Fishing in Alaska: The Kenai River, Cook Inlet, Homer & More
Alaska is the most northwestern state in the US. Renowned for its majestic mountain scenery and abundant wildlife, Alaska also has plenty to please the keen fisherman.
Inland, you’ll find glacial lakes and crystal clear rivers, while the rugged coastline is the most extensive in the US, longer than that of all the other US states combined. There’s more fishing space in Alaska than there are in a number of other quality fishing states like Colorado or California.
Highway fishing in this State is legendary, drawing anglers from all around the world. As you travel along the Alaska Highway, you’ll quickly realize that you’ve reached fishing heaven; everywhere you look there are opportunities to cast a line. There are specific seasons where finding certain fish is better than others (like salmon) but overall, Alaska is an amazing place to fish year round.
Let’s look at the licenses you’ll need, as well as our 10 favorite spots.
To fish legally in Alaska, non-residents who are aged 16 years of age or above are required to purchase and hold a sports fishing license. Also, you will need a king salmon stamp if you want to fish for this species of fish. Be aware that these laws apply to fishing in both marine and fresh waters.
You can obtain a sports fishing license and a king salmon stamp at this online link, at most sporting goods stores in the Stage, and at Alaska Fish and Game offices. If you book your fishing adventure via an organized tour company, they will arrange any requisite licensing for you.
Top 10 Fishing Locations
We’ve put together our top 10 Alaskan fishing locations in this guide.
No matter what kind of fish you’re after, you’ll be sure of a good day’s sport at any of these specially chosen locations.
It’s easy enough to find out what kind of fish can be fished for in Alaska, but we’ve got exact locations for your best catch in our complete guide below.
1. Innoko River
The Innoko River is well-known as one of the best places to find Northern pike. If you’re a water wolf specialist, you could confidently expect to land a trophy-sized beast here. In fact, fish up to 30 pounds in weight are not uncommon in these waters.
The exact location is shown at this link in Google Maps.
You should be aware that reaching this area can present a challenge. For this reason, the Holy Grail of Pike Fishing as it’s known is best accessed via charter. The Innoko river is wildness country at its most wild. Don’t be surprised to see moose wandering here too.
2. Afognak Wilderness Lodge
Ocean fishing in Alaska is really at its very best in the area surrounding the Afognak Wilderness Lodge. The accommodation is excellent, and access to the fishing grounds is easy.
This area is the spot to head to if you enjoy ocean fishing. Fish species you can expect to encounter here include:
- Sockeye salmon
- Silver salmon
Fishing here can be somewhat season-dependent. If you hope to go after King salmon, some of which can weigh up to 25 pounds, you’ll need to visit this resort from mid-June through to the end of July. If you’re after Pink salmon, the month of August is the best time to try your luck, so it’s a very short window! By contrast, silver salmon are here anytime from mid-August through mid-October.
The location of the Afognak Wilderness Lodge can be found at this link in Google Maps.
3. Kobuk River
The Kobuk River begins among the sheer Arrigetch Peaks in the Gateway to the Arctic National Park. The Kobuk flows for over 300 miles through forest and tundra, until it reaches the Chukchi Sea. This destination is the very definition of wilderness and is best reached by floatplane.
The Kobuk has the best fishing of any of the Brooks Range rivers. In July, the following species arrive to spawn, presenting a perfect angling opportunity:
- Arctic Grayling
- Northern pike
On your journey to the fishing grounds, you may catch a glimpse of grizzly bears, beaver, moose, lynx, and wolves, making this the perfect trip for wildlife lovers too.
Sheefish are the primary target of most anglers who visit the Kobuk. They’re often energetic and challenging creatures to land, some weighing up to 30 pounds. And they taste great when cooked over a campfire under the stars with the sound of wolves howling in the background!
You’ll find the Gates to the Arctic National Park at this location on Google Maps.
4. Denali Highway
The Denali Highway runs for 135 miles from Cantwell to Paxson, crossing over the south area of the Alaska Range and connecting the Parks and Richardson highways.
This road is mainly gravel, so your speed won’t get much over 50 mph, depending on the surface conditions. Note that the Highway is closed from October through mid-May due to the winter weather. If you’re hiring a car, make sure that you hire one that’s appro
ved for use on this road, as not all are.
There are plenty suitable camping areas here, and the fishing is rated as some of the best in the State.
The area’s water system is very well-populated with Arctic Grayling and various species of trout. There are numerous streams here that wind their way through the tranquil scenery. Together with your camping gear, be sure to bring plenty of black gnats and nymphs, and settle down to enjoy a peaceful afternoon’s fly fishing.
You’ll find details on the location of the Denali Highway, here.
5. Southeastern Panhandle
The panhandle of the southeastern region of Alaska is world-renowned for steelhead. Steelheads are the sea-run form of the coastal rainbow trout. These fish live for two to three years in the ocean, before heading inland to their freshwater spawning grounds. Steelheads can put up an incredible fight and will present a challenge for even the most experienced angler.
The best time to pursue these enigmatic and beautiful fish is in the spring when the fish enter the river systems.
If fly fishing is your bag, the steelhead will indeed present you with a challenge. Steelheads make satisfying eating too, especially when cooked over your fire at the end of a memorable day spent waist-deep in one of the areas glacial streams.
Take time out to visit one of the many panhandle inlets, and you’re sure to find steelhead aplenty.
