Alaska is a huge territory, and heading to Alaska to fish can be insanely complex. How you plan your trip makes a huge difference in how much you enjoy your Alaskan Fishing Trip. Here are some basic facts and tips to help you plan the perfect Alaskan fishing adventure
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- What are some important things I should consider when looking for a lodge?
- Alaska Sport Fishing Species
- Alaska Fishing Region Overview - Southeast, South Central, Southwest, and Interior & Far North
- How much should I expect my trip to cost?
- How long should my trip be?
- How far in advance should I book my trip?
- What types of fish can I bring back to the US?
- How do I get my fish back to the US?
- Best species to target if I'm interested in a fly-fishing only vacation?
- Best species to target for fly-fishing with dry flies?
- When to go?
- When is the general fishing season?
- How do I get my Alaska Fishing License?
- Can I go on an Alaska Fishing Trip if I'm new to fishing?
- What other types of activities should I look for if I don't want to fish every day?
- What national parks are available to visit?
What are some important things I should consider when looking for a lodge?
The biggest concern for guests is the locations. Every location in Alaska offers something slightly different. If you are coming to fish and fishing is your primary focus, then fishing services would be prime.
Remote Lodges offer guests unspoiled rivers and streams that are rich in many different fish species. If your target is a specific kind of fish, such as Sheefish, then the location is critically important. Remote Lodges often cost more per visit and may have a set number of days you must stay.
Lodges that sit in National Parks:
Alaska holds eight national parks. Those are Gates of the Arctic, Denali, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kenai Fjords, Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, and Wrangell-St. Elias Park. Few lodges are permitted inside of the national park and national preserves. Some sit on the edge while others have very special permits that allow their guided guests to fish or hunt in these areas. Katmai, for example, is an excellent location for Bear Viewing. Those lodges that are located in a national park or national preserve are often perfect locations for family adventures.
Some fishing lodges sit within or on the outskirts of towns or cities. These offer more things to do and many are designed to let the guest plan their days. They offer fishing activities such as chartered fishing trips or fly-out fishing trips, but the rest of the time you are on your own. The benefit to these types of lodges is that they offer a more inexpensive approach to fishing. Many do not have set lengths of stay so fishermen can come up for the weekend and fish. Lodges located in towns or cities offer other attractions and more things to do.
Guided vs. Un-Guided:
Some lodges, especially those located in remote locations, are strictly guided fishing adventures. If you want the benefit and experience of people who understand fishing in Alaska, then a guided fishing trip is for you. If you don't mind combat fishing or fishing in rivers and creeks that are popular fishing destinations, then unguided fishing might be best for you. Each offers something different. The plus with guided fishing trips is that almost always, the lodge provides everything that you need, such as waders, quality rods, reels, rigging, flies, etc.
Freshwater vs. Saltwater Fishing:
Some lodges offer both freshwater and saltwater fishing whereas others are strictly one or the other. If your target fish is trophy rainbow trout then, a lodge that specializes in saltwater and freshwater fishing may not be the best choice. The same is true for those who seek barn door Halibut. You won't find Halibut in fresh water. You should focus on what your fishing goal is, and then narrow down your choices from there.
For guided fishing tours, with the exception of saltwater fishing, the average ratio of guides to guests is 1:2 or 1:3. The higher the ratio, the less personal attention you receive. If you are a master fisherman then, the ratio may not be as important. If you are targeting a new kind of fish, such as Arctic Grayling, then you might want more attention from the guide. For saltwater fishermen, the guide is usually 1:4 or 1:6 depending on boat size.
Alaska Sport Fishing Species
There are 18 or more sports fish fished in Alaska those include:
- King Salmon (Chinook Salmon) - The largest salmon, fresh or saltwater. These are the largest of the salmon fish and one of the most highly prized fish in all of Alaska. The Official Alaska record for a sport caught King Salmon is a 97 pound King caught on the Kenai River in 1985, by Les Anderson. The Kings are also the official state fish of Alaska. It is their size and fight that make them so highly prized by sports fishermen, and rightly so. Read More...
