Russian River

Our time on the Kenai Peninsula was spent fishing three different streams and on a “road trip” to Seward.  We blogged about this in our “Alaska – Part 4” post with a little in the “Alaska – Part 2” post, when we also went to Denali National Park and Talkeetna.    However, we could only include 5 pictures on the blog posts then due to internet restrictions…. so… we hope you enjoy the Kenai Peninsula Highlights music video we put together with many more pictures… and…. a bear cameo to boot!

Ramble On!

The Russian River, near Cooper Landing (AK) is another of the Trout Unlimited Top 100 Trout Streams.  We had the great pleasure of fishing the Russian with Matt Marchand of Alaska Troutfitters.  Matt gave us a great introduction to the river, essentially walking upstream from the Pink Salmon parking lot, all the way to where we hit a ton of salmon anglers just below the falls.  We fished every hole that was void of other anglers, catching beautiful rainbow trout along the way.  Of course, we also encountered bears who were feasting on some of the sockeye salmon carcasses that anglers upstream had tossed into the river.  Turns out when an angler catches a sockeye, the recommended practice is to filet it immediately and toss the remnants, cut into small pieces, into the river.  This attracts the bears of course.  We came to understand that one side of the river was for people, the other for the bears.  As long as all kept to their sides, things were fine.  We did meet a couple who’d been sockeye fishing on the “wrong” side for humans, and had a bear encounter.  They were shaken by the experience, as we’d have been too!

We sat down with Matt on a Kenai River dock to discuss fishing the Russian River, including best flies, best ways to fish it and why the Russian is so special.   We hope you enjoy our Russian River Ramble with Matt Marchand.

Kenai Peninsula Week

Day 24:  Back to Anchorage

While our time at Alaska West had ended, we still had to get back to Anchorage to meet up with fishing buddy James Kelley to start our Kenai Peninsula leg.  To do that required  the reverse of how we got to Alaska West….. Step 1: boat ride from the tent camp to the native village of Quinhagak.  When we got there, the tide was at a crazy high at 14.2 feet up, meaning our guides navigated the jet boats through a scattering of native’s boats, and up a road that was well underwater.  It was funny seeing the guides looking at one another, wondering what was the best way to go.  But…. we made it out of the boats and after a short walk, we boarded our “school bus” for a short ride to the Quinhagak airport terminal.  

What you have to understand about the Quinhagak terminal, is that it’s a small house, with no “security”.  We didn’t see any TSA agents, only a native selling trinkets and wolf hides in the “gift shop” area of the small terminal/house.  It was raining, of course, as we walked out to our small, 8 passenger single prop plane and took off down the runway with a large “bump” in it.  Luckily, the plane had lifted before we hit the bump (we hit it on landing a week earlier).  

After a short flight from Quinhagak to Bethel, we located our luggage and fish boxes (yes, we brought out 100 lbs of salmon).   We proceeded to “formally” check in at the Bethel terminal, have our bags weighed, lamented how our bags were left behind last time on this leg and waited.  Finally, we boarded a Dash 8 and took the 1.5 hour flight to Anchorage…. where we found James waiting for us at baggage claim.  We grabbed our rental car and headed to the Kenai Peninsula and the little community of Cooper Landing, right on the Kenai & Russian Rivers.

Barb and I celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary with James by having dinner at the Kingfisher, a local restaurant and bar located right on the water.  After a good meal and lots of story telling, we headed to our cabins for the night.

Day 25:  Quartz Creek Stomping

We met Matt Marchaund at Alaska Troutfitters and headed out to Quartz Creek for the day.  Barb and I had fished with Matt on the Russian earlier on our trip and he’d talked about how Quarts Creek was ‘coming into shape’ and might be a great option.  After parking at the Crescent Creek campground, we fished our way upstream through several holes, hooking into a fish here and there.  It was still early for the Quartz, but, we were encouraged seeing a huge King salmon.  At some point eggs would be laid, and some would drift downstream to waiting trout and dolly varden, but not just yet.  Still, we found several willing fish to hit our egg beads.  

We had lunch, sitting on the bank of the river before heading downstream to fish a few holes.  We crossed over Crescent Creek, which was flowing strong, before hitting a couple of really nice spots and hooking into more fish.  We’d had a great day fishing with Matt and headed back to our cabins and dinner at Sacketts… pizza!

Day 26:  #100… CHECK!

This was the day…. our chance to fish the Kenai River, which would be the 100th river on the TU list we’d been fishing.  We met our guide for the day, Simmons Adickes of Mystic Waters Fly Fishing, in front of our cabin and headed off to the Sportsman’s Landing launch.  After putting on our life vests, getting our safety instructions, launching and getting our fishing instruction, we started.  Within 15 minutes we’d landed (Barb, of course) our first of many Kenai River fish, a feisty rainbow.  