6. Wasilla Lake
Wasilla lake is close to Palmer, Anchorage, and Wasilla. The lakes are stocked with many different species by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, including:
- King salmon
- Silver salmon
- Rainbow trout
- Arctic char
- Arctic Grayling
A trip to this location offers much sport for the leisure fisherman. Of course, there are fish to be had here during the winter months too, and for a somewhat different experience, you might like to try your hand at ice fishing.
Once the winter ice forms, silver, and King salmon become landlocked, remaining active underneath the ice and just waiting to be caught! You’re pretty much guaranteed of catching something, making ice fishing the ideal winter adventure for the whole family.
The average fish size is 12 to 18 inches – not trophy-size, but tasty eating nonetheless. You may be lucky and land a 30-inch specimen, but be prepared for chaos and mayhem! The bigger fish will make strong runs underneath the ice, pulling line off the reel and potentially catching an exposed hook on the ice and getting free.
In addition to trout and salmon, the winter time is a good season for catching Arctic char. During the summer months, these chunky fish head for cooler water, placing them at depths where they’re out of the reach of anglers. Wintertime sees the char frequenting depths of less than 15 feet, leaving them vulnerable to the ice fisherman.
Ice fishing does require some knowledge and technique, as well as the right gear. You can either hire specialized equipment or book an ice fishing experience with a river guide who will provide the right kit and do everything for you.
The ice fishing season is dictated by the weather and by how quickly the lakes freeze over. Typically, conditions are right from late November or early December, through to the end of March.
7. Kenai River
The Kenai River is famous for its salmon, especially for King salmon, or Chinook as they’re known locally. Chinook is the biggest species of salmon, making it one of the reasons so many anglers have landing one firmly on their bucket list.
The fisheries that sit along the Kenai River have taken their toll on the Chinook population, but there is still plenty of fish here, and some beautiful specimens can always be found lurking in deep ponds and underwater caves. In addition to King salmon, you can encounter the following species here:
- Silver salmon
- Red salmon
- Rainbow trout
Note that fishing opportunities on the Kenai River do change, depending on the season, from the runs of different salmon species to catch-and-release trophy char and rainbow trout. It’s advisable to arrange your trip with an experienced river guide to be assured of the best opportunities and sport.
8. Kodiak Island Archipelago
If you want to enjoy a truly remote fishing experience, head to the Kodiak Island Archipelago. The Archipelago is 177 miles long and has the large island of Kodiak at its center. To access the best remote fishing spots you’ll need to charter a boat or take a float plane to find the well-populated bays and streams on many of the smaller islets.
Your principal targets when fishing this area are salmon and halibut, and you’ll enjoy less competition in this serene wilderness environment than you would do in other more readily accessible resorts. Options for overnight accommodation include remote lodges and state park cabins that are available for rent.
Although you can camp out under the stars, remember that you are a guest in the wilderness here, and your vacation neighbors do include bears!
9. Cook Inlet
If you enjoy kayak fishing, you might want to consider a trip to the Cook Inlet.
The first thing to note about kayak fishing in the Cook Inlet is that it is NOT for beginners. The waters here have the second largest tidal exchange anywhere on the planet! From low to high water, the change can be over 30 feet vertically! The wind generally blows north or south, and the currents can run up to five knots. It’s therefore crucial that you plan your fishing excursion carefully around the tides.
It’s recommended that you fish for an hour or two before the tide turns. At this time, the current speed will be minimal, giving you a window of around four hours’ fishing time. Always try to stay up-current of the launch site to reduce the risk of drifting.
There are some good launch sites from the north to the south of the inlet, and each presents its own set of challenges.
Species you can expect to encounter when fishing the Cook Inlet include:
- King salmon
King salmon are usually found within 100 feet of the shoreline, and halibut can be caught here too, although it can be better out deeper. You should make sure to bring a fish finder for better luck, and make sure you have the right rod and reel while you fish. Your best set up is a 6 to 10-ounce trolling sinker ahead of a flasher and herring. Be sure to keep your leader lengths shorter than you would do when fishing from a boat, or you’ll struggle to net the fish.
Paddle up-current to troll. The line angle and action of the bait are the most important thing here, not how much headway you make.
Homer is widely known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.” In fact, sports fishing, commercial fishing, and tourism are Homer’s leading industries. Although the area is known for its deep-sea fishing, it’s also very popular with kayakers on the hunt for rockfish and flounder. Depending on the time of the year, you can even land some big King salmon here.
The best way to kayak fish Homer’s waters is to book yourself onto a guided trip. All the necessary gear will be provided for you, and experienced local guides will make sure that you visit the most productive waters for the time of year.
While paddling between fishing locations, you can expect to encounter wildlife, including sea otters, porpoises, orca, and several species of eagle.
Alaska is a land of spectacular wilderness scenery and is home to some of the most productive sport fishing locations in the US.
Regardless of whether you’re a fly fisherman casting for trout, a kayak angler up for the challenge of battling offshore currents and tides in search of halibut or flounder, or you want to sample the delights of drilling and fishing through an ice hole in the depths of winter, Alaska has it all.
Daniel C. Warren gradually morphed from a weekend warrior into a full-time outdoorsman and outdoor blogger. From picking up trash in the woods or sleeping under an open sky to hiking until his plantar fasciitis says no more or having a field day fishing with like minded fellow countrymen, there’s little he doesn’t wholeheartedly enjoy while out in the wild. While some might call him a true-born nature freak, he likes to see himself as a “born-again” outdoor enthusiast. Daniel just can’t get enough of nature, and we’re grateful whenever he decides to share his latest experiences with us.