- Silver Salmon (Coho Salmon) - Average size range from between 8-12 pounds. The outliers can reach upwards of 30 plus pounds and over 30 inches in length. Silver Salmon are a favorite of sports fishermen because they are highly aggressive fish that strike with tremendous force, and they fight like crazy. You can catch Silver Salmon in both salt water or fresh water but for the most amazing fly fishing action, freshwater streams and rivers are where the action is found. These are amazing fighters. Where the Kings have the edge in size and poundage the smaller silvers make up for it in their willingness to fight. Read More...
- Red Salmon (Sockeye Salmon) - One of the heaviest fish runs in Alaska. In some of the medium and smaller sized creeks in the month of July, they will be so thick that you can practically pick them up with your hands. Most Sockeye range in length from 18 inches to just over 30 inches. They can weigh up to 15 pounds with a few trophy Sockeye cresting the 15 pound mark. Read More...
- Pink Salmon (Humpy Salmon) - They spawn only every two years, and those years happen to be the even numbered year. These are smaller salmon reaching only 25 inches in length and weighing in between 3.5 and 5 pounds. They have a two-year life cycle and the fry migrate immediately after hatching to the ocean where they feed and grow for the next two years. They get their humpy name from the males at spawning time that develop a hump on their back, and their jaws appear to be hooked. So why are these fish so popular? One reason is that they are the most populous fish they even show up in greater numbers then the Red Salmon do. Read More...
- Chum Salmon (Tiger Salmon) - Also known as the Dog Salmon because as it matures and enters freshwater its canine teeth grow longer giving it the look of a dog's mouth. The Chum Salmon are plentiful, grow between 24-28 inches in length and typically weigh between 10 and 13 pounds when mature. They seem almost calico with colors of dark olive green and red that appear along their sides in alternative stripes almost as though they have been tie-died. One of the best things about Chum Salmon is that they make to a summer and fall run. Since most other species also run in the summer the fall becomes a time for fishing Chum Salmon. Read More...
- Pacific Halibut - The Pacific Halibut are the largest sports fish in Alaska. They can range in length up to eight feet and weigh over 500 pounds. Halibut are excellent fish to eat offering a premium of filets that you will not likely catch with other sports fish. Have at it, dig in, and hold on because halibut fishing is pure adrenaline. Halibut are best fished with a charter crew who knows how to chum. Read More...
- Rainbow Trout - Rainbow Trout are one of Alaska's most sought-after sports fish. These fish have a diverse range and habitat. Rainbow Trout are voracious feeders. In the smaller streams, they grow to monstrous sizes. A trophy Rainbow can weigh up to 18 pounds and be 30 inches long. A good sized Alaska Rainbow easily weighs ten pounds. Read More...
- Arctic Char - Arctic Char is closely related to the Dolly Varden, which is also a char.The Char enjoys the colder waters of Arctic and subarctic lakes and rivers. As such their territory is fairly limited to the inland portion of Bristol Bay, and in the arctic circle and polar regions. Char are mostly found in lakes, though some are also caught in rivers. Like Rainbow trout, they seem to follow the salmon. A good sized Char can weigh up to ten pounds with a maximum weight of up to 15 pounds. Read More...
- Dolly Varden - Dolly Varden are often confused with trout, but they are in fact, a Char. These are darkly colored fish with brightly colored dots in reds, oranges and yellows. Trout have darker spots. Dolly Varden also differ from Arctic Char in that the mouth of Dolly Varden are more hooked-shaped like those of a salmon. A Trophy sized Dolly Varden weighs over 25 pounds. Read More...
- Arctic Grayling - Weighing in at just over five pound and with a shimmering body length up to 24 inches its a beautiful fish for which to cast a fly. It is a strikingly beautiful fish that presents a variety of colors depending on habitat and its food source. They primarily eat insects and that fact makes them outstanding target for fly fishermen. They have a huge sail-like dorsal fin that helps them navigate the streams. Their brilliance is part of what makes it fun to fish for them. Read More...
- Sheefish - The tarpon of the North. Sheefish is the largest of the whitefish and make excellent fish for sportsmen. They are a lean, long fish which means excellent fight. The size range for Sheefish is 30 pounds and up, those mark the trophy sized fish. The Kobuk River is famous for its exceptional population of Sheefish. You can expect the fight to play out over 15 minutes to half an hour. Read More...
