Why go to Alaska if not to fish? Surely that will be at least part of the average tourist's trek to Alaska. Alaska fishing features trophy salmon, world-class northern pike, and the very popular halibut.

Your preparation for an Alaskan fishing getaway will be directly proportional to your success. Don't overlook things such as fishing conditions, weather, and regulations.

Salmon Fish jumping in the Lake

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It's A Big State!

Sometimes we talk about Alaska the same way we would speak of a local park or lake nearby. Did you know that Alaska alone is as big as a one-fifth of the contiguous U.S.? It includes over 3,000 rivers, 3 million lakes, and countless miles of shoreline.

Mountain in Alaska

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From salmon to halibut, from saltwater to freshwater, from fly fishing to deep sea fishing, many decisions must be made.

Know The Weather

First off, be sure you give yourself enough time in Alaska to endure a rainout or two. Major storms can be commonplace in Alaska, resulting in canceled flights or boat charters.

Stormy Day on the Lake

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Weather may not only affect your flight to Alaska, it may also affect your flight within Alaska. Some traveling fishermen will be content to fish the Kenai River, but others will seek fly-in locations. Small planes and big storms do not mix.


It is hard to identify a specific “Alaskan climate” given the sheer size of the state, but if we use Anchorage as a touch point for average temperatures (High-Low):

  • Jan. 9.3°F, 22.2°F
  • Feb. 11.7°, F25.8°F
  • Mar. 18.2°, F33.6°F
  • Apr. 28.7°, F43.9°F
  • May 38.9°, F54.9°F
  • Jun. 47.0°, F62.3°F
  • Jul. 51.5°, F65.3°F
  • Aug. 49.4°, F63.3°F
  • Sept. 41.4°, F55.0°F
  • Oct. 28.3°F, 40.0°F
  • Nov. 15.9°F, 27.7°F
  • Dec. 11.4°F, 23.7°F

Obviously, in the northern extremities of Alaska, you will experience Arctic climates. Winters are very long and cold, and summers are short and cool. The is no sunrise for multiple weeks in the winter, and the sun does not set during multiple weeks in the summer.

Research Is Key

If you have a particular fish species you are dreaming of catching; you need to know what time of year you are likely to have success. We will examine some common Alaskan fish below.

Rainbow Trout caught

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It is also important to know what parts of Alaska you will be best able to land your dream fish. Research is very important.


Alaska fishing comes and goes based on the fish you are trying to catch. Especially with salmon! You must know when they run. If you are able to reach out to local bait shops beforehand, you can gain valuable, local information.

Know The Regulations

Rule Book

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The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has the authority to alter the salmon fishing season based on how many salmon are necessary to maintain the population. The Department of Fish and Game may also decrease fish limits or make other necessary adjustments.


Always know the maximum limit of fish you may catch and keep. Breaking such limits is punishable by law. Learn more at the Alaska Department of Fishing and Game website


Some will take catch-and-release tours, which is always an environmentally positive thing to do. Others will enjoy eating their catch and turning a few into trophies.

Salmon Jumping upriver to spawn

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Your catches for many packages can be processed and sent back to your home state for a reasonable fee. If you are staying at a lodge, they are likely not allowed to process your fish; check with your guide or tour company.

Licensed to Fish

Most packages and tours do not include your fishing license. Licensing can be handled locally, with prices varying based on the length of your stay and any particular fishing stamps you may desire.


One-day licenses can be obtained for as little as $20.

Seasonality

Availability of fish is tied to spawning seasons, as well as weather and environmental variables. The condition of the water, for instance, may be affected by silt in one area but clear in the next.


Particular species also vary depending on what river they inhabit.

What Type of Fishing Interests You?

The type of fishing you choose will be influenced largely the type of fish you wish to catch. The first question you may ask is whether you prefer fresh water Alaska fishing or saltwater Alaska fishing.


Common types of freshwater fish in Alaska begins with trout.

Rainbow Trout

These trout are very common and very catchable game fish. A relative of the salmon, it a primary draws that brings a lot of fisherman to Alaska.


There is a sea-run variation of rainbow trout known as steelhead, but for now, we continue with a look at freshwater rainbow trout.