We fished through the “Refuge” section with really good success, picking off rainbows and dolly varden with regularity.  We’d also seen eagles (bald and juvenile) around every bend in the river.  Simmons told us how one bald eagle, Frank, had bombed his boat when we was landing a fish for a client.  Frank literally flew down and plucked the fish right from the net, and proceeded to fly away with it.  We were laughing so hard as the story continued…. turns out, the fish was still hooked by the angler, so as Frank flew away, the fly line was screaming off the reel of the angler, but, it was 40’ in the air as Frank was taking the fish to his nest.  Just like bears always win when it decides it wants your fish, so do bald eagles.  Frank got the fish (with a hook still in its mouth) and the angler got his line back, hookless.

We went through the “canyon” section with less fishing success, but it was absolutely gorgeous.  The rapids were large (Class III) so we sat a lot as we rode them out, but fished some gravel bars along the way.  At the end of the “canyon” section, we emerged into Skilak Lake where Simmons turned on the motor and we started our 6 mile trek across the lake.  About 2/3 of the way across, we encountered some big waves caused by a westerly wind which made us a bit nervous, but Simmons navigated us safely across.  We even saw a small black bear perched on a ledge along the lake.

When we landed at the boat ramp, and exhaled having successfully crossed the lake, we smiled as we remembered that today, we’d crossed off river 100.  While our quest to fish (and land a fish) in each of the TU Top 100 trout stream, we still had more days to fish.  

Day 27:  DIY

This was our DIY day, with the three of us heading off to fish both Quartz Creek and the Russian River on our own.  We started on Quartz Creek by hiking up a trail from the Crescent Creek campground for about 1/2 mile.  After bushwhacking our way to the river, we found good spots to drop in and proceeded to fish our way downstream, hole by hole, back to the parking lot.  

Barb was on fire, picking up beautiful dolly varden in most every hole, but James had the “hook up” of the day.  He hollered at me to come help and when I got there and looked into the water, I saw a huge sockeye salmon fighting James line.  Now understand, James had hooked into numerous sockeyes when we fished with Matt a couple of days earlier, and Matt had showed him how to point the rod at them and get the hook out.  You really don’t want to fight a sockeye with a 6wt rod you’re using to catch rainbows and dolly varden.  However, there was more than met my eye.  

When I looked closer, I saw that in reality, James had hooked a nice dolly, and in the process of fighting it, the line had crossed through the mouth of the sockeye, and he was fighting BOTH of the fish.  We had a small trout net with us that was of no use in landing the sockeye/dolly combo, so we tried to work it out of the sockeye’s mouth.  After a few minutes, the sockeye turned, the line came out and we landed the dolly successfully…. whew!

We grabbed lunch at our cabins as we were heading over to fish the Russian River.  We parked at the Grayling lot and headed down to the river.  When we reached the banks, looking both up and downstream, there were salmon anglers everywhere.  We decided we still had to fish, so, with our trout rods and dry flies at the ready, we began fishing.  At that same moment, a black bear decided to grace our fishing spot for a few moments, pausing to notice us, but walking away quickly.

We worked our way upstream, dropping into holes that looked ‘fishy’ whenever we could, but the salmon anglers were still everywhere.  I was able to snag a nice dolly tight line nymphing, but the real highlight of the afternoon was still to come.  

As we were walking downstream, back to the Grayling parking lot, we encountered anglers talking about a bear.  When we got to one of the angler access points, we saw a couple standing there with bear spray out and even a knife at the ready.  We walked out onto the small deck they were standing on and proceeded to watch a grizzly, slowly making his way upstream, pausing periodically to take a few bites out of salmon that had been caught and filleted by anglers upstream.  The anglers had tossed the remains of their catches in the river and the grizzly was feasting on their discarded salmon.  He put on a good show for us for about 15 minutes before heading back into the woods.  

Day 28:  Mystic Waters 

When we began planning our Alaska leg of our River Ramble, we worked with the folks at Yellow Dog Fly Fishing.  They’d recommended we contact Stacy at Mystic Waters Fly Fishing for our Kenai river adventures.  We met Stacy at 7am and prepared to embark for our second Kenai river trip.  First, we had to decide what section to fish…. remember, our Skilak Lake crossing the last time with Simmons had made us think about not fishing the “canyon” section which required the 6 mile lake crossing at the end.  After checking the weather conditions for the day and talking with Stacy, the fact he’d been guiding on the Kenai for 20 years, we headed back to fish the “Refuge” and “canyon” sections again…. really great decision.

