Fishing for Salmon in Alaska


Fishing for Salmon in Alaska
Valdez Saltwater Adventures

Fishing For Alaska Salmon

There is good reason for Alaska being the prime destination for salmon fishing adventurers. Millions of salmon run up creeks, rivers and streams to get to their spawning grounds. Fishing for salmon in Alaska is a dream come true for those that finally decide to make the trip to fish for salmon in Alaska. Whether you dream of fishing for the mighty King Salmon or wait until fall and chase the aggressive Coho Salmon Alaska offers the numbers as well as the backdrop for a great adventure. Whether your trip to fish for salmon in Alaska is a once in a lifetime endeavor or you decide you want to make the trip every year Alaska has plenty of places to pursue salmon and you could spend a lifetime searching new salmon waters every year and only scratch the surface.

Salmon In Alaska

There are 1,000 rivers in Alaska and 3,000 lakes per river. That’s what you’re dealing with. Whether fishing for salmon in Southeast Alaska, where the coastal waters touch every major destination, or fishing for salmon in interior Alaska where they can be found in areas you never would think they could be. Traveling sometimes hundreds of miles upstream to some interior Alaska spawning grounds the fishing techniques can be much different than in Southeast where they are just entering fresh water and are still ocean bright.

Southeast Or The Interior 

Some anglers that are thinking about coming to Alaska to fish for salmon might say well we should go to Southeast Alaska where the salmon are fresh and just in from the sea. To understand the two parts of Alaska is the best way to choose your fishing destination in Alaska. In Southeast Alaska, while the salmon are bright you have to deal with much cooler weather. On top of the cooler weather, Southeast Alaska gets a lot of rain.

In the interior the weather is mild and often warm in the summer when fishing for salmon in Alaska is best in the Interior. Much less rainfall and many more sunny days might be something you prefer over rainy cold days for your vacation. I’ve lived and worked all over Alaska. I can say that the two regions of Alaska are very different and is why I would recommend at least two trips to fish for salmon in Alaska. One trip to Southeast Alaska and one to Interior Alaska. This will give you a true representation of the greatest state in the union.

Seasons Of The Salmon

Before you plan your salmon fishing trip to Alaska check the run times. There are many variations throughout the state beginning in the spring and running into fall. Be sure to check the run times for the area you wish to go fishing in Alaska. This could be the contributing factor to what part of Alaska you choose to take your salmon fishing adventure. I will say that my favorite time for salmon in Alaska is the fall in Southeast Alaska. The days are shorter and cooler, but the Silver salmon are in full force. By far my favorite Alaska salmon to pursue.

The rich pink flesh of the Coho along with their delicious flavor is hard to beat. The King salmon or Chinook is a more sought after Alaskan salmon. Their size and flavor can’t be beat. However, the Silver salmon or Coho is much more aggressive. They will readily take a lure or fly and fight very well. They will even take a dry fly. Not a small Elk Hair Caddis or Royal Wolf, but big chuggers that tend to trigger the Coho’s spirited streak. While smaller than the King salmon they are much more abundant and represents fishing in Alaska very well.

The Chinook Salmon

The King salmon is a formidable opponent. Hooked on a fly rod can cause heart palpitations. The power of these anadromous power houses is rather obvious early on in the hook up. While trolling the strikes can be just as violent even though you are not holding the rod in hand when it happens. The scream of the drag and the bend in the rod makes it an exciting moment in the boat when one strikes.

I was fortunate enough to live on a boat in Southeast Alaska for a time. I purchased an old beater boat soon after arriving. It was a tunnel drive Penn Yan boat. Shortly after I was on the ocean trolling for the mighty chinook for the first time. It would be my best day fishing in my life. Me and a friend, who also had never fished for king salmon, rigged my old bass rods from Tennessee with 16 pound test magna-thin line and commenced to catch 10 great king salmon. We had two doubles during that few hours.

We trolled with nothing but a banana trolling sinker and slip rig tandem hook with a whole herring. I could see the herring spinning just behind the boat still in the wash of the prop. I watched nearly every king salmon that day smash my herring. It was an exciting day fishing in Alska and when it was all over and the dust had cleared I hit the bilge pump. While the pump worked to remove all the water from the bilge, there was a few leaks in this boat. I asked my friend what I should name the boat. He looked at the steady stream of water squirting into the sea and replied. The Bloody Bilge. I laughed. The water coming from the bilge was red with the blood of a limit of king salmon laying in the floor. Bloody bilge it was. Great times back then.

The Sockeye Salmon


While the mighty Chinook and Coho salmon are the most sought after sport caught salmon in. Alaska it would be for their willingness to bight a lure or bait. Sockeye are plankton feeders and are not impressed by a plug or even those delicious egg sacks that trigger strikes from the other salmon. The King salmon and Silver salmon are great fighters both putting up a different type of fight with the King with its hard runs and massive head shakes to the Coho’s rolls and aerial acrobats these salmon are great fighters but the Sockeye is arguably puts on the best fight of them all. The blazing runs and instant attempts to take flight fighting to the very end.

The Sockeye salmon are found throughout Alaska and is pursued intently for their delicious fillets that can be prepared so many different ways. From the grill to the smoker Sockeye salmon are delicious and with the run seeing plenty of fish the limits are liberal leaving the Sockeye as a great part of the subsistence lifestyle in Alaska. One of the big seasons in Alaska for Alaska residents is the dip netting season. Dip netting allows the whole family to use specially built nets that they set in the river waiting for a Sockeye to swim into the dip net. The this is a great way to catch a good number of Sockeye and many people take advantage of the opportunity.