- Northern Pike - Northern Pike are long and lean fish that lurk in the shallow among the water plants, in fact, the more plants, the better for the wily pike. They have over 700 teeth in their wide and oval jaws. Larger adults can easily take down a foot long trout and sometimes in a single gulp. Read More...
- Steelhead - Saltwater variation of Rainbow Trout - Love the color pink - Will follow salmon runs.
- Cutthroat Trout - Trophy fish weigh up to eight pounds and can measure 27 inches in length. Primarily found in Southeastern Alaska in cold water lakes. Fly or spinning rigging.
- Ling Cod - The saltwater version of the Northern Pike, with huge fang-like teeth that are designed to hold its prey. Fabulously fun on flies such as the baby rockfish pattern or the sea snake pattern.
- Rockfish - Fun with bait. They like deeper holes on calm days. Discarded salmon works well for bait.
- Salmon Shark - A true specialty sports fish, be prepared, use a guide with adequate equipment for these monsters.
- Plus all the others such as King Crab, Bottom Fish, etc. - There is a charter for everything in Alaska
Alaska Fishing Region Overview
The division of Alaska is into five distinct regions. The Southeast, South Central, Southwest, Inland, and the Far North. Each offers amazing fishing, though not always for the same species of fish.
Southeastern Alaska stretches along the coast and abuts the Western side of British Columbia. The major cities of Southeastern Alaska include Juneau, Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island and Sitka. This is an outstanding area to fish for Pacific Halibut, Chinook Salmon, Silver Salmon, Coho Salmon, Pink Salmon and King Salmon. Freshwater fishing includes Dolly Varden Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Brook Trout, and Arctic Grayling. The Southeastern side of Alaska is outstanding for saltwater fishing. It is here that you find the massive Pacific Halibut and King Salmon. The fishing here is great both in freshwater and saltwater. The ocean waters around Prince of Wales Sound is rich with cod, salmon and halibut. There are plenty of opportunities to fish the inland lakes and rivers for Trout, Dolly Varden, and Grayling.View Southeast Alaska Fishing Lodges
Southwestern Alaska contains all of the Aleutian range and part of the ring of fire. It also contains some of the best fishing in the world. Places like Bristol Bay are prime for salmon and Pacific Halibut fishing. This is also home of the famous Kenai Peninsula and the most popular Salmon fishing location in Alaska. Major cities include Bethel, Dillingham, Naknek. Fishing here is excellent for Pacific Halibut, King Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Coho Salmon, Arctic Char, Steelhead Trout, Rainbow Trout, Lake Trout, Northern Pike, and Arctic Grayling.
The coastal waters along the Southwestern side of Alaska are shallow. There is the continental shelf which extends quite a ways out to sea. This is an excellent place to find Pacific Halibut, which are fish that love flat bottom habitat. This is also an excellent place for salmon fishing. Cooks Inlet is a hot location as the salmon begin to migrate up river.View Southwest Alaska Fishing Lodges
South Central Alaska
The South Central section of Alaska is wedged between the Southwestern and the Southeastern sections of Alaska. It sits along the Gulf of Alaska. This makes the South Central area of Alaska, an outstanding place to fish for Pacific Halibut, King Salmon, Coho Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Arctic Char, Dolly Varden, Lake Trout and even Rockfish along the coast. Major cities include Palmer, Valdez, Whittier, Cordova and Seward. Fishing here ranges between freshwater and saltwater adventures. Salmon and Pacific Halibut are the primary salt water species, but there are remarkable opportunities for rock fishing too. South Central Alaska is the place to find the "barn doors." These are the massive Pacific Halibut that can weigh more than 500 pounds. The inland waterways and rivers are home to Dolly Varden and multiple species of trout. Rainbow trout are an amazing fish for sport fishermen. Dolly Varden are also an outstanding fish for sports fishing because of their fight. King Salmon are massive. The smaller ones weigh 20-30 pounds, and the giants can top 100 pounds. The South Central area of Alaska is a haven for fishing. Name your poison, they have it there!View South Central Alaska Fishing Lodges
Interior & Far North Alaska
The Interior of Alaska is a haven for freshwater fishing. Major cities include Fairbanks, Tok, Nenana, and Delta Junction. This is an outstanding area for Sheefish, Salmon fishing, Rainbow trout, Lake Trout, Dolly Varden Arctic Grayling and Northern Pike. Some adventures include ocean going fishing for Pacific Halibut. The beautiful remote areas of Interior Alaska is where to go for amazing fly fishing. This is a place where the rivers flow fast through the mountain valleys and into the prairies. It is here that the salmon migrate to spawn. Many of the rivers here filled with glacial runoff, but there are those rivers that snake across the flatlands. These are the places that have excellent fishing. These are the places where the Sheefish, Dolly Varden, and Trout can be found. Flies that look like nymphs work well in these waters.
