Why the Kenai River is the best place to learn how to fly fish

In 1992 Robert Redford directed the movie, A River Runs Through It. Brad Pitt, the lead actor was a master fly angler and the film became a box office hit. Soon after the movie premiered, everyone and their brother and sister wanted to try their hand at fly fishing.  The movie romanticized fly fishing with it’s breath-taking beauty and spectacular fly fishing scenes where Pitt would make 100 foot casts and catch huge trout in fast water. As cool as the movie was, the average fly fisherman never has to swim a class four rapids to land land a big trout or cast a fly rod a country mile.


The Kenai River boasts some of the best fly fishing in Alaska, and the world.  The Kenai has all five species of Pacific salmon as well as rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char.  We target sockeye salmon, silver salmon, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden char with fly rods on the Kenai River.  We target these fish in user-friendly aqua-blue water that is nestled into the Kenai Mountains of the Chugach National Forest and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.


Fly fishing on the Kenai River consists of 80 to 90 percent nymph-style fishing with an indicator and doesn’t require the long casts that can be necessary when fishing salt water flats or when you are starring in the movies.  Nymph fishing with indicators as we do on the Kenai River is a very simple cast and presentation where you dead-drift your fly or beads the same speed as the current to emulate a natural dead drift.  The dead-drift is achieved by managing your fly line on top of the water after a good cast from the drift boat or shore.  Line management is as easy as “high sticking” with your rod, which is keeping your rod tip pointing to the sky to keep most of your fly line off the water and/or mending your line by flipping your loop or belly in your fly line up stream of your indicator.


The other styles of fly fishing we do on the Kenai River are dry fly fishing for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char, and swinging flies for trout, char, and silver salmon. We also strip flies for silver salmon. The dry fly fishing is a purist’s dream and for good reason.  It can be some of the most fun a person can have fly fishing. 


Dry flies work best when there is a good hatch of insects on the river.  The Kenai River’s best dry fly hatches in the summer months are the caddis hatch and the may fly hatch.  When fishing dry flies you do a traditional cast and watch your fly on top of the water until the big rainbow trout or Dolly Varden char comes to the surface and slurps up your fly.  Watching a trout or char suck up a bug you are casting is an exhilarating experience that won’t soon be forgotten. 


The swing technique is probably done the least on the Kenai River, but is a fun way to really feel the hit or take from the salmon, trout, or char.  Swinging flies on the Kenai consists of casting your streamer fly into the current and letting it swing through the water column that the fish are in and waiting for the big tug.  The fish generally crush the streamers and try and rip the rod right out of your hands.  Stripping flies for silver salmon is a fun and explosive way to catch fish that weigh on average between eight to twelve pounds and spend as much time out of the water as in it.  We cast and strip flies for silver salmon both from shore and the boat. 


Fly fishing the Kenai River doesn’t require long casts or hours and days of practice.  Nymph fishing with an indicator is the easiest technique to learn because shorter casts are the norm especially from the boat.  The swinging, dry fly fishing, and stripping are techniques where you are required to cast a little farther than nymph fishing, but we put you on the fish so you don’t have to cast a country mile to present your fly to the fish.


Jason’s Guide Service provides highly trained professionals that teach you the ways of the fly rod and fly fishing techniques in a fun no pressure environment.  Jason’s Guide Service believes that everyone comes to the boat for one reason and one reason only, and that is to have great time.  The joys of fly fishing are many, it’s as much about the journey of learning and being a part of nature and flowing with the river as it is catching fish.  The first few fish you catch on a fly rod no matter the size or species will be fish you never forget.


If fly fishing is on your to do list but you have always been a little intimidated by it look no further and wait no longer, come to the Kenai River and fish with Jason’s Guide Service and we will make memories that last a lifetime.

For Sockeyes You Gotta Swing

The technique we use for sockeye salmon on the Kenai River is called the Sockeye Swing. It takes just a little practice to get good at it.

