Fishing The Kenai River For Silver Salmon

Fishing Kenai River For Silver Salmon

Catching Silver Salmon On The Kenai River

By far, the most sporting salmon species that run the rivers of Alaska are the silvers.  Silver salmon on the Kenai River will hit spinners aggressively and crush eggs with a vengeance. They are also caught on top water, in the tidal lagoons. Kenai River silver salmon are identified by dark lips, white gums, and small round spots on a dark back. They arrive with reflective silver sides and small delicate scales. As the season progresses, they develop a Rainbow Trout-like stripe down their side. They will also develop a hooked upper jaw which is called a “kype”.  As they transform in appearance; the quality of the meat degrades. 

Silvers are the true sportsman’s favorite salmon.  Their run is accompanied by cooler weather and shrinking crowds, as most people leave Alaska for the winter months.  Silvers cannot be caught as consistently as Sockeye and limiting out requires a lot more skill and patience.  Silvers also vary in size more than the other species of salmon and it is not unrealistic to have a 2 pound and 20-pound silver on the same stringer. The Alaska state record silver was 26 pounds and 11 ounces.

How To Catch a Silver

There are three main methods used to catch these fish.  The most common method is a large, brightly colored spinner.  Vibrax and Kodiak Custom are both popular brands.  The go to colors are chartreuse and pink.  This is the most approachable method and requires the least amount of skill and gear. It is best to cast the spinner into slower water and let the current spin the blade as the lure is slowly reeled in. 

The second method is a fly rod with brightly colored streamers often tied by the fisherman himself.  This method of fishing is for the purists, who are more interested in spending quality time on the water than filling their freezer.

Fishing Kenai River For Silver Salmon
Nice Kenai River Silver Salmon. Photo Benjamin Stevens


Bobber And Eggs For Kenai River Silver Salmon 

The third method is soaking eggs or roe kept from the sockeye run.  The eggs are held together by a membrane called a skein. They are cured in a brine of salt, sugar, and borax to be used as bait. The skein is cut into small pieces. The eggs are attached and placed in a self tightening loop above the hook. Above the egg loop are small lead weights spaced about 8 inches apart, all the way up to a small float. 

Cast the rig into a seam. This is where slow water meets fast water. The rig is allowed to drift until a fish pulls the float down by the hook.   This has proven to be the most effective way to fill a freezer. Dipnetting is only allowed during certain times of the year.  Close monitoring of the regulations is crucial, as things can change from year to year and emergency orders can even close the river on a day’s notice.

Spin-n-Glo Rig For Silver Salmon

If you are using eggs for Kenai silver salmon be sure to check the regulations to make sure they are legal during the time and section that you are fishing. Another great way to catch Kenai River Coho salmon with cured salmon eggs is with a spin-n-glo rig. The spin-n-glo rig has long been an effective way to catch Coho salmon.

The spin-n-glo floats the eggs up off the bottom and is adjustable by the length of the leader. By floating the bait up you can present your bait in the face of the salmon. Salmon can be very picky after entering freshwater to spawn. The silver salmon can be aggressive in freshwater but sometimes they have lockjaw and just will not chase lures or flies. However, the presentation of the bright red sweet smelling salmon eggs in their face can get you a lot more strikes during this time.

The setup uses a sinker and the leader with the spin-n-glo and snelled hook. The knot to the hook has an egg loop to help keep the eggs on the hook. The best sinker I have found for the spin-n-glo rig for silver salmon is the slinky weight. The slinky weight allows you to attach the sinker to the main line as well as the spin-n-glo leader. Its long slender profile helps to keep you from hanging up in the rocks and brush where big Kenai River Silvers like to hang.

kenai river coho salmon
Slinky Weight and Spin-n-Glo Rig for Kenai Silvers. McBroom

A Day on the Kenai

The video below is a snapshot of a normal day on the Kenai River in September.  My friends were visiting from Michigan, and we only had a limited amount of time to fish for Kenai River silver salmon.  We chose to fish with skeins to fill our freezers as efficiently as possible. The three of us caught 5 silvers, one shy of our limit.  We also caught a bonus Rainbow Trout.  Rainbow Trout in the Kenai River regularly grow to be bigger than the salmon and fight much more intelligently.  The trout measured 23 inches in this video with an estimated weight of 6 pounds.

The Kenai River

Every fishing season on the Kenai River starts with the King Salmon run.  Following the King run is the first run of Sockeye Salmon.  Several thousand fish push up the Kenai with their end destination being the Russian River.  Crowds begin to gather in the area at this time, hoping to capitalize on this great resource. In July, the second run of Sockeye arrive in the hundreds of thousands, filling the Kenai River and freezers of local fishermen.  

Fishermen line the bank with dip nets and flossing rigs, trying to catch their food for winter as quickly and efficiently as possible.  On even years, Pink Salmon follow the Sockeye in August and crowd the river.  In between the Pink Salmon are Coho Salmon, more commonly referred to as “silvers”.  Fishing the Kenai River for Silver salmon can be fast and furious.

A recent experiment that my fishing group ran was a blind salmon taste test.  We cooked Sockeye, Silver, and King, side by side on a baking pan, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.  We took turns blindfolding each other and tasting each piece, rating them on taste and texture.  All of the fish were excellent, each revered for a different quality. The unanimous winner in the taste category was the Kenai River silver Salmon.

Where To Find Kenai River Silver Salmon

There are two distinct runs of Kenai River silver salmon. However, there are several runs that might not be so obvious. The migrating silver salmon begins their way up the Kenai River to spawn beginning in July. Late July is normally when coho salmon begin to move into the river in catchable numbers. There are always those few lucky or knowledgeable anglers that find a few fish earlier than this. The same holds true for the end of the run. Early October marks the time each season when the chats at the gas pumps turn from “the silvers are in” to “the silver run is about over”.

