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How to Go Salmon Fishing in Alaska

How to Go Salmon Fishing in Alaska

Nature lovers will have no trouble finding once-in-a-lifetime experiences in the nation’s 49th state, but few things measure up to salmon fishing in Alaska for true outdoors people. There are hardly any better ways to connect to the land and wildlife of this remarkable place.

Settle in and gather your fishing equipment while we tell you what you need to know.

Why Is Alaska the Best Place for Salmon Fishing?

Salmon fishing in Alaska is incredible for several reasons. First, it has nearly unparalleled diversity in types of salmon and other fish in its waters. No matter what salmon species you seek, chances are, Alaska has it. Additionally, the state offers a wide variety of fishing locations, from rivers and bays to coastal islands.  

Alaska is also the best choice for Americans simply because they don’t have to deal with the extra hassle and steps of going abroad. Out of all the top salmon fishing spots globally, Alaska is the only one within the U.S. borders. 

Alaska Salmon Fishing, Worthington Glacier & Kennicott Mine - Valdez & McCarthy | Go North Ep 14

What Kinds of Salmon Can You Catch in Alaska?

Alaska is home to five varieties of salmon, each with its own range and advantages. Chinook salmon (also known as king salmon) are among the most prized and generally weigh 20 to 30 pounds. Chum and coho salmon are smaller (about half that size), but fishermen say they’re fierce fighters once hooked. 

Those fishing in Alaska will also get the chance to catch pink salmon. These are the smallest of the varieties but come in huge numbers, so you can catch dozens if you’d like. 

Those who love to eat fish from restaurants or grocery stores may be most familiar with the final variety: sockeye, or silver, salmon. They’re widely considered the tastiest of the salmon types and are, luckily, the most common. 

sockeye silver salmon

The Best Month for Salmon Fishing in Alaska?

Summer is prime salmon time. You’ll find the best fishing opportunities between May and September, with different salmon types peaking throughout that period. However, some salmon run through November.

If you can brave the approaching Alaskan winter, you’ll likely have less competition this time of year! 

What Are the Best Places to Sport Fish for Salmon?

Alaska is a gigantic state, which means there are many places to cast your line for these iconic fish. Here are some of our top picks.

Kodiak Island

It might not be the easiest to visit, but Kodiak Island offers some unmatched salmon fishing. Of course, you have to be willing to hop the planes and boats required to get there. 

Visitors to Kodiak Island have access to both saltwater and freshwater fishing and fewer crowds than other top fishing spots. But you’ll still have some competition in the form of the brown bears that call the island home. Chinook, sockeye, pink, and silver salmon are all frequently caught here, depending on the season. 

Kodiak Island

Kenai River

This is one of Alaska’s most famous salmon fishing spots, and it’s easy to see why. The river holds the largest king salmon ever caught–a whopping 97 pounds! 

It’s also less than four hours by car from Anchorage, a relatively short distance in Alaska terms. You can find all five salmon breeds here, and the snow-capped mountains surrounding the river provide some top-quality views. 

Brooks River

The Brooks River offers the opportunity to fish at a top spot within the protected boundaries of Katmai National Park and Preserve. It’s one of the harder-to-reach destinations, but those who make the trek will find plentiful coho and sockeye salmon.

Avoid the Brooks Falls area during summer, though. From June 15 to August 15, entering the river in the area is off-limits due to the many bears who famously feed here. Fishing in a national park also comes with additional rules, including how to handle bear encounters

Brooks Falls

Nushagak River

The Chinook salmon is the star of the show here. The Nushagak River has some of the largest Chinook and might be the most productive run in the world. 

This is an excellent spot for those seeking privacy and solitude. The Nushagak is significantly farther from major tourist and population centers than some other spots, so you’ll have fewer crowds and a more authentic wilderness experience.

Do You Need a License to Fish in Alaska?

Yes. Like many states, you must obtain an Alaska sport fishing license for both freshwater and ocean salmon fishing in Alaska. You’ll also need a king salmon stamp for fishing that breed. 

Pro Tip: Learn How To Get An Alaska Fishing License here for all the details.

These rules apply to all non-residents 16 or older. Anyone younger than 16 visiting Alaska to fish will still need a free Sport Fishing Harvest Record Card to document what they catch. 

Short-term licenses range from $15 for one day to $75 for two weeks. King salmon stamps also cost an additional $15 to $75, depending on their duration, and annual king salmon stamps are $100. Frequent fishers can buy an annual sport fishing license for $100. You can buy them online, at many sporting goods stores in Alaska and from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game offices. 

salmon fishing catch in Alaska

How Many Salmon Can You Catch in Alaska?

The answer to this varies depending on the type of salmon and the region. Each area has slightly different rules, so check with Fish and Game first.

Generally speaking, the strictest limits surround king salmon. There are rules about the length and the total number you can keep. Coho, chum, pink, and sockeye salmon are also regulated, though less strictly. If you have any questions, it’s better to be safe than sorry and ask before heading out on your expedition. 

Can I Take My Salmon Home with Me?

Yes! If you’d like to bring your amazing catches back home, you can do so as long as you caught it legally. 

bringing alaska salmon home

If you’re confident in cleaning your fish, you can do it yourself, though numerous companies will prepare and package your catches for you. Most airlines allow you to carry your fresh catches in carry-on and/or checked bags, but pack it very well to avoid it spoiling! 

Going Solo vs. Taking a Charter

Alaska is vast and wild, so many visitors take a charter. They usually charge $100-$400 per person, depending on the expedition length and your chosen mode of transportation. 

The advantages here are obvious–an experienced guide will take you directly to the best spots and supply you with all the gear you’ll need for a fun and relaxing day. Many companies can even sell licenses directly, eliminating another step for you. 

We went on a salmon fishing charter in Alaska, and it was awesome! Read about our experience here: Salmon Fishing & Glaciers in Valdez, Alaska!

alaska salmon fishing charter

If you’d prefer the freedom and solitude of going solo, that’s also possible. The advantages include eliminating the upfront cost of a charter and making your trip as long as you want. On the flip side, you must bring or buy your equipment, obtain the correct licenses on your own, and be more limited in where you can fish. 

Keep in mind you’ll also be solo in the Alaska wilderness. Consequently, you should have some survival knowledge just in case. 

Is Going Salmon Fishing in Alaska Worth It? 

For lovers of fishing, the answer is a resounding yes! Salmon fishing in Alaska is one of the more unique experiences. It’s also one of the best ways to truly experience this wild frontier state, helping you connect with the land and its inhabitants. 

However, it’s not for everyone. Obviously, those who don’t enjoy fishing may not find it the best use of their Alaska vacation time. Also, regardless of how you fish, it can be an expensive outing. 

salmon fishing is great in valdez alaska

Still, if your budget allows, even those with no fishing experience may find themselves loving this one-of-a-kind experience. You could genuinely connect with this beautiful state, and it’s the kind of activity that can keep you coming back year after year. 

By keeping this guidance in mind and following our tips, you’ll be reeling in the catch of a lifetime before you know it!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Jennifer Hamiel

Wednesday 25th of August 2021

If people knew the extreme shortage of Chinook salmon in Alaska, would they still go to fish King salmon?