When Is the Best Time
When it comes to fishing, good timing can often be one of the best ingredients for success. Even in Alaska – where the fishing opportunities are some of the best in the world – it pays to be in the right place at the right time.
For some species, peak periods last for just a few weeks out of the year, so getting it right can make or break your Alaska fishing trip. Luckily, the right information can help you on your way to an outstanding fishing experience and ensure you don’t leave empty-handed.
The best time to travel to Alaska for fishing is in the summer months. Peak times are June, July, and August. Especially late July is the best period for many salmon species. However, there are opportunities throughout the year, as different species appear at various times.
Best Time to Fish King Salmon
The best time to fish king salmon in Alaska is from May to July. During these months, there is a peak in numbers in mid-July on the Kenai River and a peak in early June on the Kasilof River.
Read our guide to Alaska in June, if you plan to visit during this month.
As the largest salmon species in the Pacific, the king salmon is one of the most impressive fish to catch in Alaska. Generally, individuals weigh between 15 and 60 pounds, with the largest being found on the Kenai River – which remains the site of a world record 97.25-pound king salmon caught in 1985. You’re unlikely to come across any as large as this, as the majority of king salmon on the Kenai weigh an average of 35 pounds. Despite this, individuals breaching the 80-pound mark are caught every year.
King salmon can be identified by their silvery sides and bluish-green heads, with the upper halves of their bodies being covered in black spots. They usually spend 3 or 4 years in the ocean, primarily feeding on smaller fish, before returning to their home rivers to breed.
Difficulty: The king salmon is named for its formidable size and powerful fighting ability, making it a challenging fish to land. They can be caught using both conventional and fly fishing methods but are often tricky to hook, making it rare to catch more than two in a day.
Where to Catch: The Kenai, Kasilof and Nushagak Rivers are the three main areas where king salmon can be caught in Alaska. The Kenai River is home to the largest individuals and is also one of the easiest rivers to access, running parallel to the Sterling Highway for large sections. Just like the Kenai, the Kasilof River boasts two distinct runs of king salmon and provides great opportunities for fishing this species. It is less suited to motor boats, however, being smaller and very shallow in places.
The Nushagak River is by far the most remote of the three, situated on the west side of Bristol Bay. As a result, it offers peaceful fishing conditions and sees larger king salmon runs than other regions, with over 100,000 visiting on some years.
Best Time to Fish Pink Salmon
Pink Salmon can be caught in Alaska from July until August. Within this period, mid-August is the best time as it sees a peak in numbers, especially on even-numbered years.
Pink salmon is one of the smaller salmon species to be found in Alaska. They are nicknamed “humpies”, due to the distinctive humped backs of the males during the spawning season. They are usually silvery-grey in color, with some having a pink tinge to their bodies. Most pink salmon weigh between 3 and 6 pounds, although larger individuals can sometimes exceed 10 pounds.
Despite their small size, pink salmon are very numerous in Alaska, making them a popular target for anglers. They move into freshwater systems in incredibly large numbers, providing opportunities to catch more than 100 in a day when the conditions are right. Pink salmon spawn every two years – a breeding pattern which mainly coincides with even-numbered years – making these the best times to fish for them.
Difficulty: Although smaller than most other salmon species, pink salmon are aggressive fish and will usually put up a fight. Despite this, their relative lack of power makes them easy to catch. Spin and fly fishing are both effective methods of landing pink salmon.
Where to Catch: Pink salmon can be found across much of Alaska and are present in the majority of fishing rivers. The Kenai River is often the best place to go – offering incredible scenery and accessibility – however, the Kasilof River and areas around Kodiak Island also see large numbers of pink salmon. Although the latter is more remote, the island is popular among anglers and has a good road network, making it easy to move between various water bodies.
Best Time to Fish Silver Salmon
July to September are the best months to fish silver salmon in Alaska. Specifically, there is a peak time with high numbers of silver salmon in mid-August.
Silver salmon are renowned for their acrobatic behavior when hooked, making them entertaining to fish. They are also known as coho salmon, but get their alternative name from the silver colouration of their scales. They can be seen with bluish-green heads and black spots down their backs, or bright red sides. Most silver salmon weigh in at around 10 pounds when fully grown, although larger individuals can achieve upwards of 35 pounds.
Beginning to move into river systems in late June, silver salmon gradually build in numbers until August but remain in river systems until November. They often school in deep pools within the river, making them readily accessible to boats, as well as anglers fishing from the bank.
Difficulty: Silvers are not the largest salmon species. However, their flair in the water makes them both exciting and tricky to land. Eager to chase down flies and lures, they spend the seconds after being hooked up in the air. Larger individuals can be fished using bait.
Where to Catch: One of the best places to fish silver salmon in Alaska is Ship Creek, in Anchorage. Not only is this area easy to get to, but it was also the site where 250,000 silver salmon smolt were released several years ago, making it one of the most attractive sport fisheries in the region. Numbers usually peak here in mid-August.
