Alaska Fishing 101
Fish on! From fly-out fishing lodges in the backcountry to saltwater charters to roadside pull-offs, Alaska offers fishing opportunities for every budget level and itinerary. Freshwater fishing enthusiasts will find a lifetime of fishing in the state’s three million lakes, twelve thousand rivers, and thousands of streams. For those that dream of reeling in a trophy salmon or halibut, saltwater fishing charters operate from almost every port community in the Inside Passage and Southcentral regions, and many communities in the Southwest.
Once you’ve decided to make fishing part of your Alaska adventure, the first question is where you should go. Home to both the “Salmon Capitol of the World” and the “Halibut Capitol of the World,” along with endless fishing possibilities in all five regions of the state, picking your fishing destination can seem like a daunting task.
The good news is: there’s no wrong answer! Weather you’re interested in fly fishing for species like Arctic grayling and rainbow trout in Alaska’s Interior and Arctic regions, keen to reel in some of the largest king salmon in the world on the famed Kenai River, or relax in luxury at a fishing lodge after a day out on the water fishing for massive halibut, you’ll find exciting fishing opportunities wherever your Alaska adventure takes you. To help you refine your search, check out our list of the best fishing spots in Alaska, broken down by region.
The next consideration is price. If you're visiting primarily to fish and you're looking for that once-in-a-lifetime fishing trip, every region of the state has an array of full-service fishing lodges that include daily fishing trips, comfortable accommodations, and hearty meals. Some lodges are accessible by road, while others are only accessible by boat or float plane for a truly off-the-beaten-path fishing experience. If your fishing budget is more modest, opportunities abound for day fishing trips throughout the state.
Visitors traveling by cruise ship can arrange fishing trips for salmon or halibut on charter boats nearly everywhere the ship stops. Charter operators will tailor the trip length to match your time in port and take care of processing and shipping your catch for you. Charter boats provide all the equipment you’ll need, and folks who prefer to fish from shore for the day can usually rent fishing gear in town. If you're visiting a port city as an independent traveler, talk to charter operators and locals to get a feel for what's available and who's catching what.
Alaska is justifiably famous for its salmon fishing, and many visitors look no further than salmon when it comes time to choose which fish to pursue. While the famous runs of salmon into freshwater streams are seasonal, king salmon are available year round in the Inside Passage, Prince William Sound, and Southcentral saltwater fisheries. And while taste is a supremely subjective quality, many consider saltwater king salmon and the famous Copper River red salmon to be some of the best tasting of them all.
The fishing season begins with the return of the first runs of salmon in the spring. The largest of the five species and the first to return to the streams where they were born is the mighty king, also referred to as chinooks. (You should know that each salmon species has at least two names, so a bit of confusion is understandable, especially for a newcomer).
Kings begin to show up in mid-April in the Kodiak and Bristol Bay areas, and by mid-May they're available in the Inside Passage and Southcentral. The kings are followed closely by reds (or sockeyes), pinks (humpies), chums (dogs), and silvers (cohos). All five species offer exciting fishing experiences whether they're pursued in freshwater or saltwater.
For some unique urban fishing, visitors can take advantage of the king and silver salmon runs in Ship Creek, just below downtown Anchorage. For most of the summer, local fisherwomen and men take time off from work at lunchtime and stop off after office hours to fish alongside visitors who have gotten word of this excellent urban fishery. Another accessible alternative is silver salmon fishing from shore in Seward in July and August.
Another favorite to catch (and eat) is halibut. Saltwater charters in coastal communities in the Southcentral, Inside Passage, and Southwest regions target these mighty “barn doors” that can grow up to 500 pounds and 8 feet long. You likely won’t catch one quite that big, but it’s still a thrill to haul in a 20-50 pounder. The peak time for catching halibut is mid-May through mid-September. Charter operators offer halibut-only trips along with multi-species trips to target both salmon and halibut.
To add to the already considerable excitement of fishing Alaska's productive waters, many coastal communities add a bit of spice to the pot by hosting fishing derbies. The lucky angler can win cash prizes by catching big fish or fish that have been caught, tagged, and re-released. Sizeable awards are available, and if you happen to be fishing when a derby is on, don't forget to enter. The nominal fee for admission, never more than a few bucks, is a small price to pay for the chance to win big. And every year there are tales of "lucky" anglers who have caught an otherwise prize-winning fish but neglected to enter the derby. Don't let this happen to you!
If your preferences run to stream and lake fishing, there are thousands of bodies of water to choose from. The Inside Passage has cutthroat, brook, steelhead, and rainbow trout available year around, while farther north you can find rainbows, lake trout, Arctic grayling, Arctic char, Dolly Varden, and northern pike. For a truly unique experience, thrill-seeking anglers can head north and fish for sheefish. These large, muscular fish live in a handful of rivers in the Arctic, Interior, and northern Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta areas. Sheefish are hard-fighting and can weigh up to 50 pounds, and are known for making acrobatic leaps out of the water - making them a much sought-after fish for fly fishing enthusiasts.
Hard core anglers who need a fishing fix in the middle of winter can try their hand at ice fishing, popular in Southcentral and Interior Alaska. Fishing on frozen lakes and streams can be rewarding and productive. Char, Dolly Varden, rainbow trout, pike, landlocked salmon, and the tasty burbot provide plenty of opportunities for catching a meal and getting out to experience Alaska's winter recreation opportunities. Guided ice fishing trips in Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, the Kenai Peninsula, and Fairbanks take you to ice fishing hot spots and provide all the gear that you’ll need, often including access to a heated hut to keep you comfortable for a day on the ice.
Fishing licenses are required, so be sure to purchase your fishing license online or visit the Alaska Department of Fish & Game website for more information. Are there folks in your group who aren’t interested in fishing? There are plenty of other water-based activities available in coastal communities to keep them occupied. Kayaking, glacier & wildlife cruises, and a wide variety of things to do are available so everyone in your group can find their perfect Alaska adventure.
Alaska: AKA Your Next Adventure
Where will your Alaska adventure take you? Order our Official State of Alaska Vacation Planner and plot your course.