Description

Rainbow trout are a common stocking fish raised in hatcheries and released into state lakes and streams. Whether wild or stocked, trout can be picky eaters. Sometimes it depends on what they've been fed in the hatcheries.


Therefore it is wise to use a varied approach with different baits and lures until you find what they are hitting. Your catch will likely range from less than a pound to three pounds, though wild rainbows in Alaska can get even bigger.


Part of the rainbow catching fun is their propensity to fight. If you like jumping and splashing retrievals, rainbow trout may be for you. If you land the fighting rainbow, they make a delicious meal.

Trout Tackle

If using live bait or Powerbait, it is wise to let your line float. Trout will often nibble before taking the bait entirely, so giving them room to move before they feel any tension is key. This also makes a light rod useful.


Powerbait floats, allowing for 5 feet of line below a very lightweight float. Use a thin line, because trout have very good vision. You can get away with heavier line in murkier waters.


In murky water or moving water you can get away with heavier line, but in general, it usually pays to fish with the lightest line that you can. In heavily pressured areas, you will generally see a big increase in the number of bites when using light line.


Trout Strategy

Effective rainbow lures include rooster tails, spoons, and spinners. Some like to jig for trout. Again, variety is often key. What lure is readily visible in murky water? What is most effective in clear?


Particularly with hatchery trout, the depth of the lure is important. Depending on temperature, most hatchery trout will school at a similar depth.


Try a smaller lure that runs shallow, and continue to increase the weight (depth it will run) until you find the sweet spot. Heavier lures also allow you to cast further and cover a wider area of water.

Jigging

If you believe you know where the fish are, jigging can be very effective. Cast and allow the jig to sink. Bounce it gently and then allow it to sink again. Retrieve slow and pause.


Most strikes on a jig happen during as it sinks, so stop twitching and retrieving often. Jigs can also be tipped with worm, leach, or Powerbait. Trout also hit on insects, and we will talk about fly fishing below.

Man holding cutthroat trout

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Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat trout are also found in Alaska's lakes in streams. They are common in the coastal range of Southeast Alaska.

Char

Char are plentiful in Alaska on a year-round basis. Like the rainbow, they are fighters who make retrieval a fun experience.

Grayling Grayling

This cousin of the trout is fish not as common as its relative and is thought of as unique to Alaska fishing. It is considered a chic and beautiful fish.

Northern Pike

Pike are a popular game fish and can typically strike on other small fish or water animals. Pike will hit frogs, crawdads, and any small animal that may end up in the water.


You will find pike lurking in the weeds near the shoreline for their next meal. They are in found in shallower waters in spring after the ice has cleared. They spawn in shallow water before moving deeper in the summer.


Description

The pike is a slender fish with a mouth full of teeth. Pike will commonly eat each other making them nearly impossible to raise in a hatchery.


Pike look similar to the muskie - they are related - though the muskie is bigger on average. Adult pike range from a foot to three feet. They maintain their slender, bony bodies until they reach a size over 30 inches.

Northern Pike

Pike are a popular game fish and can typically strike on other small fish or water animals. Pike will hit frogs, crawdads, and any small animal that may end up in the water.


You will find pike lurking in the weeds near the shoreline for their next meal. They are in found in shallower waters in spring after the ice has cleared. They spawn in shallow water before moving deeper in the summer.


Description

The pike is a slender fish with a mouth full of teeth. Pike will commonly eat each other making them nearly impossible to raise in a hatchery.


Pike look similar to the muskie - they are related - though the muskie is bigger on average. Adult pike range from a foot to three feet. They maintain their slender, bony bodies until they reach a size over 30 inches.

Pike Tackle

Surprisingly, the vicious predators do not put up a noteworthy fight when they are the prey. Unlike some trout, pike do not jump or splash with any regularity. 8 to 12-pound test can be useful line for pike fishing.


Pike Strategy

The best pike fishing is done on lures, though live bait can also be successful. Remember, pike strike at their prey from the weeds as something is swimming.


Because of that, many pike are caught on lures such as crankbaits. The depth of a crankbait is dependent upon the size of its “lip” so often a shallow crankbait is needed near shallow, weedy areas.

Pike in the Lake at Night

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Pike will leave the shallow weeds to strike near a drop-off, so deeper diving lures can be used, particularly from a boat. Cast toward the shoreline from different angles and retrieve to the boat.


