morning as we are finishing breakfast, our guides come in to go over our plans for the day. They have loaded up all the gear and pulled the vehicle up to the lodge. We are off to try our luck just south of the lodge on the Anchor River. Our target of the day, in crystal clear water, are those great steelhead, silvers and rainbows. What makes this the best time of year is the lack of crowds and the fish are plentiful.
We walk into the Anchor and move upstream to one of our guide’s favorite steelhead holes. We have no sooner wetted our lines and the guide is yelling out, “bite, bite” as my rod bends almost double and I thumb the line to slow him down. He is giving me a run, changing direction. I see him coming as I work him into the shallows and we get a quick photo and release this beautiful guy. All in all the weather was brisk, but it warmed up as the late September sun came out. We hooked at least fifteen and landed a good eight. We even hooked into some fat silvers and loved every minute maneuvering them in, but decided to do our normal catch and release.
Having spent the better part of the day, we head back to the lodge to jump into a hot shower and then down to appetizers and companionship followed by a great halibut dinner. The guides were there to go over our plans for the next day, where we would be going to the middle Kenai after trophy rainbows and some fat silvers. There will undoubtedly be some Dolly Varden thrown in. We will be wet fly fishing in the milky glacial water that is the Kenai.
Our guide gives us a special adventure taking us across Skilak Lake to drop down into the middle Kenai. All we hear are the oars as our guide, Jason, brings us up on a gravel bar. We are virtually alone on the river as we start our day catching one giant rainbow after another, mixed with those athletic silvers jumping and twisting as they gave us a fight. My fishing partner even hooked into a straggler humpy. The rainbows ran large – we didn’t get anything above 30 inches, but were very happy with that. Maybe next time we will land a trophy 32 incher.
Jason grabs some canvas chairs out of the boat and we build a little fire and settle down for lunch and talk about what we want to do for the afternoon. It is divided – some of us want to go after rainbows in Johnson Lake where the water is clear and eagles dive over the boat to grab our rainbows, while others just want to hang out at the lodge and go after some trout and steelhead in Crooked Creek, right in front of the lodge.
On our third day, we are hiking up to a lake to go after some grayling, a beautiful fish called the sail fish of Alaska. It was a short 2 ½ mile hike. It was a toss-up whether we would enjoy the vista looking down on Skilak Lake and valley or those feisty, beautiful grayling at the end of our lines.
That is another part of the secret – the variety of species you can fish this time of year. Some of us still had a halibut trip planned and others wanted to try their hand at trolling for kings in the Cook Inlet. I was anxious to float the Kasilof and try my hand at the late season run of steelhead and silvers. Starting in September and then well into October, the fish are fatter after feeding all summer, the variety greater and the crowds are gone. There wasn’t time to get to the many other lakes and streams on this trip, which means another visit is in order.
Dorothy told us she just doesn’t understand how this has been kept a secret for so long. Locals and guides consider this time of year the best time of the season. Crooked Creek Retreat and Outfitters is one of the few Alaska fishing lodges still open in September and October and Dorothy is in residence all year. As if the best fishing isn’t a good enough reason to head to the Kenai this time of year, the significant reduction in regular price makes this a great value. Give her a call at 907-260-9014 to book your own all-inclusive late season fishing trip or check out the web site, www.crookedcreekretreat.com.