Where to Hook the Fattest, Freshest Salmon in Alaska
Reel in some big ones alongside grizzly bears and stunning mountain vistas at these top salmon fishing destinations in Alaska
Alaska boasts some of the best salmon fishing in the world, with an abundance of all five types of wild salmon (King, Sockeye, Coho, Pink, and Chum) and scenery that’s hard to beat. The yearly salmon run takes place between May and September, and you’ll need a permit to partake, plus a special license to fish for prized Kings. Most outfitters are all-inclusive, meaning you’ll get transportation (within Alaska), lodging, permits, gear, instruction, plenty of food, and a filet-and-freeze service for any catch you’d like to bring back. Note that there are limits on when you can catch-to-keep certain types, and on how much you can haul home with you; this helps to keep the runs strong each year, and keeps you coming back for more. Alaska is widely known for its epic fishing trips, but we’ve narrowed ’em down to six destinations that should top your list, including easy urban spots (really!) as well as remote wilderness locations and one of the country’s most beautiful national parks.
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Known as “America’s Fish Basket” and the Red (Sockeye) Salmon Capital of the World, this watershed of rivers, streams, and wetlands is home to a diverse array of fauna–from beavers and mink to cougars and grizzlies–as well as world-renowned salmon runs. Bristol Bay contains some of the richest commercial salmon fisheries in the world, and its sport fishing is just as good along the area’s two major waterways, the Naknek River System and the Kvichak River. Bristol Bay also boasts the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge (4.7 million acres of wilderness!) and Katmai National Park (home to 18 volcanos and thousands of Alaska brown bears).
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Though Homer is known as the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World, there are plenty of salmon to be had here as well, whether you’re deep water or river fishing. The town’s Winter King Salmon Tournament, one of the state’s premier fishing contests, is held annually in March and awards tens of thousands of dollars to winning anglers–more than 1,400 people participated in 2019. If you need a break from your rod, wait for low tide and head to one of Homer’s clamming beaches to collect razor and steamer clams.
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Arguably Alaska’s most popular sport fishing destination for King salmon, the Kenai River is just a three-and-a-half-hour (and incredibly beautiful) drive from Anchorage. The world record King salmon, weighing in at 97 pounds (the fish are about 60 pounds on average), was caught here in 1985. If you’re looking for a less crowded spot, the Kasilof River, just 15 minutes south of the Kenai, offers peace and quiet, stunning opaque waters from the glacier-fed Tustumena lake, and just as many Kings—though often smaller in size.
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Ketchikan, along Alaska’s Inside Passage, is a town with a deep-rooted fishing history; it served as a summer fish camp for Tligit natives well before its salmon canning boom in the 1930s. Also known as the Salmon Capital of the World, Ketchikan is home to some of the best anglers in the country–and many of them make their livings as guides. When you’re off the water, check out the town’s totem poles; a mix of both originals and recreations (many commissioned through Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps) make up the world’s largest standing collection.
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If you’re willing to travel the extra distance (we’re talking multiple planes and boats), your fishing excursions–both saltwater and river–in the Kodiak Archipelago will be both bountiful and stunning, without the crowds. Strong ocean currents and pristine ecosystems mean year-round runs, which the Island’s world-famous bears enjoy as much as the anglers. The gigantic creatures you’ll see here, Kodiak brown bears, are the largest subspecies of brown bear, and one of the two largest bear species in the world (the other being the polar bear).
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It’s not the remote, wild Alaska you often see in the background of trophy photos, but Ship Creek is conveniently located in downtown Anchorage, making it an incredibly easy and affordable option compared to the other spots on our list. Its mud and sedge flats and ocean-fed waters make it a surprisingly productive fishing spot, as well as a great place to view shorebirds such as plovers, sandpipers, and godwits.