A question I get a hundred times each summer is,  “When I fish for sockeye salmon using the Sockeye Swing on the Kenai River, am I really just snagging fish or are the sockeye biting my fly?”  Snagging a fish usually means you are ripping a treble hook through the water and trying to hook a fish anywhere you can. Sockeye fishing – doing the sockeye swing, flipping, or flossing as we call the technique on the Kenai River – is a lot more civilized and specific in its presentation.  We are allowed to use one single hook for our presentation and on the Upper Kenai River that hook must have a 3/8 inch gap or smaller. 

The Sockeyes, or “Reds” as they are called in Alaska, run up the river in schools along the shoreline until they reach staging areas to rest as they migrate to their spawning grounds.  The sockeye salmon like to swim as close to the shoreline as possible so they can stay out of the heavy current.  When a salmon runs up the river they take breaths by having water run through their mouths past their gills to pull oxygen out of the water into their bloodstream.

The objective of the Kenai River salmon angler is to present their fly in a manner in which the leader attached to the fly drifts or swings down and through the water column where the sockeye are running and the fly ends up in the salmon’s mouth before the angler swings their rod into the next cast. 

When the fly is presented properly and the salmon are running good you end up with a positive connection and have a hook up that results in a landed salmon for the stringer and grill, or a quick photo and release.  When you learn to present the fly with precision, to the depth and speed of the water you are fishing, you will have lots of hook-ups and landed fish. 

The water speed and depth you fish will dictate the leader length from the weight to the fly and the amount of weight used.  The kind of line and pound test you use will also dictate buoyancy of your fly.  When the sockeye have seen lots of flies swinging past them they can become leader and line shy which makes a heavier fluorocarbon a good bet. When buoyancy is needed a limper monofilament line doesn’t drop as fast as the fluorocarbon is the best option in a heavier diameter test. 

Sockeye or red salmon are pound-for-pound one of the hardest fighting, best eating fish that the Kenai River and Alaska has to offer.  The fact that the limits on the Kenai River are usually liberal with a three or six fish bag limit – depending on the time of year and escapement goals met – makes them a great fish for sport or table fare.  The best way to learn the sockeye swing quickly is hire a guide and get out on the water as soon as you make it to the Kenai Peninsula on your Alaskan vacation.  Don’t hesitate to book a trip with Jason’s Guide Service to learn the ins and out of the sockeye salmon fishery and learn that Sockeye Swing.

Everything Works – Sometimes
Shortening Your Learning Curve to Catch More Fish

There’s not an angler on the planet that hasn’t dreamt of fishing for salmon or trout on one of the rivers in Alaska. Except for those that have done it, and they just keep coming back for more.

Many of the anglers who come to Alaska have a preconceived idea of how they are going to choose to target a particular species on a given resource, but there are those with questions as well. “Do I have to use a fly rod?” or “Do I get to use a fly rod?” or “Will I be in the Combat Zone (an area on a river where anglers congregate and it gets crowded) when I fish on the Kenai River?” or “Do I get to stand in the river and fish?” The list goes on and on.

The simple answer is:” YES,” you might get to do all of the above because everything works – sometimes.

Jason’s Guide Service takes pride in the fact that we fish all the techniques needed to catch sockeye salmon, silver salmon, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char. There is no right or wrong way to fish, but there are times when certain techniques with certain gear will work better for certain species.

When we have high and fast water on the Kenai River, and we are fishing rainbow trout and char, the spinning equipment can be a better choice at times. When the water is low and slow the fly rods are usually the better choice. Average water levels and current flow means fly rods or conventional gear are both going to work great.

When we chase the sockeye salmon we will use fly rods and wade fish. We don’t wade out past our knees into the river because it isn’t safe, and it impacts your fishing in a negative way by pushing the running sockeye salmon out into deeper, faster water making them harder to catch. When conditions are right, or we have people who have mobility issues, we will fish sockeye from the boat running plugs and back trolling for the salmon. This technique only works well in certain types of water at certain times of the year.

