Maximizing your Cooper Landing Fishing Experience

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Posted by David S on to Kenai River Fly Fishing

The absolute magical thing about Cooper Landing, Alaska is that it is so perfectly located. As a town of about 300 locals, Cooper Landing offers fishermen an amazing set of fishing opportunities. In fact, the fishing opportunities are so good that during Salmon season, the population of fishermen crests the 1000 person mark. Fishermen aside, this is the upper stretch of the Kenai River and the Russian River is right here too. The Kenai River is world famous and likely the spot where the term "Combat Fishing" became an action verb. That little tidbit is not surprising considering the amount of Salmon that use the Kenai and Russian Rivers as spawning grounds. Also, with only 300 residents there are only so many guides here as compared to larger cities. They book incredibly fast. In this Kenai Peninsula fishing article, we explore why Cooper Landing helps you maximize your Alaskan fishing adventure.

Fly Fishing the Kenai River
Fly Fishing the Kenai River

Two World-Class Rivers

Cooper Landing sits just where Kenai Lake spills over to begin the Kenai River. Cooper Landing is also a short distance (10-minute drive) from the Russian River. Both rivers are fish-rich. The Kenai River stretches for just over 80 miles where it empties into Cook Inlet. If you fly to Anchorage, then you flew up Cook Inlet. The Russian River is a short 13-14 mile river that begins at the Upper Russian Lake and ends where it empties into the Kenai River. Both rivers offer King Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Chum Salmon, and Silver Salmon. Pink Salmon are available on the Lower Kenai River. In addition to Salmon, there is beautiful, large trophy-sized Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden. The abundance of fish all summer long is one reason that Cooper Landing is perfect for your fishing adventure. There is, of course, more reasons to make this your base camp for the entire Kenai Peninsula adventure.

National Parks and Destinations

The Chugach National Forest stretches from just outside of Cooper Landing all the way to the Gulf of Alaska. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuges is here too and offers 1.92 million acres of hiking. These are important for fishermen because you must be very careful where you fish. To fish in the Chugach National Forest requires a permit from the Department of Forestry. To fish in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge requires a permit. This is where you guides come into play. Some have all three permits - Forestry, Parks, and Fish and Game, others may only have one or two permits and that limits where you can fish. When interviewing guides ask them how many permits they have. The impact on selecting a guide is big. I fished with Alaska Clearwater Sportfishing and could not have been happier. Where you fish determines what your daily limit is. For example, that can range from 2 - 6 Sockeye Salmon per day. That is a big difference if you want to keep the fish you catch.

Kenai River National Wildlife Refuge
Kenai River National Wildlife Refuge

Perfectly Located Between Homer and Seward

It is about 2.5 - 3 hours to drive to Homer, and it is well worth it to do such. It is just under 2 hours to drive to Seward, and it is also well worth it do visit there. I stayed at a beautiful lodge - Arden's Kenai Lake Escape - and while there met two Texans -Larry and David - who were having an outstanding adventure fishing all over the Kenai Peninsula. They did a couple of fly-out fishing trips to target Silver Salmon. They were picked up by a guide and driven to Seward for Halibut fishing. They did not have a rental car. Their guides picked them up each morning and brought them home each day. Cooper Landing offers a the perfect location to enjoy all of the Kenai Peninsula. You can Halibut Fish in either Homer, Seward or take a boat from the town of Kenai. You have access to all five species of Pacific Salmon, depending on the time of year you visit and on which river you fish. You have access to trophy-sized Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden, Char, and Grayling. Oh, and it does not get dark here until around three a.m. so you can fish until you drop.

Getting to Cooper Landing

If you fly to Anchorage, it is a 2 - 3 hour drive to Cooper Landing. I used Jet Blue as their rates were dirt cheap, but they arrive around 11 p.m. As such, I stayed overnight in Anchorage at the Super 8 which was clean and very comfortable. Take your time and drive out to Cooper Landing. Most places have a two p.m. check-in so enjoy the drive. Portage is an excellent place to stop and view glaciers. There are vista point type pullouts ever 5-10 miles and most offer plenty of photo opportunities. It is an easy drive.

You can fly into Anchorage and take a commuter flight to Sterling, Soldotna, or Kenai and then just drive up to Cooper Landing or have your guide or lodge pick you up at the local airport if you don't want to bother with a rental. Alaska Airlines services all of those cities. In fact, if you are not interested in driving all over the place, save the cost of a rental and have someone pick you up at the local airport.

A Few Notes about Cooper Landing

  • You can find anything you need here. There is a grocery store, restaurants, and tackle shops. You can even rent waders, just ask your guide about how to do that.
  • No felt-soled waders or shoes are permitted in Alaska.
  • Nice places to include the Kingfisher Roadhouse (amazing bacon potato salad) and the Sunrise (excellent breakfast, lunch, and dinner.) The Princess is a lodge with an open dining room and bar (local favorite and it is inviting.)
  • The town is long and lean. Cooper Landing stretches out along the Sterling Highway. Just keep driving you will find where you are going. It may seem as though you just left town, but nope there is more to come.
  • Bring Sunscreen. It was 85°F while I was there the first week in August and it never got cold. Also bring a few sets of clothing for warm weather, but be prepared for rain.
  • Expect to see Bald Eagles, Bear, Moose, and many other amazing animals. Never fish alone.

The Sockeye Salmon were so thick in the water they bump into your legs. The Kenai River is an odd shade of pale sky blue from mineralization. Talk with your guide about the fishing calendar. What is posted on the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game is not accurate for the Upper Kenai River. It is accurate for the Lower Kenai River. The fishing schedule is later on the Upper Kenai River. I expected to fish for Silver Salmon and went the first week in August. The Silvers were just starting to show up and would hit their prime the last week of August.

I visited here in summer of 2015, and this is easily one of the best places I have fished. It's great for the experienced fly fisher as well as beginners and a good guide is recommended for everyone on your first visit.

A Friend's First Time Fly Fishing - Alaska is a great place for learning how to fly fish
A Friend's First Time Fly Fishing - Alaska is a great place for learning how to fly fish
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