COOPER LANDING, Alaska — Carl Coulliette sat in the back of his drift boat and watched the magic of the Kenai River at work.
In front of him, two of the fishermen he was guiding – Aaron Mastro and Paul Schmidt – were fighting trophy trout, the fish that have brought the Kenai worldwide fame. And Coulliette was singing the praises of the river he calls “the holy grail of trout fishermen.”
“It’s pretty common to catch a trout 18 to 25 inches here,” said Coulliette, who guides for Alaska Troutfitters in Cooper Landing. “These fish definitely are not on Weight Watchers.
“The odds of catching a 10-pound rainbow are better here than anywhere in the world, in my opinion. You just don’t get a bite like this anywhere else.”
Mastro, Schmidt and Patt Wreggelsworth – Michigan residents who met while fishing for steelheads in their home state – certainly weren’t arguing.
Moments after Mastro landed a big rainbow and Schmidt pulled in a strapping Dolly Varden, both of the fly fishermen were acting as though they were in heaven.
The three friends used flyrods to catch an estimated 40 to 50 big trout, a mix of rainbows and Dolly Vardens that they released. They used a rig that consisted of a plastic bead that imitated a fish egg, with a small hook below it and a strike indicator above it. They cast upstream and used a controlled drift, mending their line to keep their bait along the current line.
Time and time again, that method produced big results. The strike indicator would go down, a fisherman would set the hook, the line would rapidly cut through the water and the thumping power of a big trout would bend the flyrod almost double.
For Coulliette, such trips have become almost commonplace by now. The Kenai has all the makings of a trout paradise – cool, clear water, steady current, a hard bottom, and a good food base. And at no time of the year does it produce bigger fish than now.
“This is prime time right now,” he said. “The Dolly Vardens are making their spawning run up the Kenai out of Skilak Lake. And the rainbows are feeding up. From September clear up until the end of October, the fishing can be excellent.”