The silver salmon are a fish that allows anglers to be more versatile in our approach to catching them. We use both fly rods and spinning gear when we target the silver salmon. Fly fishing for silver salmon is is pretty cut-and-dry with a cast-and-strip technique with streamers, but we also dead-drift and swing flies for silver salmon as well. When we get out the spinning gear we back troll, cast spinners and spoons, jig, and float fish. The key to being a successful salmon angler is understanding the species and conditions of the river.

Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char are two species that can be targeted with any rod and reel combo of your choice. Fly fishing is a style of fishing that gets lots of hype, both good and bad.

Fly fishing the Kenai River is both fun and easy. Like any new sport there is a learning curve. When fly fishing with Jason’s Guide Service we shorten the learning curve in a fun no-pressure environment. We fly fish for rainbow trout and char from the boat and, on shore wade fishing.

Spinning gear opens up lots of techniques that can be used, and is a versatile way to catch fish. Jason’s Guide Service back-trolls crankbaits, side drifts from shore, drift fishes from the boat, float fishes from the boat, float fishes from shore and incorporates some jig fishing when that is the preferred technique. We can also drift fish from the boat or wade fish from the many gravel bars with both fly and spinning gear. So you see, the options are many but the species that are being targeted dictate what we use.

The best thing any angler can do when they book a trip on the Kenai River with Jason’s Guide Service is pick the species of fish they would like to pursue, as well as a technique or techniques they want to try and come to the boat with an open mind and desire to have a great time on the river.

We will soon be writing a series of blogs, detailing in depth, each technique mentioned for each species. When you are done reading these blogs you will have a much better understanding of what you will be doing on the water, and what to expect on your guided fishing trip on the Kenai River.

The Elusive Alaskan Bear – There When You Least Expect It

The sockeyes were on the move. Limits were coming quickly and my boat was anchored on the rubble shoreline of the Kenai River and the anglers I was guiding were spread out, ankle-deep in the current, reeling them in. There was one in the party that caught a quick limit and was relaxingwith a book in the boat. I heard her exclaim, “Is that a bear over there!” I looked up and sure enough, an Alaskan brown bear was slipping into the water on the opposite shore to swim over and pay us a visit.

Everyone who comes to Alaska in the summer wants to see a bear. The Kenai River just might be the best place on Alaska’s road systems to see a brown or black bear. Alaska’s bears are everywhere from the bottom of southeast Alaska all the way to Prudoe Bay, but they aren’t always easy to find with out a big price tag because it can take a plane ride to some remote areas for the best odds of seeing one.

When we fish the Upper Kenai River after the first run of sockeye salmon show up to swim up river and spawn in the Russian River tributary, we have a great chance of seeing brown and black bears.

The bears wake up in the spring time and get real hungry real quick. There’s not a lot to forage. Just fresh grasses and shoots sprouting in the spring and tasty roots, as well as any old rotten winter kill animals and decaying salmon left over from the previous fall spawn. Bears will eat most anything they can find in the spring after their long hibernation where they lose up to – and sometime more than – 20% of their weight. When the bears pop out of their dens it takes a week or two for their metabolism to get back to 100 percent, then they need to put on the pounds to get ready for the next winter.

The Kenai River has all five pacific salmon spawning in this resource, and its many smaller tributaries make for great fishing, not only for anglers but also for the bears. The first good opportunity for the bears to get a nice easy meal is the filleted sockeye salmon carcasses that the Kenai River anglers toss back into the river after cleaning their catch. It is expected of the Kenai River and Russian River anglers to clean their fresh caught sockeye salmon on the banks of the river and throw the filleted carcasses back into the river to keep the bio mass in the water for the rainbow trout, Dolly Varden char, bald eagles, gulls, and the bears to eat. Adding to the angler’s butchered fish, the salmon that make it past the anglers and all the way to their spawning grounds perform their spawning ritual then die and there carcasses naturally stay in the river until they wash up on shore creating nutrients for all the animals in the water and forest. If anglers didn’t put the carcasses of filleted fish back in the river it would mean a lot less forage available to the wildlife.