We hooked into a lot of nice fish early on the trip, but it really got “hot” when we pulled into several back eddies.  The rainbows were hiding in the slack current of the eddies still awaiting the big drop of eggs from the king salmon and later the sockeyes.  We took turns fishing these spots, and each landed fish when we dropped in.  Fun!

At the end of the day, when we got to Skilak Lake, it was so calm and clear.  The reflections off the water of the clouds and the rock cliffs surrounding the lake were incredible.  We’d had another banner day on the Kenai fishing with Stacy and decided right then, we’d have to come back.

Day 29:  Upper Kenai

Our last “fishing” day in Alaska started with packing up and getting ready for the drive back to Anchorage.  However, we wanted to fish more, so we set off with Mike of Alaska Troutfitters on a 1/2 day float along the Upper stretch of the Kenai, a stretch we’d not fished.  While the calm, slow water at the launch site at Cooper Landing was comforting, the wave fishing we’d be doing later was a challenge that we met head on.  Mike said “the Kings make their redds here, so the big trout line up behind them”… and we were fishing for big trout.  Go big or go home was our motto.  

After fishing for a bit, we pulled into a couple of backwater areas and fished first for trout and next for silvers.  James had success at both, hooking into a nice trout as well as a big sockeye.  Mike was a great guide and coach for us along the way, but of course, Barb was schooling us both…. most fish, biggest fish, you name it.  

When we reached the boat ramp at the end of our float, it was a bit of a bittersweet feeling.  This was our last fishing day in Alaska, and the last fishing day of our TU Top 100 River Ramble.  It’s been an amazing adventure and the memories will last forever.  The stories we have will continue to be told forever as well.  So while we were excited for achieving our goal of fishing (and catching a fish in) the TU Top 100 trout streams… we were also somewhat sad it was “over”.  

Day 30:  Saying “Goodbye” 

We said goodbye to James as he headed back to Nashville and then spent one more night in Anchorage.  Waking up early, packing everything up, grabbing our 100 lbs of salmon from the hotel freezer and heading to ANC, our last day in Alaska was another day of travel….  But wait, we’d already talked about coming back to Alaska in 2020 to fish during prime time on the Kenai and Russian Rivers… and…. we’ve talked about going back to Maine, and our newly minted state of WeNoCarNoGaEaTen (aka. Western North Carolina, Northern Georgia, Eastern Tennessee), California, Pennsylvania and our home waters around Montana, Idaho and Wyoming…. it seems line our Rambles will be continuing.  Alaska simply confirmed our passions to continue our fishing adventures.

Ramble On!

PROLOGUE: For Days 1-2, visit “Air Crosswords of the World”.  For Days 3-8 visit, “Alaska – Part 1”.

Day 9: Kenai Peninsula Travel Day

After sharing a cab with Ferdinando and Eleonora from Iliamna Air Taxi to the airport, we picked up our Hertz car and headed for…. ok…. we headed for Chinese food.  We had spent 7 days being fed incredible meals… and no internet…. so we each luxuriated over a two-item plate at an Anchorage Panda Express and relished their hi-speed wifi connection.  Both were sublime.

After our two hour lunch / internet fix, we headed for the Kenai Peninsula and our cabin in Cooper Landing (AK).  We were staying with Alaska Troutfitters (ATF) in their “Eagles Nest” cabin which was comfy, roomy, equipped  and had a gorgeous view of the glacial blue Kenai River.  We walked down to their dock and were in awe of just how beautiful the water looked.  Dusty, the owner at ATF, had set us up for this stay as well as when we head back on August 12th for our full “Kenai Week” (Part 4).  We headed further down the road to Gwin’s Roadhouse for dinner (fish and chips!) and a few Alaskan Ambers before calling it a day.  Travel days are always tough, especially given our day started with walking to a boat dock to get on a float plane to Iliamna Airport, transferring to another plane to get to Anchorage and then a two hour drive to Cooper Landing.  

Day 10:  Road Trip to Seward

When I was booking our travel, I was intrigued by how close we were to one of the “deep water” ports in Alaska, Seward.  Cook Inlet, on which Anchorage sits, is too shallow at low tide to allow large ships to enter and stay in port at Anchorage.  So, the closest deepwater port to Anchorage is Seward.   We’d decided a “Road Trip” to Seward was in order and that IF the weather was cooperative, we’d consider taking a 4 hour “cruise” in Resurrection Bay and beyond to perhaps get a glimpse of calving ice, killer whales, puffins and other wildlife.  When we arrived, it was cold, windy and we found a great brewery right on the main street in town, aptly named, Seward Brewing Company.

We sidled up to the bar, grabbed a couple of stools and proceeded to get a flight of their beers; Japow!, Red 6 Rye, Summer Skool Sesh IPA and Pinbone IPA.  As it turned out, all but the Red 6 Rye were quite “hoppy”…. not our favs, but we still found the bottom of all 4 glasses.  We were told this was a great place for food as well, but we were on a food quest at that moment, looking for salmon patties.  We’d had them twice during our stay at Intricate Bay Lodge and our cravings had returned.  

