Outdoors & Recreation
Life in Alaska

Fall Fly Fishing on the Kenai

Story and Media by
Tessa Shetter
Media by
Dan Redfield
Written by
Tessa Shetter

My boyfriend, Kory, and I have lived in Alaska for most of our lives. We both grew up fishing, but our love of the sport really took off when we started dating. Our schedule mainly consists of work, school, and fishing, so when we were given the opportunity to film a fall fishing episode for Alaska Photoventures with Dan Redfield, we couldn’t pass it up.

To give some background information not mentioned in our episode, Kory and I were filming a wedding in Talkeetna the day before until about 10 p.m. and had to be in Cooper Landing the next morning. For those who don’t know Alaska’s geography, we were 210 miles north of our fishing destination with Dan. By the time we got home and by the time we had to leave for the river, we didn’t get much sleep. Although we were tired, we were still determined to make a good day out of it.

Our morning began with waking up at 5 a.m., loading our gear, and hooking up the drift boat. Since we were well into autumn, the sun didn’t rise until about 8 a.m., and we wanted to give ourselves enough time to make the two-hour drive from Anchorage so we could be at the river at first light.

However, incredibly thick fog had rolled into the Cooper Landing area, which slowed our driving time (but made for some beautiful scenery captured by the drone).

Aerial of the Kenai River embellished by fall colors.

By 8:30 a.m., we had met up with Dan at our launch point and began the shuttle process as all drift boaters do. We set up our rods, put on our waders, and unloaded the drift boat into the river. From there, Dan and Kory took both vehicles down to our takeout location and dropped the trailer off while I waited with the boat. That way when we were exhausted at the end of the day, the trailer would be already waiting for us to load everything up.

Once we were ready, Dan and Kory jumped into the boat and I pushed us out of the shallows into the vast, swift-flowing Kenai River. About 60 seconds later, we landed and got out. Our first fishing spot was only a few hundred yards downstream from the launch. It was a section we mainly fish for salmon, but we thought that even though the salmon weren’t running, the landscape was perfect for a Photoventures episode.

We began by using flesh flies. During this time of the year, the salmon have gone through their spawning cycle and begin to deteriorate, making those little pieces of salmon flesh perfect snacks for trout.

After what seemed like forever, we had no takers. I felt like giving up and began to walk back to the drift boat when I happened upon two salmon just ahead of the bow of our shore-anchored boat. After observing the fish, I realized they were swimming together to spawn.

We call these types of fish stragglers, since the prime spawning season had already passed, but they were still in cycle. With that new knowledge of our situation, we changed our setups and fished some more with renewed hopes. Kory and I each put a painted bead on our lines and began working the feeding lanes close to the spawning sockeyes. Feeding lanes are fast sections of water where food is most likely to flow.

Not long after we had changed our setups, I heard Kory downriver yelling for the net. No matter what the size, Kory is always beaming with joy when he hooks into a fish.

Kory drifting a line down the river

Though this was a small rainbow, we were ecstatic to finally get a fish into the net. It’s a rewarding feeling to go from “I don’t know this area. I don’t know what the fish like here. I don’t know where they hold or where they feed,” to “oh, there’s some spawning salmon right there. Let me put on a bead and see what happens.”

The Kenai River is big water and is hard to figure out. Especially when you’re in a drift boat and only get one pass and one chance to get it right. It can be overwhelming. But persistence and focused observation narrows it down and reminds us that it’s just another rewarding place to fish.

As the day went on, we became more optimistic and we were much more motivated. After Kory released his trout, I hooked into one soon after—the game of numbers had begun.

Our next stop was at a braided section of the river with various log jams. In the fall, log jams are considered by anglers to be fish strainers. As salmon carcasses flow down steam, many get hung up in the log jams throughout the river. This makes a great place for trout to congregate and feed on scraps.

I was already exhausted and decided to take a little river nap, which to be honest is pretty rare for me. But given the nice day, I thought it was the perfect time to catch some z’s, as Dan would say. This gave Kory a chance to study the river and target the log jams with more flesh flies.

Kory noticed a log jam structure that had the perfect feeding ledge, which is an area of the water that leads into a deeper drop where fish lay and wait for food to pass above them in the slower moving current.

With Kory’s vast experience with fishing those types of structures, he knew exactly the fly he needed to tie on, and had a fish fooled within minutes. For this section, the fish Kory landed would be considered a quality-sized rainbow.

Tessa showing off one of many catches of the day

After some quick pictures and videos of the fish, it was released and swam quickly back to his feeding spot, as Kory set up to catch yet another fish moments after. When we take our photos, we like to use a high-speed shutter to capture as many images as possible in order to release the fish in a timely manner. In most cases, to save time, we don’t even look through the viewfinder.

At this point, I didn’t have time to save up any more energy and had to get back into the game, as Kory was now up by two fish.