The crowds begin to wane. With fewer anglers on the river, the local buzz becomes feverish among the locals. The excitement is high for the die-hard guides and local anglers. They have busted their butts all summer working the tourist season. Now it’s their turn to enjoy the river and the silver salmon and big bows are hungry and aggressive.

These locals know what’s up. The silver salmon run may have slowed but with fewer anglers targeting them, the Kenai River becomes the ultimate angler’s paradise. At least for those that stay until the snow flies. The elements are tough during the late silver salmon season, but Alaskans are tougher. Alaskan locals and those that brave the late season to travel to Alaska outside the “peak” season will gladly trade the cold wet days with frozen rod guides for fewer people, big Kenai River silver salmon, hot coffee, and plenty of laughter with friends enjoying the Alaskan lifestyle.

Upper Kenai River Silver Salmon

If solitude and silence is what you desire, then the upper Kenai River is the place to be. The upper Kenai River is a 17 mile stretch of drift only water. The upper Kenai is a great place to catch Kenai River silver salmon, especially during the late season when the entire river is full of silver salmon. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to fish the upper Kenai River for silver salmon and was able to catch a few of the biggest silver salmon I had ever caught. My buddy even landed a great Dolly that was 22 inches long and we pulled the drift boat into the shore at Gwins Roadhouse in Cooper Landing to celebrate with a Duck Fart.   We ended our trip before the Kenai canyon. I want to do the canyon one day soon.

DIY Fishing Upper Kenai

If you prefer doing things on your own the upper Kenai River silver salmon are accessible by trail. Spinners and spoons are the way to go on a DIY silver salmon adventure. As the run progresses and the numbers drop then sight fishing for upper Kenai River silver salmon becomes not only a blast but also the most effective way to catch coho salmon. Look for a stretch of shoreline where silver salmon are migrating by. Sight fishing anglers will have the advantage. However, as you learn different runs and lies that the salmon like to occupy as they run the river you can fish these without seeing the fish. Remember that the river changes from season to season. Where you find silver salmon this season might be void next. Always carry bear protection on any salmon rich river or stream in Alaska because they are around.

Middle Kenai River Coho Salmon

The middle Kenai is the section that flows from Skilak Lake to Sterling Alaska. Kenai River silver salmon stage in the lower Kenai. They wait for the right time to push into the middle section of the Kenai River. It is worth noting that with these waves of silver salmon comes big Kenai River Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden that have been lingering in the lower section gobbling everything that drifts by. When fishing the middle section of the Kenai River you might hook into a Rainbow trout or Dolly Varden of a lifetime.

Shore Fishing Middle Kenai

While the middle Kenai River near Sterling has some public access points most access is through private land. There are several places to get to the river to catch silver salmon in Sterling. It seems that the small town is always in the process of creating more access opportunities for Middle Kenai River anglers. Here is a few public access points. These spots get offer great opportunities to catch a few Coho from the bank.

Middle Kenai River Public Access Points

Lower Kenai River 

The lower Kenai River begins at the bridge in downtown Soldotna and flows mightily into Cook Inlet. The world record King salmon was caught in the lower section of the Kenai River, landed in 1985 by Les Anderson. The Lower Kenai is where all salmon move through. Obviously the salmon fishing here can be phenomenal. The Lower Kenai can be tough to fish because of its swift and deep runs. However, with the right guide and/or knowledge of the river, the silver salmon fishing is second to none on the Lower Kenai River.

Shore Fishing Lower Kenai For Silver Salmon

The size and power of the Lower Kenai makes it difficult for those without a boat. There are spots to fish from shore on the Lower Kenai River for silver salmon. Here is a few public access spots for the Lower Kenai River to fish for silver salmon.

Centennial Park in Soldotna

Centennial Park in Soldotna has some good access for bank fishing. The area along the boat ramp is especially popular and provides easy access for the handicapped fisherman. Access is at the Kalifornsky Beach Road and Sterling Highway. Turn west onto Kalifornsky Beach Road and follow the signs into the park.

Kenai Flats State Recreation Site

Kenai Flats State Recreation Site is located at the south end of Warren Ames bridge between the city of Kenai and Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Cunningham Park

Cunningham Park Is near Kenai Alaska. It has a new boardwalk and is a great place to fish the Lower Section of the Kenai for Coho salmon. Access at Beaver Loop Road. This is a good area to catch silvers as they enter the river. The incoming tide is the best time to fish. To help you find Cunningham Park. Turn on Beaver Loop Road at the Bridge Access Road in Kenai. Cunningham park is a short distance up the road on your right.

Conclusion: If you love fast action, vicious strikes and spectacular fights then Kenai River silver salmon is the fish for you. I have had the privilege to fish all over the USA and I often compared the silver salmon in Alaska to the big smallmouth bass here in Kentucky and Tennessee. The only difference for me was that I caught a lot more 8-15 pound silver salmon than I did smallmouth. Make the Kenai river your next angling vacation.

I have trolled for silver salmon in the open ocean in Southeast Alaska and I have fished spoons and flies in log jammed creeks you could jump across. While I love to catch silver salmon every way, I prefer to catch them on the fly. The Kenai River is a magical place. It has the vistas and scenes worthy of a postcard and with those is a mighty river full of the most spectacular species on earth. Please respect the water and the fish. Take only what you will eat and release those you won’t gently back into the emerald blue water to fight again.

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