I have heard too many horror stories about ornery or aggressive guides that have ruined what could have been a great day on the water. That is a crying shame. It is my personal belief that people book a guided fishing trip in Alaska for one reason; and that is to have fun. Everyone has their own dream of what a good day on the water means to them. Some want the most fish, some the biggest, some just want to see the wildlife and watch their friends and loved ones enjoy themselves. When you are fishing on the Kenai River it should be a low-pressure enjoyable experience.
The best way to find that perfect guide who can give you the experience you want starts with research. The world-wide web gives you the opportunity to look at reviews of businesses after you look at someone’s web site. Be a little weary of the reviews, some outfits have lots and lots of vanilla reviews, and some have very few and those were probably from friends and family. Being able to discern the reviews that are from the heart, versus the family reviews or the forced follow-up reviews, is important.
After you look at web sites and reviews, the next thing to do is get on the phone or even FaceTime or Zoom with your guide or outfitter and talk to them. It is important that you feel some connection or have a feel for the honesty of your guide, because for some this may be a once-in-a-lifetime trip and having a connection is important. If someone can’t or doesn’t want to answer your questions, in person, be wary. It is easy for a desk jockey to promise you everything you want and then pawn you off on a guide who has to try and deliver the impossible, or meet unrealistic expectations. Don’t be fooled by the person who tells you, you will get limits everyday or catch the trophy of your dreams no matter what.
It is important to remember that when you are fishing the Kenai River it is a natural resource and you will be in a fair-chase scenario where timing, technique, and skill-set all play a part in your success. Guides are just that; guides. Guides are not miracle workers and all we can do is control the controllable’s and let Mother Nature do the rest.
So I get a phone call. “I want to come up when the sockeyes are running hard; when is the best time?” Now this is six months to a year before the season opens. So I get out my trusty crystal ball and tell them exactly when the perfect time will be when the salmon will be in the river so thick you can walk from one shoreline to the other on the backs of those fish. Okay; that’s not going to happen. Even the best biologist in the world can’t answer that question, let alone a lousy psychic with a cracked and broken crystal ball.
So, all I can do is use my experience and past patterns to come up with a high-percentage outlook on when the optimum time is going to be for a particular species to be at their highest concentration in the system.
There are other variables to decoding when a particular species will be at the height of their concentrations as well as the ability to target trophy-sized fish. Let me give you some examples.
Basically, sockeye salmon and silver salmon have two good runs each year on the Kenai River where I guide. The first run of sockeye salmon run up the Kenai into the Russian River. This begins in early June. The second sockeye run starts in mid-July and runs hard through August. Both runs are controlled by a season opening date as well as a season closing date.
The first silvers show up in the Kenai at the beginning of August and arrive at the upper and middle river sections in good numbers typically around the third week of August. The second run is in full swing by the second week of September.
Success is dictated by timing and the size of the runs. Some years are better than others when it comes to the number of fish in the system. And, the runs generally come in waves with peaks and valleys. You can be on the river one day and have but a few hooks and the next day the waters are teaming with fish.
Trophy rainbow trout and char in the Kenai are a wild strain of fish that are in the system all year long. Big ones, the fish that are 26 inches or larger are definitely a seasonal phenomenon. The best times to target the huge fish are the last ten days of August until the end of October. The big trout are keying on the salmon spawn and this is what makes these discerning fish gullible for a tempting presentation.
So, is there a best time to target a species? Absolutely. That being said, your only option when planning a trip well in advance of arrival is to play the percentages and roll the dice hoping for sevens when you arrive. If you hit the runs perfectly we look like geniuses.