The Last Frontier. The Land of the Midnight Sun. Alaska. As the 49th state admitted into the union, Alaska is one of the prettiest, most picturesque spots in all of North America with places to fish.
Popular waterways for targeting salmon – The best places:
One of the hardest parts about fishing for salmon in Alaska, especially as a nonresident, is finding legal spots that can harbor great results. Thankfully, we will lay out some well-known spots as a starting point. Once you are more familiar with the scene, you can scout out more hidden spots that will not have as much pressure. Here are a few great starting points to start seeking out some salmon.
Even to the average angler, salmon fishing is synonymous with the Kenai River. The incredible scenery and intense fishing opportunities is why tons of anglers travel the world to try their luck on the Kenai.
The fishing is so good that the world record king salmon was caught here many years ago. The main place where travelers will come from is Anchorage, one of Alaska’s largest cities. The four-hour drive between spots will take your breath away. Long drives can be dreadful, but this one will make some great memories.
Overall, this is a great starting point. There are tons of good guides and boating companies that can cater your trip. If you have a little more freedom and abilities to move, there are many offshoots and smaller rivers in the surrounding area.
One of Alaska’s most well-known fishing cities is Homer. This is located on the southern coast and is known as the Halibut Capital of the World. Halibut are super fun to fish for, but so many other species can be caught, including salmon.
An interesting aspect of Homer is that there are both rivers and deep sea fishing opportunities that have salmon. One of the coolest ways to fish in Homer is by renting a boat and going out on your own. Sure, there are guide services, but if you have an idea of what you are doing, go ahead and try it yourself.
Despite being a small coastal town surrounded by mountains, Valdez is one of the coolest spots to target salmon. With a huge glacier running off into the sea, the water is an enchanting blue color that is a great contrast to the towering mountains in the background.
However, you need to keep in mind that the weather in Valdez is not for the faint of heart. There are weeks that go by where the clouds are so low and thick that everything is basically a standstill. If you are lucky enough to find some sun, you are in for a great time.
The environment is awesome and all, but without good fishing, we wouldn’t even be talking about Valdez. When in town, you will most likely be fishing in the ocean. So, time your trip correctly and get there when your chances of the big catches are prominent.
This is also a fantastic spot to catch pink salmon. There is a hatchery right by the main pier. This has huge ships and many anglers trying their luck at catching the limit. If pinks are not on your bucket list, there are other salmon like silvers a little bit out of the main bay and many other fish species.
Although the Kenai may be the most iconic for salmon fishing, the Copper River is known for harboring some of the best tasting salmon in the entire state. In fact, a lot of the salmon eaten in the lower 48 comes from the Copper River. On certain menus and in certain grocery stores, you can probably find Copper River branded salmon.
This body of water gets its name from the color of the water. A copper-brown tint adds interesting character to the river. There are a ton of red and king salmon in the Copper River, so gear up and try your luck.
Although there are so many fishing options in Alaska, for the sake of this blog, our final entry is the Brooks River. A lot of the options listed above can get crowded depending on the weather and time of year. These are great starting points, but eventually, you want to discover some waters that are rarely touched while also getting great results.
This is what the Brooks River brings to the table. This spot is located in the Katmai National Park and Preserve and is a little challenging to reach. Fishing here will also cater a different experience from some of the others. Since it is a bit more secluded, hooking up with a guide tour group is best. Chances are you will have to take a float plane to get back into the camps and lodges.
Baits, Lures, and Presentations
The types of presentations to catch salmon are very broad, and there is a lot of room for creativity. So, this section will be quite long as we try and break down as many options to catch salmon as we can.
Obviously, it is going to be very hard to catch salmon without any knowledge about what they eat and what is proven to work. With a general idea of what you can do, you will be far more likely to get that catch of your dreams. Here are a few popular presentations for catching salmon in Alaska!
Roe is arguably the most common bait for catching salmon in Alaska. If you do not know what that is, rose is eggs. Although it sounds weird to catch salmon with salmon eggs, this is actually a super popular and productive presentation. This is because salmon eat other salmon’s eggs to further the chances for their offspring to survive. It seems weird, but that is reality.
