100 Best: Russian River
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, spin
Species: Red, silver, rainbows, steelhead, dolly varden
Season: Varies by species and location
Supporting Services: Kenai, Soldotna
Short take: A fine fall fishery for ‘bows. Great for sockeyes during the summer.
Handicapped Access: No
In June, every salmon-eating angler in Anchorage waits eagerly for word that the sockeye salmon run has begun on the Russian River, that 12-mile fish factory that comes into the Kenai eight miles downstream from its headwaters. At the height of July’s sockeye runs, it’s not at all uncommon to see 1,000 anglers jammed virtually shoulder in the lowest two miles of the Russian and for a mile of the Kenai downstream. Most are fishing with medium to heavy spinning gear to throw weighted flies (much of the river is reserved for fly-fishing only) but the state doesn’t care how they’re delivered as long as they weigh no more than a quarter of an ounce.
If you want to escape this inanity but still want to target salmon, follow the well-marked trail up toward Lower and then Upper Russian Lakes. An anglers’ path runs along the river and it is rich with pocket water. With each step away from the folderol at the river mouth, the number of anglers reduces exponentially. Better yet, time your trek to the Russian River for early spring or late fall. And if the region has had more than its share of summer rains, coho come up the river and spawn in beaver flowages.