The Sockeye salmon is also a great sport fish but needs special techniques to catch them. A technique called lining or flossing is used to hook the Sockeye in the mouth. As the line drifts downstream it will go into the Sockeye’s mouth and the fly slides into the side of the mouth. The Sockeye must be hooked in the mouth to be able to keep it. It can be hooked on the outside as long as it is outside the mouth. Snagging Sockeye is not a legal way to catch Sockeye salmon. Here is a photo of the favorite Sockeye fly in Alaska.

Russian or Coho flies are most common for fishing for Sockeye or Red salmon. 


The Coho Or Silver Salmon

The silver salmon, also known as the coho, quickly became my favorite fish. The smallmouth bass had been my favorite up until I moved to Alaska and probed the rivers and creeks for silver salmon. The coho is very aggressive. While maybe not as powerful a fighter as the king salmon the silver salmon puts up an acrobatic fight. They also hide among log jams and cut banks much like the creek smallies I chased as a kid. I used a fly rod anytime I was chasing these chrome sided beauties in freshwater. Fly fishing for silver salmon doesn’t take a perfect fly rod angler to be successful.

I was informed early on about a way to catch coho in the surrounding creeks. I was so thankful to my neighbor for that lesson and fortunate to meet Ed. Getting information from others proved futile and I was left to fend for myself. It was fun learning the area but I am so thankful for Ed’s instructions. He told me where they were and what to use to catch them and it worked.

“They are in the log jams”, he said. “A lot of people don’t realize how tight they are in those logjams Ken”, he informed. Ed told me to drop a red and white daredevil into any little hole I see and jig it once or twice and move on. Best and most accurate fishing information I have ever received. There is no telling how many coho I pulled out from under giant logjams. Ed if you ever stumble onto this article I want to thank you. Ed was a hydrologist in Juneau Alaska and was my neighbor on Douglas Island.

Fishing For Chum Salmon

Chum salmon also known as Dog salmon is a hard fighter and aggressive. The Chum salmon is not known as great table fare although some do love to eat Chum salmon. I have had canned Chum salmon mixed with a little mayo and relish it made an excellent sandwich. Chum salmon is a great catch and release salmon if you don’t want to eat it. They strike plugs and flies aggressively and fight as hard as any of the other salmon species with a bulldog type attitude.

Chum salmon are plentiful and while fun to catch and can be eaten they are also fished for for both bait and dog food. The Chum salmon is excellent halibut bait. When I lived in Alaska I always had a Chum salmon in the boat when I went halibut fishing. Check out some halibut fishing rigs here.

Chum salmon is also what most dog mushers use to feed their sled dogs. The Chum salmon is highly nutritional and readily available for the mushers. They spend many hours netting and using fish wheels to get the salmon for their dogs.

Backtrolling Plugs For Salmon

Backtrolling plugs is a great way to fish a run for salmon. By letting out line you can use the current to work the plug at the right depth to trigger strikes. Many anglers add scent by strapping a piece of herring to the bottom of the plug. This scent can make a difference in dirty water.

Backtrolling plugs is an excellent way to completely cover a run believed to hold salmon. Whether you use a drift boat or a motor sled backtrolling plugs for salmon is a very popular tactic for catching a lot of fish. The current works the plugs and by using the boat you slowly move from side to side and downstream to keep the plug in front of the salmon’s face and convince it to strike.

One great addition to a plug is a small piece of herring or sardine. By wrapping string or small bands to secure the small piece of fish to the bottom of the plug you can add some scent to the presentation. This scent is especially effective in dirty water but probably helps anytime in any water. A drift boat can be used or a motorboat. While the use of the motor makes backtrolling plugs for salmon a little easier the drift boat can move through silently. Many would argue that the stealth of the drift boat will get you more bites.

I was fortunate enough to fish with an excellent drift boat guide on the Kenai River many years to go. We caught plenty of salmon in the two days on the Kenai and all of them came on a Kwikfish plug with a small strip of sardine strapped to the bottom. Our guide worked the plugs expertly through several runs. He worked the oars to slowly move our plugs from side to side while slowly allowing the drift boat to drift down stream inches at a time. This coverage is vital to catch salmon with plugs.

Back Bouncing Bait For Salmon

Back-bouncing bait is a very popular method of catching salmon in Rivers. Back-bouncing started on the Rogue River in Oregon in the 1930’s by guide Arnold Gosnell who kept it a secret for many years before other anglers caught on and other guides. As these guides went to other rivers to guide for other lodges, they took the back-bouncing technique with them.

The most common bait used for back-bouncing is cured roe or salmon eggs. However, herring, sardines and shrimp work as well. By anchoring your boat above a hole known to hold salmon you can let the bait slowly bounce downstream. By using the proper size weight the angler can control the bounce. Let the bait sit in one spot for a few minutes. This lets the scent leach from the bait creating a scent trail for the salmon to home in on the bait.

After a few minutes lift your rod to lift the weight off the bottom a foot or two allowing the current to take it downstream. Each bounce you let some line out from the reel. This allows the bait to drift a little, but by lifting the bait off the bottom it releases more scent sending it downstream creating a stronger scent trail. You could say you eventually meet the salmon halfway. As it searches for the bait leaving the scent you are letting it drift down to the salmon. Back-bouncing is very effective, especially in deeper holes that are hard to fish any other way.

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