The best way to harvest roe is by catching pregnant salmon and taking the eggs. They can hold hundreds of eggs, so you can amount a nice collection to use for more fishing endeavors. You can also buy roe or roe alternatives from fishing shops if that seems easier to you.
One part of the rig you absolutely need is a roe bag or mesh sheet to hold the eggs. The eggs are pretty small, so you can’t just throw a couple on a small hook and hope for the best. This will not end well. The eggs will fall off and give you a bare hook.
The best way to present salmon eggs as bait is in a roe bag or mesh sheet. You simply get a small bundle of eggs, wrap it in the bag or sheet, and attach it to the hook. The key is to affix the bag onto the hook without the eggs falling out and keeping the hook exposed enough to get bit.
On the artificial side, spinners are very good, especially for pink salmon. Spinners are small lures that have a flashing spoon on the top and a treble hook on the bottom. These are cast out and retrieved at whatever pace you desire. Generally, keep it fairly slow, but steady.
These are not too expensive, but you will want a pretty large arsenal on deck. Especially in Alaska, it does not take a lot to break off or get snagged on a rock. So, you will probably be filtering through lures.
A cool perk of the spinner is its ability to catch other species. Obviously, this is about salmon fishing in Alaska, but there are so many other types of fish to be caught. Not many others will eat salmon eggs, but there are many that will munch on a spinner.
Mooching is a technique used for Pacific salmon all along the coast and into Alaska. Mooching is the technique of drifting small baitfish attached by a hooking rig behind your boat or your area. This is made to target king salmon and can be a great way to harbor some bites.
Similarly to the spinner, this rig is known to catch some other species as well. Although you are targeting kings, it can be fun to still hook up with other species. This strategy is also great for wanting to get a rod and reel in your hands. There are ways to fish, such as trolling, where there is no real casting or manpower involved until the fish bites. Mooching keeps a rod in your hand and your attention on high alert.
One of the more polarizing ways to catch salmon is by snagging them. Now, proceed with caution, because catching salmon in any way besides with a hook in the mouth is illegal in many areas. However, there are areas where it is commonplace.
This is not the preferred method by many fishing enthusiasts, but it is important to still lay out all of the possible options.
The act of snagging a salmon is usually used when the population is so vast that catching them in the mouth isn’t a priority. For example, at the pink salmon hatchery in Valdez, there are literally millions of pink salmon stacked on top of each other in the harbor. There are certain times in the year and during the day where it is allowed. The salmon are stacked so thick that catching them in the mouth is actually hard.
The act of snagging is done by using a lure similar to a spinner that has at least one treble hook attached. Then, you whip the lure with a certain length of line at the piles of salmon.
Although there are moral qualms about snagging salmon, just know that the Alaskan government is very smart and would not allow people to do things that would be harmful to conversation efforts.
Trolling for salmon
Although this may technically fall into the category of presentations for salmon, trolling is such a big sect of fishing that it deserves its own section. Trolling is a tactic used for a variety of fish, but a majority of situations where trolling is used have one thing in common. Trolling takes place in large bodies of water. Whether it be in Lake Michigan or the Pacific Ocean, trolling is popular because it is the only way to accurately represent bait fish swimming in deep areas of water.
When casting, you can only get that presentation so deep. With trolling, the opportunity to really get down there is present. This is a great tactic for salmon fishing in the ocean before they make their way upstream and into the vast river systems. In harbor cities like Homer and Valdez, trolling for silvers is super popular.
If you do not know what trolling is, it is the act of presenting a rig with a constantly moving boat with the rig dragging from the back. Line is let out and there is a specific rig created to drive a lure deep into the water column.
There are a few aspects of a trolling rig that are absolutely needed to potentially catch some salmon. The first of which is the downrigger or rod and reel setup to make it happen. This is important because you need a way to get the salmon in if they bite.
The next part is the line. Obviously, these two aspects aren’t technically the rig, but they are important to point out.
Now, to the actual trolling rig. A big part is the flasher. This is usually a metal piece that has reflective tape or patterns attached. This is used to imitate a baitfish that is injured or moving through the water column easy enough to be eaten.