When we stand on the banks of the Kenai River sockeye fishing, or run drifts out of our drift boats we get lots of opportunities to see both brown and black bears. The carcasses that are filleted naturally get pushed to shore and hang up on rocks and timber in the river. This creates a welcome dinner for the bears as they wander up or down the banks of the Kenai looking for the easy meal that filleted salmon provide. The best time to see the bears foraging on the banks of the Kenai is early morning. Bears are nocturnal and will be finishing up there hunt for food in the wee hours of the mornings.

If you want to see bears with out paying for an expensive scenic fly out the best bet for you is an early morning sockeye trip on the Upper Kenai River. You can hopefully get some delicious salmon for the table and see some bears all in the same day. Bears are shy and wary of people so there are no guarantees to see a bear, but your best bet at seeing a bear for an affordable price while doubling down on your money is the full day sockeye trip on the Upper Kenai River. That bear that was headed toward my drift boat from the other shore took a u-turn when we all started making noise and waving our arms. With all the carcasses drifting downstream I have little doubt the big brown bear was full and napping by noon.

The Best Time to Fish the Kenai River

If you ask a guide in the Lower 48 when the best time to fish a particular species on their body of water would be, they will always say, “When they’re biting.” In Alaska when you ask a guide when the best time to be fishing is, they will tell you, “At the peak of the run,” if you are fishing for salmon, and “Anytime,” if you are fishing for trout or char.

Every summer droves of anglers show up from all corners of the world to try their hand at catching one of Alaska’s pacific salmon. Sockeye salmon, and silver salmon are the most sought after with king salmon being a close second or third. The chum and pink salmon are fun to catch but don’t make the best table fare compared to the others.

Summer time is when the sockeye salmon are moving up the Kenai, but that can be a very busy time both on and off the river. Silver salmon start showing up in numbers at the end of August and run good until the end of October.

The big masses of visitors starts to wane as school starts and the weather cools which leaves lots of opportunity for the angler who wants less crowds and great fishing.  The fall fishing on the Kenai is also when the rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char fishing is hitting it’s peak.

From the last 10 days of August until October 31st, I spend 90 percent of my time on the water doing combo trips for silver salmon, rainbow trout, and char.  We usually trout fish from one great spot to another great spot catching as many huge trout and char as possible. Then we float into the silver spots and fish the salmon until we catch them all out of that hole or they get lock jaw and won’t bite anymore.

Silver salmon are no different than any other fish. Somedays they are hard to keep off the hook and other days they make you work hard to get a sniff, but with time on the water you can usually make something happen.

The truth is I love fishing the Kenai River all year long, but my favorite time to fish this incredible resource is in late fall starting the last two weeks of September through October for Silver salmon, rainbows, and char.

The most enjoyable part of silver salmon fishing is the fact that I can incorporate a lot of different options to catch them. I can use my fly rod, casting and stripping line for them. I can cast spinners and spoons with my spinning gear or run plugs with my casting rods by back trolling. There’s nothing like running big drifts with my float rods and I can do this and all the others the same day.

Of course, I’m blessed to get lots and lots of days on the Kenai River every year and love to use all the tools in my tool box. I’m a purist and I just love to fish and believe a good guide should master all the disciplines of the sport in order to create the best possible time on the river with my anglers.

If you want to see Alaska and the Kenai River with less people and fish the scrappy silver salmon, the fall time is the right time to come to Cooper Landing and fish with Jason’s Guide Service. Fall is without a doubt the perfect time for that combo trip where we fish for silver salmon, target some trout and add some char to the mix. Trust me when I say it doesn’t get any better.



Kids on the Kenai – Part 2

This is Part Two of a pair of blogs that dig into the logistics of bringing children on an Alaskan fishing adventure on the Kenai River. At Jason’s Guide Service we love to have kids in the boat, but there are some considerations that will make the trip enjoyable for everyone.

My first tip is to bring lots of snacks and beverage for the kiddos. If or when they get bored, food and drink is always an excellent diversion.

I see a lot of parents being almost militant at times about their kids fishing non-stop or staying completely focused on fishing for the entire trip. I believe this to be a mistake.  When I’m not fishing or in the outdoors I have an attention span of a five-year old so I know all about daydreaming or getting bored easily.  When your kid gets bored or fidgety let them put the rod up for a minute and hang out or daydream. I always love to make sure a kid has access to the family phone to take photos of the trip.

