I know a lot of Alaskans love their Ice Fishing. I have tried it a few times with a hand auger, and needless to say I should have checked the water level under the ice after the first hole.
Two hours and four holes later I finally decided to check the water clearance under the ice — two inches…. two *#&$*#! inches!
After this debacle I decided to do some research on possible open water fly fishing opportunities. It always came down to the same space of water — the Kenai River. Your easiest place to attempt this is in Cooper Landing under the Kenai Lake bridge where it turns into the Kenai River. There is usually ALWAYS a section of open water that starts above the bridge and continues on into an open area for a few hundred yards.
Way up until the end of February there is still Coho Salmon spawning through there. Although salmon fishing is closed, the winter trout are right behind them. The salmon eggs they are laying is the easiest food source for trout in the area. You can run a painted or mottled trout bead behind where you see the coho rolling.
Usually spring fishing is an articulated leech show. Whether black articulated, flesh/white articulated or something called a Dolly Lama which is a black and white marabou stripped articulated leech. Our trip a few days ago I decided to run the ‘Dolly Lam’ just to see what’s in the river.
Needless to say, the fly couldn’t even make it halfway down the drift without an indicator down and a late coho taking it. The easiest and best setup to run during this would be an indicator, known to most anglers as a ‘Thingymabobber.’
You need to run about 9 feet of leader line, and in my case we were using 10-lb P-Line CFX. I like running the indicator up where the loop-to-loop leader knot attaches to the main fly line.
If you are using a weighted head leech then there is no need for any lead to get the fly down. The water is usually slow this time of year, so you want just a gentle flowing motion down river. If you are fishing beads then it’s a smart idea to put on a couple of small bb-sized split shot. The fish that are feeding are predominantly eating off the bottom of the river, so the presentation needs to be in front of them as it’s traveling down river.
It is a good idea to try a few different presentations; that sometimes changes your presentation a little bit and can make the difference between hooking fish and not. If you want to try “swinging,” which is to not use an indicator, you want to have your presentation flow down the river naturally. When fishing this way you really have to pay attention to the feel of what’s going on. Nine times out of ten when your line stops it usually means a fish has picked it up but most of the time you are so surprised that you think it’s snagged on the bottom or a rock.
Fishing with indicators tends to be a lot more simple because usually when the indicator stops and pops under it is because it’s a fish messing with your presentation.
There is A LOT of open water this year on the Kenai to fish, from Cooper Landing to Soldotna, with the best places from Cooper Landing to Sterling. Bings Landing is a good place to park and travel the river hunting trout. There is a lot of private property on the Kenai River so you need to make sure you know where you are fishing. To protect the rainbow trout spawning on the Kenai River, it closes each April through June 11. This allows the trout to not be harassed while they are on the spawn, which is this time of year.
The trout that are active up until then are usually hungry and will eat anything in front of them — for the most part. I was in Cooper Landing last week and saw A LOT of open water to fish. Make sure you layer correctly because it is cold out. After 3 or 4 casts you need to plan on chipping the ice out of your rod eyelets. You can get away with dipping the rod in the water for a few casts before it freezes over, depending on whether you are casting for a fish or not.
For you hardcore fly fishermen — like me — who NEED to fish all year round, this is your best winter option.