We proceeded to walk up and down the main street in Seward, popping our head into stores, snapping some pics of some “signs” (some humorous, some reflective) and reading every single restaurant menu on the street looking for salmon patties.  Alas, we struck out but slowly learned that salmon wasn’t really “king” in Seward as it was in Cooper Landing, but Alaskan crab and halibut were.  OK…. so the “quest” turned into Alaskan crab cakes and we headed down to the “port” area of Seward where we saw a huge Holland America Cruise ship and a couple of nice seafood restaurants right on the water.  As we perused their menu’s, another menu trend emerged…. on the water, very expensive…. and furthermore, they were loaded with folks just off the cruise ships wanting a “fine dining” experience.  If you’ve not noticed in our previous posts, Barb and I search out the “locals” places and the “dives” with great food.  We were lucky and found one on the side of the street away from the water.  We ordered a seafood basket of halibut, rockfish, salmon and calamari and went to town on it.  YUM!

After dinner, we headed back to Cooper Landing to get ready for….

Day 11:  Russian River

The Russian River is one of the TU Top 100 Trout Streams and would be number 98 of the 100 we’ve fished.  It was billed in the book as “great for sockeye’s during summer”, which translates to “combat fishing”.  Imagine a thousand anglers lined up shoulder to shoulder…. also, as John Ross, the author of the TU book puts it “Imagine a coxswain calling out this rhythm: ‘One, Two, Three, CAST! Drift, Drift, Drift. Ready. Set. Retrieve!’ ….. It’s not about fishing – it’s a trip to the circus.”  Fortunately, this is NOT what we came to the Russian River to do.  

We were fishing for trout, and had the pleasure of fishing with Matt Marchound of Alaska Troutfitters, who wanted to show us his river, the Russian.  We were staying at Alaska Troutfitters so all we had to do is walk up from our cabin to the fly shop to meet Matt.  We jumped into his Subaru and headed for the Pink Salmon Parking Lot along the Russian River.  We proceeded to hike upstream, sometimes on a trail and sometimes in the water, fishing holes that seemed “fishy”.  To Barb and me, it ALL looked fishy but Matt steered us to spots he felt really good about and spots that were away from other anglers.  Most people we encountered were fishing for sockeye salmon but we’d had our fill of “flossing” for sockeye, so we continued to target trout.  I fished dries most of the time while Barb was alternating between dries and a nymph rig.  We started catching trout regularly in the 10-14” range… and on a 4 or 5 wt rod, in fast water, it was lots of fun.  

Of course, we encountered bears, but this time they were all black bears.  We saw two solo and one mom with a cub in tow.  Lucky for us, they were always on the other side of the river from us, but the river was only 20’ wide typically, so we were still pretty close.  At one hole, one of the solo bears decided to jump in the water and began swimming toward us.  Matt quickly said “reel ‘em in” and proceeded to escort Barb away from the bear, which was swimming directly at them.  As it turned out, the only thing the bear wanted was a piece of sockeye salmon that was floating downstream.  

Remember earlier, I’d mentioned that most of the anglers in the river were fishing for sockeye salmon.  They weren’t in “catch and release” mode like we were, they were in full on catch, filet on the spot and keep mode.  Therefore, there was often chunks of salmon floating downstream that was attracting the bears to an easy meal.  They weren’t actually having to catch live salmon in the river, but were scavenging angler’s scraps.  Smart bears!

After fishing and hiking our way upstream to the point where the falls came in and sockeye anglers were lined up “flossing”, we stepped out of the river and began our journey back to the parking lot.  Matt took us up a beautiful “short cut”, which required a little climbing…. which didn’t seem to be on a path, but on a long, uphill rock strewn runoff bed which they called Highway to Heaven.  We climbed and climbed, finally reaching the “Falls Trail” and had a nice, DOWNHILL walk out.  All told, Barb’s watch showed we’d hiked 4.78 miles, much of it in the river.  Honestly, this may be one of our favorite things to do….. creek stompin’ fishing.  

After we got back to Matt’s car, we headed back to Alaska Troutfitters.  We had one more thing to do, a “Guide Talk” with Matt.  He had the perfect spot for us, the floating dock down on the Kenai River.  Stay tuned for that post, Matt was awesome! 

Day 12:  Road Trip to Talkeetna

When we booked our stay at Alaska Troutfitters, the owner, Dusty, asked where else we were going.  When we told her Denali National Park and Preserve, she immediately said we HAD to stop in the little town of Talkeetna, so we booked a