Then, there is a leader that ultimately leads to the main lure. The leader needs to be strong enough to handle some tension from big salmon. The final part of the rig is the actual lure that will be used to hook the salmon when it bites.
Day trips vs. overnight trips
Once you have a few spots and strategies in mind, planning your trip is a really fun aspect of the entire thing. There are two big aspects to keep in mind when planning a fishing trip. You need to decide if you want to spend a day out there or multiple days. Thankfully, there are a plethora of both available in Alaska.
Day trips are fishing excursions that do not require overnight accommodations. These are perfect for the anglers that want to jump around and hit on many spots during one trip. These include independent fishing expeditions, or hiring a guide, it does not matter. This is also the cheapest way to get on the water with some help.
Guide services are fantastic in Alaska, especially for non-resident visitors who need some direction. Day trips are going to be far cheaper than multi-day trips that require some sort of accommodation. So, if you do not have the time or money, or both, taking a guided day trip is probably best.
If you have a little more freedom, both financially and in terms of time, you should strongly consider an overnight fishing trip. These are going to be more expensive, but you will have more opportunities to catch some great fish.
The biggest perk of taking an overnight trip is the ability to access hard-to-reach areas that do not get a lot of fishing pressure. This isn’t always the case, but the opportunity to take a float plane to a secluded lodge on the water is present all over Alaska.
What types of salmon are in Alaska?
To the normal person, salmon might just be salmon. When at Red Lobster, and you order the salmon, you may not understand the types of salmon and which ones are best for eating. If you just want a delicious meal at a restaurant, this is totally fine. However, if you decide to target them up in Alaska, it is important to know the kinds and what their tendencies are.
Here are the types of salmon that can be found throughout Alaska!
Also known as king salmon, chinook are often considered the price for anglers coming up for that trophy catch. This is mainly because they are harder to catch and they are generally bigger than some of the other subspecies.
In 1985, the biggest king salmon that Alaska has ever seen was caught. The fish weighed over 97 pounds. Although a vast majority of kings will not get that big, it goes to show the potential that is out there.
Although chinook may not be considered the best salmon to eat, it is quite delicious. In the grocery store, you will probably see big fillets of salmon. These are generally red salmon, not king. King salmon is best eaten in steak form because of its bulky, thick build.
Like some other salmon subspecies, they are distinguished by a silver body and black mouth. After the move to freshwater and the spawn, they start to transform into a deep red color. This signifies it being near the end of its life.
Many anglers will target kings specifically and never have the chance to hook up with one. So, this is a prized fish, so you will have to dedicate a good amount of time to try your luck.
Sockeye, or red salmon, is what you will probably find on a menu at your local restaurant. These can be found all over Alaskan waterways. This kind of salmon is known to get a deep red color that takes over their bodies after the spawn. Although they are beautiful with this color, this means death is imminent.
Every long journey upstream to freshwater from the ocean is the salmon’s attempt at spawning. You fish for salmon mainly during this run when the fish are aggressive and more willing to bite. After the spawn, the red color takes over and their death not far away. The perfect time to catch sockeye is right before or right after the spawn. The long time goes on after the spawn, the worse off the meat is. Their bodies deteriorate and make it inedible for humans.
Before the spawn, red salmon are not red at all. They are silver like many other types of salmon. One distinguishing feature prespawn is a more matte silver rather than a really shiny silver like cohos have.
Sockeyes’ rich, orange flesh is the typical great-looking salmon that you want to eat. This is why sockeye are so sought after. If anything else, fishing for sockeye in Alaska is an excellent way to fill the freezer with delicious, healthy fish.
Also known as silver salmon, coho get the name from the color of the fish before the spawn.
This is yet another that turns red after the spawn, but coho are usually targeted before that happens. One difference is that silvers are commonly caught in the ocean whereas some of the other types of salmon are not targeted at all until they run into the mainland.
A popular way to fish for coho is by trolling in saltwater areas. This does require a bit of preplanning, because you need to be there when they are moving through that specific area.
Although coho are not as oily as both kings and sockeye, it is still a great fish for eating. The mild flavor is great for introducing someone to the fish who may already be hesitant to try.