Large shiners are useful live pike bait. Pike will easily strike anything up to half their own length and longer.

Sheefish

Sheefish are available in Alaska fishing in northern rivers closer to the Arctic. It has tremendous size and is a great fighting fish. Sheefish are also known as Iconnu.


Description

Sheefish are the largest of the whitefish family. Their jumping ability when hooked is unmatched. They travel hundreds of miles each summer during migration feeding on smaller fish.


Sheefish can grow to be 60 pounds, but a 30-pounder is still considered an excellent catch. They are a fragile fish with a low survival rate after catch-and-release.

Sheefish Tackle

Despite their size and ability to jump, sheefish do have the sort of powerful resistance that breaks lines. They can be landed on a fly rod and often his smaller lures.


Sheefish Strategy

Sheefish will spend time near the bottom of cold rivers, but they are willing to chase small fish to the surface. Like trout, experimenting to find the proper water depth is key.


Small lures are useful with sheefish, so a Rapala minnow or a sassy shad is a great place to start.

Man holding a fish

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Rockfish

“Rockfish” are a category of fish labeling multiple species that feed on the bottom. Black sea bass are a popular rockfish. Rockfish range broadly from one pound to six pounds and some species can live for 100 years!


The variety of species also offers the excitement of the unknown. What type will you catch next? What color will it be? What patterns will it have? Rockfish are great for eating. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, from deep-frying to baking, to batter dipping.


Rockfish Tackle

You don't need to get too particular about your rockfish tackle. Rockfish are often not your primary target over the course of a trip, and they can be caught with a lot of different gear.


If you are fishing for rockfish in deeper water, you may prefer braided line to increase the feel of the action.


Rockfish Strategy

Rockfish can be snagged on live bait as well as lures. The most effective strategy is simply to locate the school. Make sure your bait is weighted enough to get to the bottom and stay there.

Man with a Metal Jig

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Jigs are successful with rockfish and offer the added bonus of sometimes snagging bigger fish than you intended. A bucktail is also useful.


An easier and practical strategy is an anchovy or sardine. Live shiners do well, but a dead sardine can get the job done.


When fishing deep, rockfish can suffer from barotrauma as you real them in. This happens when the dramatic change in pressure damages the fish's swim bladder. Fish without a swim bladders can still experience tissue damage.


There are methods for releasing fish if you suspect swim bladder issues, so those who fish often for rockfish should study proper releases.

Alaska Saltwater Fishing

If saltwater fishing is your interest, then welcome to salmon country. Alaskan salmon are found in abundance in the cold Pacific Ocean waters as well as the Gulf of Alaska.


Like trout, salmon are commonly grown in commercial hatcheries. Between hatchery fish and naturally occurring fish, Alaskan salmon are inviting you to Alaska.

Chinook Salmon

This king salmon lives up to seven years and reaches a maximum weight of 120 pounds. They have spots on a blue-green back, and their oil gives a unique flavor to anglers lucky enough to land this trophy of salmon.

Two Men caught King Salmon

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If you want king salmon, come to Alaska in the summer. King salmon are most attainable from May through September, though some will be caught as late as November.

Pink Salmon

You may not mount a pink salmon on your wall, but they are most abundant salmon Alaska has to offer. These fish live for two years and reach three to five pounds.

Sockeye Salmon

Also known as the red salmon, sockeye can live up to five years and max out at 7 pounds. The oil in sockeye is not only tasty but also valuable.

Silver Salmon

Known as Coho, this silver beauty lives three years and can reach 15 pounds. It is a very popular target among Alaska's anglers.


Description

Silver salmon grow in streams until they reach about a year old. From there they venture to live in the sea until they are old enough to spawn. At spawning time they return to the freshwater streams.


Salmon are rarely caught when they return to freshwater because they stop feeding. If a rare freshwater catch occurs, the changes the fish has endured makes it less delectable. Silver salmon are delicious to eat, especially if caught in the ocean.


Coho Tackle

12-pound test is sufficient for most silver salmon, but if you are trolling multiple fish, remember that larger fish require heavier line.

