By Joseph Robertia
Standing knee deep in fast-flowing water, Ninilchik resident Nick Finley could feel the cold bite of Deep Creek even through his waders. He was careful with each step, deliberately placing his rubber soles to ensure no slips on the smooth, slick rocks underfoot. He didn’t want to risk losing the fish fighting at the sharp end of his line, which, based on the bend of his rod, was no pink salmon.
“Fishing on Deep Creek has been hot anywhere from the mouth of the river all the way up a mile or so,” Finley said after winning his tight-line tussle with a sea-bright silver salmon.
While the Kenai and Kasilof rivers farther north get the lion’s share of attention from the Kenai Peninsula fishing crowds during the summer, Finley said that the southern peninsula streams — Ninilchik River, Deep Creek and Anchor River — often are overlooked by the masses this time of year, making for a pleasant autumnal outing.
“Fall fishing is enjoyable and relaxing. Mostly I get joy out of just being on the river and casting and reeling, casting and reeling,” he said, adding that, of course, catching is nice, too.
“Don’t get me wrong, I also really enjoy the fight when you have a nice 5- to 12 pound silver on the line,” he said.
Finley said that silvers started showing up around the first week of August, but didn’t really hit in catchable numbers until about another week after that.
“We started seeing them caught, and started catching the silvers ourselves, around the 15th of August. Since then, we have only fished Deep Creek, and with that said I’ve seen 20 to 30 cohos harvested out of that stream,” he said.
While the banks of these rivers aren’t lined with throngs of anglers like the Kenai or Kasilof more typically are, that’s not to say fishermen will have any of these rivers to themselves. But the crowds seem to be thinner and a little friendlier farther south, according to Frank Rawley, of Kasilof.
“There are always other anglers. That’s just a fact of life with fishing in Alaska, but it seems most of the people fishing down here at this time of year are pretty friendly. You’ll still occasionally get someone trying to hijack a hole and keep it to themselves, but, hey, there are jerks everywhere, I guess,” he said.
Rawley said that he enjoys the solitude of fall fishing, so he tries to push upstream until he finds some space to himself.
“You don’t have to go too far to find a hole of your own,” he said.
Rawley said that, as a fly-fisherman with home-tied flies, he prefers space to work his casts, and also enjoys being out of earshot from the constant clicking of spinning reels.
“It’s actually surprising how few people fly-fish these rivers,” he said. “Most days I’m the only one fly-fishing.”
Finley is one of those using more modern — Rawley’s dreaded clicking — fishing gear and tackle. He said he has done very well on a variety of lures, including Vibrax, Spin-N-Glos, a hook and bead, rubber eggs and Mepps lures, he said.
Prior to turning his attention fully to silvers and Deep Creek, Finley was targeting a variety of late-summer species at many locations.
“This year the pinks were thick in Deep Creek and the Ninilchik River, as we were catching four to eight each time we hit the river. Some pinks were good-sized, but we always release them back into the stream,” he said. “Both Ninilchik and Deep Creek are full of Dolly Vardens, too, and we have caught our share of them this year. We release all the Dollys, as well, unless we don’t think they’ll survive.”
The “we” is Finley’s wife, Natalee, and 1-year-old daughter, Portlyn, who have become his fishing buddies now that Portlyn is old enough to be outdoors for extended periods of time and Finley is finished with the set-net season.
“This year has been very special for me as I have taken my wife and my daughter each time I hit the river. We started sportfishing right after commercial fishing finished up in late July,” he said.
Like Rawley, he said that he still tries to find his own place on the river with his family.
“The key is finding the hole the silvers are stacked up in. We really don’t worry too much about the tide — we have a few hours after we get off work and we take advantage of that time. We’ve caught fish on low tide, half tide and high tide,” he said. “There is nothing like landing a fish on a hole that is 2 to 3 feet deep, and enjoying that moment with my wife and daughter,” he said.