By Clark Fair
Even when he has other things to do, just talking about fishing the lakes of the Kenai Peninsula in autumn can tempt Dave Atcheson into changing his plans.
“Fall is the best time, I think, to be out on the lakes. In the fall, the fish turn on again because the winter’s coming and they’ve gotta get full, and so fishing gets hot again in the fall,” said Atcheson, author of “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.”
“It’s also real easy to find a lake to yourself this time of year,” he said, noting that most outdoor enthusiasts in the fall split their time between hunting for game and fishing for silvers on the Kenai River or for steelhead on southern peninsula streams.
“It’s hard to drag yourself away from all (those other activities), but when I go out to a lake, I’m like, ‘Oh, boy, I miss this.’ You realize this is pretty special,” he said.
Atcheson doesn’t need much urging to get excited about fishing. He can even begin to wax philosophic once he starts picturing himself out angling, favorite fly rod in hand.
“There’s a connection to something bigger than yourself in the outdoors,” he said. “I feel it when I’m outdoors in the natural environment. And nothing puts you in the natural environment quite like fishing, and fly-fishing in particular because you’re thinking of that whole cycle of life — the insects — you’re thinking of the way the river’s flowing or the way the lake is set up.
“And you’re trying to match that insect hatch. Or if there’s salmon, the fish are feeding on eggs; they’re feeding on the flesh of the salmon. And the bear you see on the other side is connected to that; it’s all connected, and you’re part of that because you have to think how that water’s running, how that fly’s drifting, what that fly’s looking like.
“And you’re casting well, and when you’re thinking about that stuff, everything else disappears … and you’re transported somewhere, someplace where your head’s clear and you feel a connection to all this amazing stuff.”
Listening to Atcheson, it’s not difficult to imagine why he takes such pleasure in fishing in general, and in fishing the lakes during this time of the year, in particular.
Lake fishing allows him, more than in most situations, to avoid the crowds. Avoiding the crowds allows him easier access to that “connection” he likes to talk about.
“It is hard to feel that when you’re with a thousand of your closest friends,” he said, referring to “combat fishing” for sockeyes on the Russian River.
To achieve the solace and contentment that lakes have to offer, however, one must be prepared. Atcheson offers some practical suggestions for success:
- Get away from roadside lakes if you can. Roadsides are the easiest to reach, but for that very reason they receive the heaviest fishing pressure. Consider hiking or even flying into a more remote location, or use a roadside lake as an entryway to lakes farther off the road. A couple of portages between interconnected lakes can take you to the best fishing opportunities.
- If you must fish next to a road, consider angling at one of the area’s stocked lakes, such as Johnson Lake in Kasilof. Although these lakes, too, receive heavy pressure, stocking tends to keep their numbers high.
- Try to get off the shoreline. Get out on the lakes, via canoe, recreational kayak or float-tube. Fishing from shore limits your chances. You must fight the brush and the bugs. Your “reach” is hampered by the distance you can cast. Out on the lake, on the other hand, you can maneuver around the entire lake, if you wish. You can cast in under a sunken log or out to the periphery of a large weed bed.
- Be what Atcheson calls a “fish detective.” Explore as much of the lake as you can. In his angler’s guide, he provides a diagram showing the many places fish can be found — rocks, overhanging foliage, stream inlets and outlets, steep banks, lily pads — and he suggests investigating as many such locations as possible. He recommends keeping notes, too, in case you plan to return someday. “Each lake has its secrets,” Atcheson said, and it is your job to find out what they are.
- Use light or ultralight tackle to keep things lively. Atcheson recommends a spinning outfit with 6-pound-test line, or a 3- or 4-weight fly rod with a tapered leader.
- If you’re fly-fishing, note the types of insects on or in the lake. Try to match your flies to what you see. Consider both dry flies and wet flies. Experiment. One of the most reliable flies is the Egg-Sucking Leech. With the proper retrieve, Atcheson said, the hairs on the leech “undulate, and that just drives the fish crazy.”
- If you’re using a spinning outfit, try a variety of colors and sizes of lures. Atcheson recommends Krocodiles, Super Dupers, Rooster Tails, Triple Teasers and — perhaps his favorite — the Mepps Syclops.
- Vary your retrieve — a little faster, a little slower. If the fish are there, you may find just the motion they are waiting for.
- Dress warmly and dryly. If you do go out on the lakes, be safe. Wear a flotation device.
- Finally, make sure to check fishing regulations. Bag limits on the same species can vary widely, depending on location, time of year and size of fish.