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.

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Tips For Catching More Silver Salmon

Are you ready to embark on a thrilling fishing adventure? Look no further than the ultimate guide to silver fishing! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced angler, this comprehensive guide is packed with valuable tips, techniques, and gear recommendations to help you make the most of your fishing trips. From choosing the right fishing rod and reel to mastering the art of casting, this guide covers it all. Discover the secrets to finding the best silver fishing spots, learn how to identify the ideal bait, and uncover the strategies that will increase your chances of landing that prized silver catch. With expert advice from seasoned fishermen and in-depth explanations of essential fishing techniques, this guide is your go-to resource for all things silver fishing. Get ready to reel in the excitement and create unforgettable memories with every cast. Let’s dive in and unlock the secrets of silver fishing success!

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.

Silver Salmon Fishing In Alaska

Before I made my home in Alaska many years ago the smallmouth bass was by far my favorite sport fish. Soon after moving to Alaska in my 20’s I found a local creek. The creek was choked with log jams and was loaded with silver salmon. They were moving into the creek to spawn. Shout out to my neighbor at the time for the insight. I quickly learned silver salmon fishing techniques that Ed shared with me during those first months upon me arriving to my new home in Southeast Alaska. Thanks Ed. The silver salmon in Alaska also known as the Coho salmon

Description Of Silver Salmon Fishing In Alaska

During the silver salmon’s ocean phase, they display silver sides with blue/green backs. During the spawning phase, the silver salmon’s jaws and teeth become hooked and after a time in freshwater the silver salmon in Alaska develop bright-red sides, dark bellies and spots on their back. Sexually maturing fish develop a light-pink or rose shading along the belly. The males may show a slight hump in its back. Mature adults become a deep red in color with darker backs. They average 28 inches and 7 to 11 pounds, occasionally reaching up to 36 pounds. Mature females may be darker in color than males.

Reproduction Of Silver Salmon In Alaska

Silver salmon eggs hatch from late winter to early spring. They will rest for six to seven weeks in the redd. There’s many factors that can determine the hatch rate for any given spawning season. The silver salmon, like other salmon species, have mastered the process. Once hatched, the tiny silver salmon remain mostly immobile in the redd during the alevin life stage, which lasts another 6–7 weeks. The alevin no longer has the protective egg shell and rely on their yolk sacs for nourishment during this stage. The alevin life stage is very sensitive to contaminants both aquatic and sedimental. Alevins will leave the redd when the yolk sac is completely consumed,. Young Alaska silver salmon spend one to two years in their freshwater natal streams. They often spend the first winter in off-channel sloughs as they transform into the smolt stage. Smolts are generally 3.5–5.5 inches and as their parr marks fade and the adult’s characteristic silver scales start to dominate. Smolts migrate to the ocean from March through July. Some fish leave freshwater in the spring, spend summer in brackish estuarine ponds, and then return to fresh water in the fall. Coho salmon live in saltwater for one to three years before returning to spawn. Some precocious males, also known as “jacks”, return as two-year-old spawners.

Fishing For Silver Salmon In Alaska

In North America the silver salmon is a game fish in fresh and saltwater from July to December. The fly rod or light tackle is often used to catch silver salmon in Alaska. This tackle option will provide plenty of fight and oftentimes aerial displays only rivaled by the Alaska rainbow trout. It’s one of the most popular sport fish in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada and fishing for silver salmon in Alaska is very popular. Its popularity is due in part to the aggression in which it attacks lures and bait. Fishing in the ocean for Alaska silver salmon can be incredible as they return to the large number of coastal streams during its spawning runs. Its habit of schooling in relatively shallow water, and often near beaches, makes it accessible to anglers on the banks, as well as in boats. Trolling or mooching is the most common ways that anglers pursue the silver salmon in Alaska’s saltwater. Bobbers are often used by bank anglers. I was able to experience fishing with a bobber for silver salmon one year from a pier in Valdez Alaska. A lot of fun, especially fighting these silver salmon from 50 feet above the water during low tide.

Here is a few techniques for fishing for silver salmon in Alaska

Trolling For Silver Salmon In Alaska

When the silver salmon show up from the ocean to spawn, trolling is the most effective way to pursue them. As the silver salmon migrate to the freshwater streams and creaks throughout its range they are hungry as they feed up for the rigors of reproduction. Silver salmon in Alaska are very aggressive, especially when still prowling the salt. Slow trolling cut herring, whole herring or lures. When I was trolling for early season silver salmon back in the day I always used herring. When the silvers are still in saltwater they are still feeding and feeding intensely.