The type of salmon that is probably in your pouched or canned variety is pink salmon. This is because the meat quality is well below the above subspecies and is farmed far easier in mass quantities. Now, that does not mean pinks are no good to fish for. In fact, it is quite the contrary.
When the pinks are being released from the farming facilities, it is primetime fishing and a frenzy to do it. Especially in coastal cities like Valdez, the local hatchery releases thousands and thousands of pinks at a specific point every year. It is then that the major fish processing companies like Chicken of the Sea and Bumblebee are out there raking then in with giant nets.
As a casual angler, there are still ways to get involved in the fun. Especially in the evenings, right outside of the hatcheries there can be huge masses of pink salmon. Although you are not allowed to scoop them up with a net, they can be snagged or caught in the mouth, in certain areas. Check your local regulations to see what you can do.
The final type of salmon that can be found in Alaska is the chum or dog salmon. Out of all the salmon, this type has the longest natural range during their migration upstream for the spawn. In fact, not only is the chum salmon found in Alaska, but it moves through Russia and in parts of Asia.
In the United States, there are reports of these salmon going from the Arctic Ocean all the way to Santa Cruz, california. Now, this hasn’t happened in a long time, but it goes to show just how long these fish can travel.
In terms of food, this is the least-produced salmon in all of North America. This includes wild-caught and farm-raised. You can be a lover of eating salmon and probably never even try this type. If you choose to travel to certain parts of Asia, chum salmon can be found in mass at the markets. The cheap price makes it a staple in certain areas, but not North America.
The body of the chum salmon is fairly distinct compared to the other subspecies. They have swirls of silver, blue, and green to give a specific pattern that will catch the eye. Although they are not sought after in terms of food, they can make for a great picture after catching them.
Fishing license info
Given the Last Frontier that Alaska is so well-known for, conservation is one of the state’s biggest priorities. So, it is important to obey all local laws and regulations. Every angler has to do their part in keeping the environment a place that everyone can enjoy.
Here is a bit of information about fishing licenses in Alaska.
Get a license right away
If you know you are going to be fishing while in Alaska, you should buy a license right away. If you even throw one cast without one (depending on the area) you can get a hefty fine. Play it safe and grab your licenses right away. Thankfully, these are super easy to buy. You can purchase them online or you can visit a ton of retailers. Because fishing is so popular, a lot of stores are going to have licenses.
Kids fish for free
In Alaska, a fishing license is not required for children under 18 for residents and 16 for out-of-state visitors. This is a great perk, because if you are bringing your kids, you will be able to save some money. If you are over 18, the next few sections of information is for you.
Resident license info
If you live in Alaska, you have access to far cheaper prices to fish. For example, an annual sport fishing license is just $20 for residents. This is super affordable compared to other options. This is just a general fishing license that covers a majority of fishing opportunities.
Non-resident license info
Alaska does a great job of giving in-house residents deals on licenses. However, things can get a little pricey for out-of-state anglers. For just three days of legal fishing in Alaska, you will be set back $30.
For a full week of fishing, you are looking at $45. For two weeks, $75. If you are staying for longer than two weeks, you may as well buy an annual pass for $100. This definitely sounds expensive, mainly because this is just your entry fee to potentially catch fish, you will find out how worth it it really is.
King salmon stamps
The fishing licenses above cover all salmon except for kings. King salmon require special stamps to ensure proper conservation. This is partly because king salmon are so sought after. So, having stamps gives another level of regulation and protection.
The prices of the stamps are the same as the licenses for nonresidents. So, the 14-day stamp is $75, the three-day is $30. Keep this in mind, because you DO NOT want to get caught with a king without a stamp. Conservation offices are known to stake out popular spots and do surprise checks all the time.
Hire a guide
This section goes along with the one above, but it is still very important to talk about. If you do not have experience with fishing in Alaska, you should consider doing guided trips. Assembling your own gear and finding your own fish can be admirable, but it is also quite difficult without some sort of experience doing so.
Hiring a fishing guide gets you tapped into experience that oftentimes cannot be found on the internet or in books. If you can get linked up with the right person, the amount of knowledge you have access to is immense.
Now, the tricky part is the money. Especially if you are doing a tour with a bunch of day trips, the fees of having guides can get quite expensive. If you can afford it, great! Then you are all set. If not, this becomes a little harder to do.