The Far North of Alaska is pure wilderness, and it is here that you will find undisturbed fishing grounds. The major cities here are Nome, Kotzebue Barrow, Prudhoe Bay and Coldfoot. This is an outstanding region that is perfect for fishermen. Fish species that are found here include King Salmon, Coho Salmon, Red Salmon, Pink Salmon, Pacific Halibut, Ling Cod, Arctic Char, Arctic Grayling, Sea Bass, and Cod. Inland, you will find Northern Pike, Arctic Grayling, Whitefish, Dolly Varden and Salmon. The far north has much to offer. The habitat here is perfect for fly fishing. The gentle reflection of the beautiful mountains upon the still lakes and ponds offer an amazing opportunity for fish such as Dolly Varden. The riffles are rife with food for Trout, Grayling and Char. During peak salmon runs, the far North is unmatched for Alaska fishing adventures.View Interior & Far North Alaska Fishing Lodges
How much should I expect my fishing trip to cost?
For a fully guided Alaska fishing vacation you should expect to spend between $3,000 to $7,000 for a 7-day trip per person. That generally includes your meals, fishing guide and transfer from a regional Alaska airport to/from the lodge. On the higher end of that range expect a higher quality lodge, lower guide ratio (Ex: 1 guide to 2 or 3 people), a more remote experience and the option of daily fly-out fishing to ultra-remote destinations. A handful of luxury fishing lodges can cost upwards of $10,000 per week per person.
For budget minded fishermen consider a shorter stay at the lodge. Some lodges offer stays of 2-5 days at a reduced rate from the 7-day stay. For example some lodges in the $6,000 to $7,000 range for a 7 day trip generally cost around $4,000 to $5,000 for a 4-5 day trip or $3,000 to $4,000 for a 2-3 day trip.
Alaska fishing trips are also available for as little as $500 to $2,000 for a 7-day trip per person. These experiences generally have more motel or rustic accomodations, closer to population centers (not as remote) , do not offer a fishing guide. Although most do have the option of adding a charter or guide on a daily basis.
How long should my trip be?
Charter saltwater fishing only trip most are anywhere from 2-4 days, and for freshwater places it ranges more from 3-7 days. Some places do not have minimum stay limit while others offer fixed 3, 5, or 7-day trips. The length of stay is dependent upon what type of fishing, salt or fresh, and what type of species you are targeting. For salmon, you can do a lot in three days if the run is heavy. For specialty fishing such as Sheefish fly-outs or for a real variety of fishing, a seven-day trip would be ideal. The longer you stay, the cheaper each day becomes. You also have more time to experience fly-out fishing to special locations.
How far in advance should I book my trip?
6-18 months is recommended. Most visitors book at least a year in advance for most lodges. The fishing season in Alaska is short, and available beds and guides go quickly. Extremely limited capacity is a good phrase. Book early for lodges. Most of the lodges hold only 8-12 guests at a time. Some hold more and a few hold less. It cannot be stressed enough that space is premium, and it goes fast.
What types of fish can I bring back to the US?
Most airlines restrict what you can bring back home to about 50 pounds. That is also about how much a large ice chest will hold. Most lodge owners will limit you to 50 pounds of frozen fish. These rules help to ensure healthy fisheries and plenty of fish for generations. Many places also focus on catch and release. You may take back anything that you can legally catch with an Alaska Fishing License.