Look for silver salmon to be anywhere there might be some freshwater flowing into the salt. Outside large estuaries not only have silvers that might be moving into the drainage forming the estuary but it will also hold migrating silver salmon that are moving through looking for their home waters. Oftentimes, as salmon search for their stream of origin they will pause to sample the water from other streams. This is why trolling for silver salmon in Alaska around these estuaries is so effective. It is also the reason that these areas are great to fish for silver salmon from shore. That is if you can get there without a boat.

My go to silver salmon rig for trolling was a tandem slip hook rigged herring. The slip tie tandem hook rig allows you to control the roll in your presentation. I will explain this roll in a moment. Now, there are so many different ways to rig a herring. This includes cut plugs, herring strips fresh and cured on a hoochie or other type lure. There are herring spin rigs that attach to your whole herring or cut plug. These spinners take the rigging out of the rig because these bait holders like the Pro-Troll Roto Chip Bait Holder, has a built in fin that causes the herring strip or whole herring to spin.

The Herring Roll Trolling For Silver Salmon In Alaska

I tried many ways of rigging a herring when I trolled for silvers in Alaska. I always came back to the tandem slip-hook rig. Sometimes I added a hoochie to the rig, but more times than not I trolled a whole herring on the tandem rig. There are many many ways to rig a whole herring for trolling but I will explain the way that I rigged mine for silvers. Run the bottom hook through the eyeballs and bring it back to the tail and hook it into the tail section just above the tail. Make sure to pierce the herring in the spine to help keep the herring from tearing out. Now pierce the herring through the bottom lip up through the nose making sure to get that hard part of the nose. Again this will help keep your hook from tearing out.

With the tandem hooks rigged this way on the herring you can now adjust for the roll that you want. Many anglers insist on a tight roll but I have seen times when the salmon prefer a wide roll. They will miss sometimes with the wide roll but will usually return to devour the herring. I have watched silver salmon as well as king salmon swipe at a wide rolling herring several times with two other lines out that had tight rolling herring. Adjust the slip hook so the it crooks the tail on your herring. The crook or bend in the herring will cause it to spin. The less the bend the tighter the spin. There is a fine line however as you adjust for a wide rolling herring. There is a point where the herring may spin tight even with a drastic bend in the bait. Experiment by adjusting the rig and tossing it into the water at trolling speed and visually verify the roll.

I’m only point the two different rolls here because I did see when salmon preferred one over the other. I like to add my 2 cents when I have 2 cents to add. Having trolled for salmon many years in Alaska I found this to be true. I’ve never read or heard of anyone adjusting for a wide roll so if anyone else knows what I am talking about here or has experienced similar conclusions feel free to explain in the comments. I would love to hear something about it. It’s been a long time since I trolled in Alaska for silver salmon.

Preparing Herring For Silver Salmon Bait

Herring is the most widely used baits in Alaska for silver salmon. There are many ways to prepare herring to use for bait. I normally used fresh herring and it works great, but will only last a little while before beginning to deteriorate. After a while of being dragged through the water trolling or casted out for mooching a fresh herring can only take so much.

One way to prepare your herring bait is to brine them in salt water. The brining process toughens up the herring and will help it last much longer under the pressures of fishing. You can use a homemade brine or a store bought pre-made brine like Pro-Cure or Fire BrineBy soaking your herring bait in this salt brine they will harden and toughen up considerably. You can also add scents and colors to your brine. The pre-made brines usually come in different colors. This scent and bright fish attracting colors permeate the herring. This color attracts silver salmon and the scent, that has penetrated throughout the entire herring, releases scent as long as they will last on the hook. 

I have also seen old timers and I am sure people still do it somewhere. This old timer I met on the docks in Alaska was catching herring with a Sabiki Rig and laying them neatly in a 5 gallon bucket. I watched this guy for a while and finally asked him about what he was doing. This was after I saw him carefully sprinkle pickling salt on the layer of herring. He told me that he could keep the herring for the entire fishing season in the 5 gallon bucket with a lid on it. The herring was layered with salt and he almost filled the bucket while I was there.

Spooning For Alaska Silver Salmon

In the first paragraph I mention my neighbor turning onto a great creek in Southeast Alaska loaded with silver salmon. He also told me how to catch the silver salmon as well. With a spoon. He told me all he used was a red/white daredevil spoon. I would use the daredevil spoon that first fall but soon tried a few other spoons like the Krocadile spoon and the Hot Rod Spoon, all of which were blaze orange in color. Spooning is done in the ocean with a mooching technique which is also done with herring. I only mooched a couple times for silver salmon in Alaska, but a lot of people do it successfully. Mooching is where you lower your bait or lure straight down to a depth you feel that the silver salmon are and pump the line with the rod up and down. This presentation represents a dying baitfish and can trigger strikes.

It’s believed that silver salmon don’t feed after entering freshwater, but there is no doubt that they will aggressively strike a spoon in freshwater. Casting into runs where silver salmon stage as they make their way into their spawning grounds will yield many strikes. Silver salmon also love to stage or spawn within log jams and other gnarly cover in Alaskan creeks and rivers. Where they return to spawn each year. Fluttering these spoons into this cover is a very effective tactic for sure.