Man in the lake with salmon

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Coho Strategy

Catching saltwater silver salmon is most productive with herring. It has been said that if you find the herring, you have found the Coho. Interestingly, diving birds love herring too, making diving birds a visual clue to finding silver salmon.


Silver salmon will also strike shiny lures and have been known to hit jigs. In the ocean, you can cast, jig, or troll. If the fish are deep, a trolling downrigger can be effective.

Halibut

This fish is often caught on the bottom. Drifting is often a good strategy for this large fish that average about 400 pounds.

Ling Cod (Southeast Alaska)

Lingcod are another bottom feeder. They can be found near strong currents and are very aggressive predators. They can easily weight 50 pounds and reach four feet.


Description

The appearance of a lingcod could scare a child - or an uneasy adult. They have substantial teeth inside largemouths. Lingcod find rocky bottoms where they aggressively feed.


They are plentiful in Southeast Alaska, where their gruesome appearance makes them a favorite for some anglers.


Lingcod Tackle

Lingcod live near the rocks, so a braided line may help to avoid a snag. Braided line may be helpful and should be at least 30-pound test.


Lingcod Strategy

Because of their aggressive nature, lingcod will often eat smaller lingcod. If you catch a small lingcod, he could serve as useful bait.


Other small fish are useful as well as dead bat. Metal jigs also find success with lingcod, though many jigs can be effective. Don't be afraid to aggressively get the lingcod out of the rocks in order to land the fish.

Pacific Cod

The Pacific cod, or grey cod, is a very popular Alaskan saltwater fish. It is prevalent along Alaska's entire coast.

Hot Spots

Having considered some of the fish you may be seeking in Alaska, here are a few hot spots to help you in your journey.

  • General Saltwater Fishing: Afognak Wilderness Lodge.
  • Northern Pike - Try the Innoko River.
  • Sheefish: Visit the Kobuk River.
  • Rainbow Trout: Bristol Bay is always an option
  • Freshwater Salmon: Want to try to land a salmon in freshwater? If so, the Kenai River provides an assortment from May through October. Early salmons run occur in June, and late runs begin July 1 through mid-month.

Do I Need A Guide?

Like much about Alaska fishing, this question depends on what you know and where you are visiting.

Men sitting and fishing

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The Kenai River and others near the Kenai Peninsula are popular fishing destinations, and guides can be helpful. Guides are local and can offer you suggestions to great fishing spots on the river.


Others want to find hot spots as part of the Alaskan adventure without help. If not using a guide, gather information by speaking to local bait shop owners. Find the local owner who has fished the area his whole life.

Fly In, Fly Out

Another popular option for Alaska fishing is a fly-in trip. Fly-ins add to the adventure of Alaska fishing and can offer bigger fish.

Man standing in a boat and fishing

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On a fly-in trip, you will take a float plane to one of the remote rivers or lakes. Many great fishing lakes cannot be reached by car, particularly in Southcentral Alaska. These trips may involve a guide who will help you on your way.


The great fishing combined with the awe-inspiring scenery makes fly-in trips a must for the serious fisherman.


A typical fly-in package starts at about an extra $500 per person. If you like the rustic and scenic idea of a fly-in but don't have the extra cash, consider visiting a small, non-commercialized area of Alaska.

Man fishing in the lake

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Getting far enough from the main highway system can result in a restful and secluded trip with plenty of fish to be caught.

How Much?

Some sample packages for 2019 inclusive Alaska fishing trips range from $2,600 to $4,000.


These trips often include three meals per day, a particular number of fishing charters, necessary gear, independent time for fishing on your own, coolers and snacks for fishing outings, and lodging with amenities.

Don't forget to add an extra $500 if one of those charters is a fly-in.

Anything Cheaper?

Looking for a way to cut corners and make your trip more affordable? Begin by preparing your own meals. We can spend a lot of money very quickly on food, so if you keep it simple and prepare your own meals, you can begin saving.


If you are cooking for yourself, you don't need the all-inclusive packages or the expensive lodge setting. Wilderness cabins may be just the thing for the cost-saving trip.

Alaska has hundreds of U.S. Forest Service cabins for under $50 per night. The avid angler is spending most of his day on the water anyway, so why not keep your quarters simple in a quaint setting.