With this spot fished out now, we floated farther downstream in search of another fishy-looking location to try our luck in. We ended up floating into a shallow area that was filled with numerous, bright red sockeyes.

Despite trying various beads, Kory and I only managed to catch one small rainbow each, which made it pretty clear that the fish were starting to slow down their egg consumption for the season. In the peak of the egg drop, a run of spawning salmon like this should have produced a trout on every cast. So, with that, we decided to move on.

I still wanted to remain consistent with the number of spawning fish we were seeing, so I kept my bead on and fished from the boat as we floated closer to the takeout.

Tessa and Kory showing off a nice Rainbow Trout before releasing it back to the river.

To my surprise, as we were nearing the end of our float, in a section of water where I didn’t expect fish to be, my rod began to bend. And of course, Dan was taking his third lunch break and missed the hookset (we still love him, though).

As the sun was setting in the trees, we snapped a few final photos to cap off a great day.

With the temperature (and our energy) dropping, it was time to go home. We couldn’t have picked a better day to experience the full potential of fall in Alaska. The colors, the fish, the people—there is no such thing as a bad day of fishing to us and getting to experience it with Dan made it a trip that we will never forget.

Tess Shetter: Growing up in Alaska, it is not uncommon to know how to fish by the age of 3, the very age I caught my first silver salmon. Alaska is the state of all things big and beautiful … mountains, rivers, fish, animals – everything. Winters are rough and long, but when summer comes, the sky’s the limit and so is the sunlight! With nightfall somewhere around 3 a.m., it is possible to have literally all day to accomplish your goals, which in my case is an extreme advantage when it comes to fishing.

Now, even though I’ve been fishing most of my life, I find this little hobby of mine is still a daily learning experience that I have by no means mastered yet. However, I’ve picked up a few hints and tips along my journey so far that I can share. So from me to you, happy fishing, and may the fish gods be with you!

Dan Redfield is a full-time Emmy® nominated filmmaker and adventure photographer. Dan created Alaska Photoventures to fulfill his love for both film and photography. It is his excuse to meet amazing people and explore new places in Alaska.

No items found.

Fall Fly Fishing on the Kenai

Outdoors & Recreation
Life in Alaska

Author

Tessa Shetter

Growing up in Alaska, it is not uncommon to know how to fish by the age of 3, the very age I caught my first silver salmon. Alaska is the state of all things big and beautiful ... mountains, rivers, fish, animals – everything. Winters are rough and long, but when summer comes, the sky’s the limit and so is the sunlight! With nightfall somewhere around 3 a.m., it is possible to have literally all day to accomplish your goals, which in my case is an extreme advantage when it comes to fishing.

Now, even though I’ve been fishing most of my life, I find this little hobby of mine is still a daily learning experience that I have by no means mastered yet. However, I’ve
picked up a few hints and tips along my journey so far that I can share. So from me to you, happy fishing, and may the fish gods be with you!

My boyfriend, Kory, and I have lived in Alaska for most of our lives. We both grew up fishing, but our love of the sport really took off when we started dating. Our schedule mainly consists of work, school, and fishing, so when we were given the opportunity to film a fall fishing episode for Alaska Photoventures with Dan Redfield, we couldn’t pass it up.

To give some background information not mentioned in our episode, Kory and I were filming a wedding in Talkeetna the day before until about 10 p.m. and had to be in Cooper Landing the next morning. For those who don’t know Alaska’s geography, we were 210 miles north of our fishing destination with Dan. By the time we got home and by the time we had to leave for the river, we didn’t get much sleep. Although we were tired, we were still determined to make a good day out of it.

Our morning began with waking up at 5 a.m., loading our gear, and hooking up the drift boat. Since we were well into autumn, the sun didn’t rise until about 8 a.m., and we wanted to give ourselves enough time to make the two-hour drive from Anchorage so we could be at the river at first light.

However, incredibly thick fog had rolled into the Cooper Landing area, which slowed our driving time (but made for some beautiful scenery captured by the drone).

Aerial of the Kenai River embellished by fall colors.

By 8:30 a.m., we had met up with Dan at our launch point and began the shuttle process as all drift boaters do. We set up our rods, put on our waders, and unloaded the drift boat into the river. From there, Dan and Kory took both vehicles down to our takeout location and dropped the trailer off while I waited with the boat. That way when we were exhausted at the end of the day, the trailer would be already waiting for us to load everything up.

Once we were ready, Dan and Kory jumped into the boat and I pushed us out of the shallows into the vast, swift-flowing Kenai River. About 60 seconds later, we landed and got out. Our first fishing spot was only a few hundred yards downstream from the launch. It was a section we mainly fish for salmon, but we thought that even though the salmon weren’t running, the landscape was perfect for a Photoventures episode.

We began by using flesh flies. During this time of the year, the salmon have gone through their spawning cycle and begin to deteriorate, making those little pieces of salmon flesh perfect snacks for trout.