How do I get my fish back to the US?
Frozen fish packed in dry ice in a cooler can be checked as luggage. Make sure you have a fishing license with you so that incoming inspections know that what you caught is legal. Most lodges will pack your fish for you. However, if you are on a DIY trip, this article from USA Today is perfect.
Best species to target if I'm interested in a fly-fishing only vacation?
Rainbow Trout is one of the largest freshwater fish. During salmon runs, the salmon will also take dry flies. Arctic Grayling and Dolly Varden are both amazing fighters. Northern Pike and Sheefish will strike mouse patterns. Rainbows are probably the best fish to target for fly fishing vacations. They offer the best catch ratio and in places like the smaller Copper River, which is catch and release only; you have a heck of a good shot for a trophy sized rainbow to snap your fly.
Best species to target for fly-fishing with dry flies?
Rainbows again are a good target for dry flies. Salmon will also hit dry flies, especially silver salmon. Pike will hit mammal patterns. Arctic Grayling are masterful at psyching fishermen out which makes using a dry fry for them amazing. A good tip is to take a variety of colored flies with you. Even if something is hot, it will fade. So switching up colors is golden.
When to go?
The Alaska Sports fishing season generally runs May through September. The best month for fishing salmon is July. A lot depends on what fish you are targeting. If you are headed up for a general fishing trip, check with your lodge about what is available locally. Every region has different run times for the same fish. You can target your stay for the best time based on local information.
When is the general fishing season?
Generally speaking, it is May through September. The average summer temperature in Alaska ranges from 55-78 degrees Fahrenheit. There is also the possibility of rain or even severe storms during the summer. The best month to head to Alaska for fishing is usually July, and that is only because so many species of fish have runs that peak during July. The Alaskan weather also plays a role in when fish run so if its a late winter the fishing might be better several weeks later.
How do I get my Alaska Fishing License?
You can order it online from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or you can buy one locally. Some lodges provide them or sell them to guests. Find the most up to date information from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Website.
Can I go on an Alaska Fishing Trip if I'm new to fishing?
Absolutely. Guides are your best bet, and most of them are patient and willing to teach you how to fish. Most lodges are happy with new fishermen. We were all new fishermen once. There is also something wholesome about teaching someone how to fish.
What other types of activities should I look for if I don't want to fish every day?
Wildlife viewing by boat or plane is amazing. Hiking is also something that is outstanding. Be wary of the wildlife if you decided to hike. There are guides that will take you to extraordinary places for salmon viewing, bear watching, eagle watching, etc. Alaska has an amazing amount of natural beauty, so photographic excursions are also wonderful. Take a plane ride to see the volcanoes or a trip to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.
What national parks are available to visit?
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is located in the far North of Alaska inside the arctic circle. There are no roads, and the park is huge, bigger than the nation of Belgium. Full of wildlife and photo opportunities with the Brooks Range, clouds and weather offering amazing photographic adventures. Travel is by horse, sled dog, foot or boat.
Denali National Park and Preserve is home to Mount McKinley. It is a six million acre park that is accessible by Highway 3. The park is divided by the Alaska Mountain range and sits north of Anchorage. From Anchorage take highway 4.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is in the far Southeastern corner of Alaska. It borders Canada and the Gulf of Alaska. Wonderful area for wildlife viewing and one of the best areas for Halibut fishing. The town of Juneau is located within the park.
Katmai National Park and Preserve sits at the head of the Aleutian Archipelago. It is an excellent location for viewing bears, volcanoes and for salmon fishing with flies.
Kenai Fjords National Park sits south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula and borders the Gulf of Alaska. This is a Glacier rich area and perfect for watching glaciers calve, whale watching and saltwater fishing.
Kobuk Valley National Park Sits on the northern side of Alaska. This is a wilderness, and the Kobuk River is one of the best places to fish for Sheefish.
Lake Clark National Park sits southwest of Anchorage and features outstanding fishing in the local rivers and Lake Clark.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is located in the Southeast of Alaska and borders the Gulf of Alaska. The town of Cordova is located within the park as are many islands, such as Knights Island. Great location for Halibut fishing.