The forest cabin setting lends itself to trout streams and running salmon. There are 120,000 acres of fishing water in Alaska's national forests. Forest cabins are well maintained and offer very high customer satisfaction ratings.


Cabins are reserved and rented on a first come, first served basis up to 180 days in advance. They are available by phone or online.

What About The Fish?

This fishing remains very good in cabin settings. Many species of salmon fill the streams as well as rainbow and cutthroat trout.


Some cabins can be very isolated if that is your desire. You can easily spend several days without seeing another person or plane, though you may chit chat with a bear or moose.


Fishing is especially diverse where the stream meats the saltwater. Silver salmon easily reach eight pounds — all for as little as $35 per night.

Don't Forget Fly Fishing

Good Alaska fly fishing is abundant. Consider the season, the river, and the weather for your best experience.

Scheduling fly fishing trips with a lodge is a popular option to get your fill of fishing. You can also hike to more isolated streams. Some folks love the hiking and look forward to the challenge of advanced hiking trails.


You can fly fish by wading, drifting, casting, or plugging. Many streams are designated for fly fishing only, and it is welcomed on many of the rivers.


Fly fishers can expect to challenge for trout, char, and grayling. At certain times of the year, it is possible to land salmon.

When to Fly Fish

Fly fishing season ranges from June to October, depending on your fish of choice.

  • Rainbow Trout, June-October
  • King Salmon, Mid June-July
  • Sockeye Salmon, Late June-July
  • Chum Salmon, July-August
  • Pink Salmon, July-August
  • Silver Salmon, August-Mid September
  • Arctic Char, June-October
  • Grayling, June-October
  • Lake Trout, June-October

Fishing for Every Level

Alaska fly fishing offers opportunities for all skill levels. Some will brave the challenges of different streams and species. Others will find plentiful opportunities to practice the basics. Classes are often available for beginners.

Fly-In Fly Fishing

Fly fishing anglers also have opportunities for fly-in adventures. These opportunities can offer rarely fished streams that entice serious fly fishers. Providers often supply waders and float rafts.

Fishing with Kids

Opportunities are plentiful for taking kids fishing in Alaska. Because of Alaska's sheer size, children can experience different ways to enjoy fishing. You can take them to any of 12,000 rivers or almost 7,000 miles of coastline.


For children, the goal is not only catching fish but also becoming part of the outdoor experience. In Anchorage, the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery raises a variety of trout and salmon.

Small boy sitting and fishing

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The hatchery releases 6 million fish per year. Noting stocking and fish release schedule can dramatically improve the chances of children catching fish.


Alaska also supports Fish and Game's kid-centered programs. They provide children with tackle and advise parents on the best fishing spots for kids.

Kids Fisheries

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game furnishes opportunities for children under 16 to have access to youth-only fisheries on given dates. Some of these include:

  • Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, Homer: June 3 (kings), Aug. 5 (silvers)
  • Seward Lagoon and lagoon outfall stream: June 16-18; July 7-9; Aug. 25-27; Sept. 1-3
  • Ship Creek, Anchorage: June 17 (kings)
  • Eklutna Tailrace, Palmer: June 17, Aug. 19 (6 a.m.-6 p.m. each day)
  • Campbell Creek, Anchorage: June 14, 25 (kings, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. each day)
  • Fish Creek, Wasilla: Aug. 5, 6 (5 a.m.-10 p.m. each day)

Local outfitters can be a great help when planning a fishing trip with children. They can provide children's gear and talk about safe, effective places to fish with children. They can also ensure your transportation to and from the water is kid friendly.


Rockfish are often considered the best fish for getting your kids started in the sport. They can be easily caught, and the bait is cheating. They are harmless, as long as you teach your young fisherman how to handle the dorsal spines.

Now Go Have Fun

If you decide to venture to an Alaska fishing trip, keep these things in mind. If you plan properly, you will have a better chance of enjoying your trip, living within your budget, and catching fish.


Alaska offers the chance to do all of the above. Remember to consider the fish you want to catch and the times of year they are readily available.

What part of Alaska offers the best chance of success? Do you want to go with a prepackaged, all-inclusive trip? Or a more rustic pennysaver? Will you be alone, or with the guys, or with your family?

Whatever the answer, do whatever is necessary to have fun and catch fish.


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