If your kid needs to move around I can bring them to a gravel bar and let them throw rocks and explore.  It’s always better to have them happy and enjoying themselves by doing something on the water that is fun for them. If they enjoy their maiden voyage they’ll keep coming back for more trips and develop a love and passion for the sport. Having a bad experience will ensure them not wanting to come back.

Everyone who floats the Kenai River has different ideas of what a great fishing trip is. When taking kids out on the water it’s important to know their interest level for fishing and if they have a technique or species they want to target.  Never underestimate a child’s ability to learn and when you fuel that desire you can help create a passion for fishing that never goes away.

There is no age too young to get that kid on the water whether you are putting a fly rod in their hands or a spinning rod. It doesn’t matter if you are targeting rainbow trout, char,  sockeye or silver salmon, just make sure they are having fun and getting the opportunity to try what they want on their guided fishing trip.

The biggest thing to remember, no matter what, is that fishing is supposed to be enjoyable. It doesn’t matter if you are chunking rocks in the river, writing your name on a sand bar with drift wood, exploring gravel bars for bear tracks and spawned-out salmon, or running the perfect drift with your fly rod, make sure your guided fishing trip on the Kenai River is about the young ones and you will be doing fishing trips for life.

Kids on the Kenai

There is never a shortage of questions when it comes to booking a guide on an Alaskan adventure. Clothing, gear, available species, what to bring to eat or drink, just to name a few. One question that always surfaces when a parent wants to bring one or two of their children is if their child is welcome on a guided fishing trip on the Kenai River. The answer to that question at Jason’s Guide Service is always going to be, “Absolutely.”  The question you will get back from us is, “Will your child be able to handle the rigors of an Alaskan fishing excursion?” The answer to that one will always revolve around the child’s age and whether they can spend a number of hours restricted to a small space in a fishing boat.

There are some considerations when bringing your child on a guided fishing trip. How long is the trip? What kind of fishing will we be doing? What species will we fish for?  What will the start time be?  These are just some of the factors that need to be considered.

The Kenai River offers many opportunities for different species and techniques and it is very important to pick the right species and technique that best suits your child’s needs.  The species that Jason’s Guide Service fishes for are the sockeye salmon, silver salmon, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden char, the most targeted species by anglers on this river.

The sockeye fishery is the hardest for your kids to participate in because we wade in the river and fish with eight-weight fly rods doing what we call “The Sockeye Swing.” The youngest I recommend for sockeye fishing is 10 years old if your child is well developed and has good coordination. At 12 years of age they are definitely developed enough if they have the desire to attempt this rigorous style of fishing.

The silver salmon get bigger than the sockeye but are mostly fished from the boat and can be fished by children of any age that can cast and retrieve an open-faced spinning reel or can take a rod out of a rod holder.

The rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char are the best bet for kids younger than 10 because they can spin fish for the trout and char and all the young kiddos need to do is hold on to a rod and reel the fish in.  I always recommend back trolling or plug fishing – as we call it on the Kenai – for the younger kids because it’s an easy way to put up numbers and keep the kids into the fish and happy.

There is a huge misconception that kids can’t fly fish for trout or salmon until they are older. I find the exact opposite to be true.  Kids are amazing when captivated or interested in something, and when a kid wants to learn something new the learning curve is real quick, much quicker than teaching an older person.  Don’t let the hype or stereotype of what a fly angler is supposed to look like dissuade you from taking a fly fishing trip with your kids, because I can almost guarantee you that they will learn the sport quickly and be hooked for life when taught in a low pressure, fun environment like we have at Jason’s Guide Service.

The moral of this story – I mean Blog – is that, yes, you can and should take your kids on a guided fishing trip on the Kenai River when you visit Alaska. There is nothing better than quality family time on the water.

When the Shutter Snaps

There’s nothing more beautiful than a well-composed photo of a big fish held properly with it’s skin glistening as it reflects the sunlight. Sadly those images are rare, because anglers don’t know the simple rules about holding a fish for a photo that will make it the ultimate image and get it back into the water for a successful release.