One way to potentially save money and still have excellent opportunities is by doing a multi-day trip where you get the guide the entire time. These are also expensive, but it may pay off better in the long run because you have more access to a guide you enjoy.
Either way, doing it all yourself can get difficult. So, put your trip in the hands of a great guide and get more value out of your time.
One way to fish that is very unique to Alaska is dipnetting. Dipnetting is the act of placing a large net into the water and scooping up unsuspecting salmon. Now, this type of fishing is very specific and only available to certain people.
Dipnetting can legally be done by Alaskan residents only. Now, a majority of readers may not be residents, so this section will be brief, but it is important to lay out many different ways to fish in Alaska.
Dipnetters often use long nets that have really big openings. They find areas with current and areas that would reasonably have fish moving through the area. For residents, this is the best way to get an entire year’s worth of salmon all in one go. The limits vary by area and year, but they can be quite large due to the high influx of salmon moving through certain areas.
The Kenai and Copper Rivers are really popular spots to dipnet when the opportunity opens up. This is another area of fishing where you need to be really careful because there are many regulations and steps you need to take. Some include clipping the fish after catching, possessing a dip net card, and many more.
So, if you are an Alaskan resident, be sure to take advantage of this cool perk. You can fill your freezer and more with your catch. Some are adverse to dipnetting because of the high yield and lack of sport, but that is simply not true. The Alaskan government would not allow for this if the salmon population was hurting. This absolutely falls within the conservation efforts of the state, so you can feel good about doing it legally and ethically.
Fishing for food
The final section of information we have is fishing for food. Although we already covered what fish are good for eating and what are not generally, this section will be more about some regulations for harvesting salmon.
Now, rules and regulations often change by the year, so to get up-to-date information, visit Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources website.
Another factor is your location. The state is broken up into four regions: Northern, Southwest, Southeast, Southcentral. Then, each region is broken up even further to denote specific bodies of water. Each one harbors different regulations than the others based on fish populations and some other factors.
It would take a long time to break down every regulation for each region, but we will lay out a couple of generalities that can be applied to the more specific data.
One of the biggest regulations is size. This is especially true for king salmon. In some areas, the kings have to be of a certain size in order for you to keep it. If it is too small, it has to be returned.
Another regulation is the number limit. This is present pretty much everywhere, so you need to pay very close attention to how many of a certain species you can have. For example, non residents may only be able to catch six pink salmon a day in a certain waterway. If this is the case, and you are caught with seven, you are going to get a hefty ticket.
Although these are just a couple of broad rules to follow, there are so many others that need to be followed. As a general rule, always play it safe and do as much research as possible.
So, hopefully you now have a much better idea of how to fish for salmon in Alaska. Especially for a beginner, it can be super overwhelming to get started. That is exactly what many of these points are made to target: those who want to learn more and have a good starting point.
With the information given about salmon types, rules and regulations, presentations, and so much more, you should have a far better plan in place to get started. As you can see, there are a ton of salmon fishing opportunities in Alaska. So, with some of this information, you will be in a better spot to take advantage of said opportunities.
Although many discount Alaska as being this tundra that is always frozen and full of nothing but snow, that could not be further from the truth. Alaska has so much culture, tradition, and great things to do.
This is the largest state in the US in terms of land mass, and most of this land is pure bliss. Towering mountains, dense forests, and bustling wildlife are just a few of the incredible features of this interesting state.
If you are in the market for a trip to Alaska, it is super fun to think about everything you can do. Do you want to climb to North America’s highest peak? Denali has that option. Do you want to go skiing, whale watching, or hiking? There are too many options to count. However, there is one pastime that reigns supreme in a lot of people’s eyes. Fishing.
Fishing is an activity that is done by a majority of locals and visitors alike. There are so many species and bodies of water to target and explore. You can cater weeks worth of fishing into a singular trip all in one swoop.
With Alaska being as big of a state as it is, it can be overwhelming to understand just how many different things you can do and places you can be in terms of fishing.
The next time fishing in Alaska is an option, be sure to hop on board and have a great time!
Happy fishing, and good luck.