After what seemed like forever, we had no takers. I felt like giving up and began to walk back to the drift boat when I happened upon two salmon just ahead of the bow of our shore-anchored boat. After observing the fish, I realized they were swimming together to spawn.

We call these types of fish stragglers, since the prime spawning season had already passed, but they were still in cycle. With that new knowledge of our situation, we changed our setups and fished some more with renewed hopes. Kory and I each put a painted bead on our lines and began working the feeding lanes close to the spawning sockeyes. Feeding lanes are fast sections of water where food is most likely to flow.

Not long after we had changed our setups, I heard Kory downriver yelling for the net. No matter what the size, Kory is always beaming with joy when he hooks into a fish.

Kory drifting a line down the river

Though this was a small rainbow, we were ecstatic to finally get a fish into the net. It’s a rewarding feeling to go from “I don’t know this area. I don’t know what the fish like here. I don’t know where they hold or where they feed,” to “oh, there’s some spawning salmon right there. Let me put on a bead and see what happens.”

The Kenai River is big water and is hard to figure out. Especially when you’re in a drift boat and only get one pass and one chance to get it right. It can be overwhelming. But persistence and focused observation narrows it down and reminds us that it’s just another rewarding place to fish.

As the day went on, we became more optimistic and we were much more motivated. After Kory released his trout, I hooked into one soon after—the game of numbers had begun.

Our next stop was at a braided section of the river with various log jams. In the fall, log jams are considered by anglers to be fish strainers. As salmon carcasses flow down steam, many get hung up in the log jams throughout the river. This makes a great place for trout to congregate and feed on scraps.

I was already exhausted and decided to take a little river nap, which to be honest is pretty rare for me. But given the nice day, I thought it was the perfect time to catch some z’s, as Dan would say. This gave Kory a chance to study the river and target the log jams with more flesh flies.

Kory noticed a log jam structure that had the perfect feeding ledge, which is an area of the water that leads into a deeper drop where fish lay and wait for food to pass above them in the slower moving current.

With Kory’s vast experience with fishing those types of structures, he knew exactly the fly he needed to tie on, and had a fish fooled within minutes. For this section, the fish Kory landed would be considered a quality-sized rainbow.

Tessa showing off one of many catches of the day

After some quick pictures and videos of the fish, it was released and swam quickly back to his feeding spot, as Kory set up to catch yet another fish moments after. When we take our photos, we like to use a high-speed shutter to capture as many images as possible in order to release the fish in a timely manner. In most cases, to save time, we don’t even look through the viewfinder.

At this point, I didn’t have time to save up any more energy and had to get back into the game, as Kory was now up by two fish.

With this spot fished out now, we floated farther downstream in search of another fishy-looking location to try our luck in. We ended up floating into a shallow area that was filled with numerous, bright red sockeyes.

Despite trying various beads, Kory and I only managed to catch one small rainbow each, which made it pretty clear that the fish were starting to slow down their egg consumption for the season. In the peak of the egg drop, a run of spawning salmon like this should have produced a trout on every cast. So, with that, we decided to move on.

I still wanted to remain consistent with the number of spawning fish we were seeing, so I kept my bead on and fished from the boat as we floated closer to the takeout.

Tessa and Kory showing off a nice Rainbow Trout before releasing it back to the river.

To my surprise, as we were nearing the end of our float, in a section of water where I didn’t expect fish to be, my rod began to bend. And of course, Dan was taking his third lunch break and missed the hookset (we still love him, though).

As the sun was setting in the trees, we snapped a few final photos to cap off a great day.

With the temperature (and our energy) dropping, it was time to go home. We couldn’t have picked a better day to experience the full potential of fall in Alaska. The colors, the fish, the people—there is no such thing as a bad day of fishing to us and getting to experience it with Dan made it a trip that we will never forget.

Tess Shetter: Growing up in Alaska, it is not uncommon to know how to fish by the age of 3, the very age I caught my first silver salmon. Alaska is the state of all things big and beautiful … mountains, rivers, fish, animals – everything. Winters are rough and long, but when summer comes, the sky’s the limit and so is the sunlight! With nightfall somewhere around 3 a.m., it is possible to have literally all day to accomplish your goals, which in my case is an extreme advantage when it comes to fishing.

Now, even though I’ve been fishing most of my life, I find this little hobby of mine is still a daily learning experience that I have by no means mastered yet. However, I’ve picked up a few hints and tips along my journey so far that I can share. So from me to you, happy fishing, and may the fish gods be with you!

Dan Redfield is a full-time Emmy® nominated filmmaker and adventure photographer. Dan created Alaska Photoventures to fulfill his love for both film and photography. It is his excuse to meet amazing people and explore new places in Alaska.

No items found.

Author

Tessa Shetter

Author & Media

Tessa Shetter

Media Contributor

Dan Redfield

Read This Next