Sure, the best way to learn how to properly handle a fish for a photo – and then releasing it unharmed – is to catch lots of fish and get experience handling them. But for some that just isn’t going to happen. With that in mind let’s look at a few of my simple suggestions to make the best possible fish picture.

As a Kenai River fishing guide who targets rainbow trout, Dolly Varden char, sockeye salmon, and silver salmon I have 30 years experience guiding fishermen in Alaska and the Kenai River.  Thirty years ago I didn’t have that experience handling fish like I do now, but I had a good mentor my whole life who taught me the ways of properly handling a fish you want to release and the importance of releasing fish so you have fish to catch in the future. That would have been my Dad. I can’t go into detail in one blog on every fish handling technique, but I can give you a few that will help considerably lower the mortality rate of the fish you catch and release and create a good image.

If you take a fish out of the water for a photo or have them in a rubber net out of the water, hold your breath AND when you need breath, so does the fish.

I see anglers on the river, and in the magazines, who pick fish up by their tails and hold them vertically until they put a hand under the fishes belly for support.  This isn’t good  for the fish. You should have a hand under the fishes belly for support before you lift them out of the water or net and then their vertebrae won’t pop.

I also see people get a fish in the net and then leave it hovering above the water for minutes before they take photos. Keep the fish in the water, gills submerged, facing up stream until you are ready of that quick picture.

Fish breath by taking water into their mouth and through their gills, not by having water come from the back of their gills, so when you try and rejuvenate a fish don’t pull the fish back and forth in the water. Face the fish up stream and let the water flow through their mouth.  You can push the fish forward but never backwards, pulling the fish backwards actually suffocates the fish.

Once a fish has had a hard battle the amino acids in their muscles builds and fish need some extra time in the net or in the shallows before they should be let go.  A fish will often try and give you one big thrust of the tail only to go right to the bottom of the river, only to die.  When I let a fish go after a big battle I put them in my big rubber net and make sure that they are able to maintain buoyancy and good swimming motion before I let them go free.

I always recommend a rubber net for any species you release, and that includes all the salmon species. The slime on a fish is its immune system and a rubber net will help keep that layer of slime intact.

These are just a few things you need to know and can do so you can help do your part in conserving a species and keep your home waters full of fish for now and into the future. As far as getting the perfectly composed image. Look at angler/fish pictures done by the pros and see which you like the best. Emulate that style and you will get some great shots.

It’s About Getting the Best Image and Preserving the Resource

I am often asked, “Why do you and your guides hold the fish in all your pictures?”  The short answer is that proper handling of fish means the difference between mortality and catching the same trophy fish year after year. We are also holding the fish so that you see the fish, not your hands, when we take the photos.

The term trophy means different things to different people. In our boats they are all trophies, or future trophies depending on the fish and the angler.  The Kenai River is a glacial river that has cold water and has a very low mortality rate due the cold water most of the year.

Every guide at Jason’s Guide Service is a highly trained professional and is trained and educated in handling fish and knowing when a fish is healthy enough to take pictures of.  Our goal is to get a photo of your trophy fish for that image that lasts a lifetime, as well as getting the fish back into the Kenai River quickly to live and hopefully bite another day. We are always happy to teach and educate our anglers in the proper handling of trophy rainbow trout, Dolly Varden char, silver salmon, and sockeye salmon.

Holiday Season

The holiday season is the time of year when family and friends gather, and it’s a great time to plan and book your Kenai River fishing trip.  If you want ensure that you get the prime dates you are looking for, now is the time to book your guided fishing trip on the Kenai River. It doesn’t matter whether you are looking to book a guided salmon fishing trip or guided rainbow trout/Dolly Varden trip or a combo trip; BOOK NOW!


I suggest you talk things over as a collective group to decide what time frame you want to fish and what species interests you most.  Once you have made some decisions on what guided fishing trip you want,  book online – or call or email me personally – and we will dial you in on an unforgettable experience.