I was instructed to drop the spoon into these haunts and use a simple lift and drop presentation. This works great and can help limit hang ups and frustration. Silver salmon will hold in this cover in very shallow water. I’ve been surprised after lowering my spoon into an eddy and realizing it was only two feet deep. However, many times when I lifted the spoon there was a silver salmon hooked up and rolling on the surface. Needless to say after a couple times I began to focus more on these shallow holes and it paid off big. I would say as long as the visibility is low enough that you can’t see the bottom it could have a silver salmon lingering below.

Fly Fishing For Silver Salmon In Alaska

Fly fishing for silver salmon in Alaska quickly became my favorite way to chase them. Shortly after arriving in Alaska I became a die hard fly fisherman. It was at this time that other than trolling in the ocean, everything I fished for was with a fly rod. Silver salmon on the fly will always be dear to my heart and might even force me back to Alaska one day to live. The feel of the strike and the challenge of the fight is nothing less than spectacular. Couple this with the cool crisp fall days in Southeast Alaska, the ripples of low water and the snow that sprinkles the higher elevations around you and you have an angler’s dream.

Silver Salmon Fishing

Silver salmon in Alaska fight hard and grow big. The smallest fly rod I would dare go would be a 6 weight. A 7 or 8 weight might be advisable if you know the silver salmon in the waters you fish could be some of the giants that Alaska offers. These waters would include the Kenai river and others especially during the second run of silver salmon which tend to be larger in size.

Fly reels are often thought to only need to hold the fly line. With the Alaska silver salmon it is advised to have a little more of a fly reel. A fly reel with a good smooth drag is paramount when fly fishing for Alaska silver salmon. Some might argue that the runs can match those of a green steelhead and a smooth drag is very important. When fly fishing log choked creeks a drag might not be as vital. Since Alaska silver salmon are not leader shy you are able to use a heavy leader to fight the fish. You might argue you could do this anywhere but it has been my observation that in open streams and estuaries a fly reel with a smooth drag makes the fight much more exciting and with the rapid change in direction you can catch up to the fish easier than stripping line.

Silver Salmon Flies For Alaska

There are a few flies that are regularly used when fly fishing for silver salmon in Alaska. I have used and more often seen others use dark flies like a black woolly bugger or egg-sucking leech. I always used bright reds and oranges when fishing in freshwater for silver salmon in Alaska. These colors just seemed to work well for me but never underestimate black, olive or purple colors because they work as well. My favorite fly for silver salmon in Alaska is the showgirl fly in bright orange and white. The showgirl uses marabou which is another part of the silver salmon fly I find to be important. Marabou imparts lots of pulsating action in the current. Feathers or tightly wrapped materials don’t do this. The marabou’s tendency to get caught in the salmon’s teeth will keep the fly in the silver salmon’s mouth a split second longer. This will allow you more time to set the hook. I have actually watched silver salmon trying to spit this fly out of their mouth and couldn’t. I had read about this fact but actually was able to see it with my own eyes. This was in some clear waters in interior. That’s when this fly became the only one I used.

Working a fly for silver salmon is dictated by the water you are fishing. In thick creeks you might only roll cast to eddies and pockets that are likely holding fish. Even with lots of overhangs and brush to fish around a 9 foot fly rod might still be a good choice. The holes that you must fish are small. High sticking may be in order. A 9 foot fly rod will work best for this technique. Fly fishing open water, like big rivers and estuaries, still calls for a 9-footer to fight the wind. A 9 foot fly rod will help make that long cast that’s needed under these fishing conditions for silver salmon in Alaska. The 9 foot fly rod is just a good all around choice for the acrobatic and aggressive silver salmon in Alaska.

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 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.

Back Trolling Plugs For Salmon In Alaska

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 back trolling plugs for salmon is a very popular tactic for catching a lot of fish. The current will work the plugs. By using the boat you can 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 as well as a motorboat to back troll for Alaska Silver Salmon. While the use of the motor makes back trolling 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 downstream inches at a time. This coverage is vital to catching 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 1930s 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. With 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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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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About Benjamin Stevens 4 Articles
Benjamin Stevens Bio Benjamin Stevens is a Wildlife Artist and Adventurer based in Kenai, Alaska.  He spends his winters creating art, and the summers and fall traveling to hunt and fish.  He cut his teeth hunting with a homemade longbow and guiding fly fisherman for trout in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After graduating from Northern Michigan University, Benjamin, his wife, and versatile hunting dog, traveled to Alaska in search of a life full of adventure, inspiration, and meat for the freezer.  Benjamin’s Art can be found at and his films can be found at