The Kenai River is another place to consider, especially as there are two runs of silver salmon during the year. The early run peaks in late July to early August, while the late run begins in September and often produces larger fish. Silver salmon also visit Kodiak Island in large numbers, with the Buskin River being one of the best spots. An average of 10,000 silver salmon return here each year.
Best Time to Fish Sockeye Salmon
The best time to fish sockeye salmon in Alaska is from July to August. During these months, late July often sees the greatest numbers.
Also known as the red salmon, the sockeye attains striking colors during the spawning season, with a bright red body and green head. As a result, these fish are easy to spot, and their runs are heavy enough for the water to appear red in some instances. Tens of millions swarm the river systems in Alaska every year, making them the most abundant salmon species in the region. Typically, sockeye salmon weigh between 6 and 10 pounds, with few exceeding the 15-pound mark.
Known for their tendency to fight hard, sockeyes are also popular for their meat, which is considered the best salmon meat available. Adults spend two or three years in the ocean before returning to rivers to breed. Being semelparous – like many Pacific salmon – they die after breeding.
Difficulty: Pound for pound, sockeye salmon are the hardest fighting salmon species in the world, making them an exciting target. They can be tough to land for this reason, and it is easy to be worn out by even the lighter individuals. Despite this, sockeyes swim close to the shore on their journeys upstream, making them relatively easy to catch from the bank.
Where to Catch: The Kenai River boasts the largest sockeye salmon sport fishery in Alaska, with several million returning to the area each year. The best opportunities occur between the 10th and 25th of July.
For more remote fishing experiences, the Kvichak River in the Bristol Bay region is another great place to find sockeye salmon. The Kvichak stems from Lake Iliamna, where an incredible 18.8 million sockeyes returned to spawn in 2017. The upper section of the river offers excellent fly fishing conditions, with July being the best month. Similarly, the neighboring Alagnak River is another popular spot for sockeye fishing, although it is generally harder to access.
Best Time to Fish Chum Salmon
Chum salmon can be caught in Alaska from June until August. Within this period, mid-July is usually the time when there is a peak in numbers.
As the spawning season begins, chum salmon turn from silvery-grey to olive-green, with striped red markings. They are also known as dog salmon due to their large teeth, which grow out during the spawning season and give them a rather intimidating appearance. Chum salmon average between 10 and 15 pounds, although they can sometimes reach upwards of 40 pounds, making them one of the larger salmon species.
The chum is often disregarded in favor of other salmon, largely due to its meat being of relatively poor flavor. Despite this, it has gained popularity as a sport fish more recently, with anglers enjoying the challenge of the chum salmon’s aggressive behavior.
Difficulty: The strength of chum salmon makes them difficult to land, especially when it is combined with their tendency to strike fiercely and battle hard. They can be fished with both spin and fly but can be a tricky prospect for even experienced anglers.
Where to Catch: Unlike other salmon species, chum salmon don’t show a strong preference for spawning locations. That said, they usually appear in small to medium-sized rivers and can be found in their largest numbers near river mouths. Chum salmon prefer deeper channels and are unlikely to be seen in shallow waters, instead favoring slow-moving waters adjacent to rocks or cliffs.
Best Time to Fish Arctic Grayling
May to September is the best time to fish Arctic grayling in Alaska. During these months, the best opportunities can be found from mid-August into September.
Arctic grayling are freshwater fish in the salmon family. However, they are generally smaller than other members. 5 pounds is a typical size for an adult, with the largest individuals reaching 7 or 8. A colorful fish, the Arctic grayling is generally silver with an iridescent sheen that gives it a beautiful appearance. They can easily be identified by their large dorsal fins, which are shaped like ship’s sails and help the fish to maneuver underwater.
Arctic grayling can be found in large lakes and rivers for much of the year before moving to rocky streams to breed in spring. They are opportunistic foragers and feed on a range of foods, including crustaceans, insects, and smaller fish. Their attraction to insect prey makes them an excellent target for fly fishing, with hungry individuals chasing almost anything that resembles food.
Difficulty: As Arctic grayling readily attack flies, it is common to catch more than a dozen a day during peak season. They are, however, very intelligent fish and their ability to outwit predators and anglers alike can make them difficult to catch. Their eyesight is very good, meaning you may have to try several different angles if you find yourself struggling to land a bite.
Where to Catch: Arctic grayling are visual feeders, so they require clear waters in order to hunt. As a result, they can be found in most streams and rivers with gravel bottoms.
One of the best spots in Alaska for this species is Lake Clark, in the southwest region of the state. The creeks and rivers flowing into the lake hold a healthy population of Arctic grayling, and boast some outstanding scenery to boot.
Best Time to Fish Dolly Varden
The best time to fish Dolly Varden in Alaska is from July to September. Specifically, mid-August is when the numbers of this species peak.
Named after a character in a Charles Dickens novel, the Dolly Varden is a species of char in the salmon family. It is usually olive-green or grey in color, with a series of pale spots covering the body. During the spawning season, males often develop bright red underbellies. The average weight for Dolly Vardens is about 15 pounds. However, the largest individuals can reach almost double that.
A particular benefit to fishing Dolly Varden is that they often overlap with the runs of other species such as king salmon and rainbow trout. The ‘dollies’ regularly follow these fish upriver, feeding on their eggs as they spawn. This provides you with the chance to target several species in the same location.
There are two subspecies of Dolly Varden in Alaska – the northern subspecies being found in the Arctic drainages and the southern occurring in the Pacific drainages. In general, the northern Dolly Varden are larger than their southern cousins and have more fight in them.
Difficulty: Sometimes overlooked as a sport fish – due to its abundance – the Dolly Varden is not a species to be taken lightly. They are eager to fight, and their strength means they are more than capable of breaking the fishing line.
If given too much slack, they will roll themselves up the line and bolt – a technique is known as the “Dolly Varden Roll.” It is a method that gets the better of many anglers and means the species can be a tricky one to land.
Where to Catch: The best places in Alaska to fish Dolly Varden are around Bristol Bay and Kodiak Island. Here, peak runs last from June right through until the end of September, making them the longest Dolly Varden runs in the state.
The Kenai Peninsula – and the Kenai River in particular – is another excellent area to target, as it is home to both resident and anadromous populations.
Best Time to Fish Arctic Char
The best time for Arctic char fishing in Alaska is from July until September. Within this period, the numbers begin to pick up in early August and peak later in the month and into the first weeks of September.
The Arctic char is closely related to salmon and lake trout and shares similarities with both. It has a sleek, streamlined body and can be distinguished by its light spots on dark skin. Its color is highly variable, although most individuals tend to be olive-green. Alaska is home to dwarf Arctic char and regular versions, with dwarf fish reaching half the size and usually not exceeding 5 pounds in weight. Regular Arctic char usually weigh around 9 pounds, although some grow to 20.
Some Arctic char live primarily in freshwater, but the majority are anadromous and migrate to and from the oceans. They are distributed further north than any other freshwater fish and are often found in very cold, deep lakes. As a result, their growth is slow and they sometimes live for 20 years or more.
Difficulty: Arctic Char can be easier to fish than other species in Alaska, as they bite readily and tend to group together in shallow sections of rivers in order to bask. This means you can fish them both from the bank and in the water, although they are quick to flee if they spot movement. Like many other Alaskan fish, they fight hard and behave aggressively when hooked, making for exciting experiences.
Where to Catch: Arctic char love cold waters, meaning they are most common in polar regions within the Arctic circle. They also range further south and can be found in the inland portion of Bristol Bay, usually in large lakes. Here, they grow to great sizes, feeding on salmon smolts as they migrate towards the sea. The lakes of Kodiak Island are another good spot for Arctic char, with Karluk Lake being a prime example.
Best Time to Fish Rainbow Trout
July until October is the best time to fish rainbow trout in Alaska. During these months, the species begins to build in number through August and peaks in late August and early September.
Rainbow trout are one of the most sought-after fish in Alaska and are primarily found in freshwater, where they reside in lakes, streams, and rivers. They are usually bluish-green in color and have black spots all over the body, set upon scales that have an iridescent sheen. Within streams and rivers, rainbow trout usually average 3 or 4 pounds, but in large lakes, they can exceed 20 pounds and even grow as large as 55 pounds.
Rainbow trout are voracious predators, choosing to feed on a wide range of prey, including insects, eggs, and other fish. Their stunning colors make them very popular with anglers, and their strong occurrence in shallow, clear-water rivers makes them ideal for fly fishing.
Difficulty: Not only are rainbow trout beautiful, but they are also skilled acrobats. They often take to the air when hooked and will struggle relentlessly, making for exhilarating battles. Large individuals are tricky to hook and difficult to land on a fly rod, although swinging a streamer such as a large flesh fly can make the job a little easier.
Where to Catch: The crystal clear waters of the Kvichak River is one of the most fruitful places to fish rainbow trout. Connecting Lake Iliamna to Bristol Bay, this river system has an abundance of salmon on which the rainbow trout can feed, allowing them to grow to large sizes. Areas close to the lake usually see the greatest numbers.
Another excellent spot for rainbow trout is the Kenai River, which is much easier to access, although it tends to be busier with anglers as a result. September is often the best time here, and the abundance of other fish species means a range of fly-fishing methods can be used.
The Best Hotels and Lodges for Fishing
Please check out the hotel deals in Kenai below. Tip: Save the results page to save money later if you don’t book right now. Other amazing and brand new places are these lodges: Soldotna Fishing Lodges with Dock on Kenai River – via booking.com
The Best Tours in the Kenai Region
Besides fishing, we only recommend two must-do tours in the Kenai area. Find more details below. You’ll never forget these trips:
The best spots for fishing in Alaska
- Bristol Bay
- Kodiak Island
- Kenai River / Kenai Region
- Kasilof River
- Ship Creek