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The Kenai River is perhaps the most famous of all of the rivers in Alaska. This is partly because this is the river that holds the record for the largest King Salmon caught by sports fishers. While that is an outstanding fact, it is not the only thing the Kenai River has going for it. It boasts some of the best King Salmon fishing in Alaska, million-plus Sockeye Salmon runs, a large run of Silver Salmon, and Rainbow Trout that can weigh 20 pounds, Dolly Varden, and Steelhead.

The Kenai River begins at Kenai Lake in Cooper Landing and flows 82 miles where it empties into Cook Inlet. The river is diverse and divides into three parts - The Upper Kenai River, the Middle Kenai River, and the Lower Kenai River. While this is all the same river, each component is different and offers something unique. You can choose to fly fish the Kenai River or use conventional gear…if you go with a guide they'll help you choose the best option for time of year and the species you are targeting. If you are interested in fly fishing learn about essential flies for Kenai Peninsula fly fishing here.

The Sterling Highway follows much of the river, which makes it accessible for both for guided fishing and DIY fishing. It is about 2-hours by car from Anchorage to Cooper Landing where the Kenai starts at Lake Kenai. The major towns along the river corridor include Cooper Landing, Sterling, Soldotna, and Kenai. Spread along the river are state-run campgrounds, a few spots to launch your boat, and trails for hiking that take you to various fishing holes.

The intensity of fishing on the Kenai River is such that people argue that this might be the very spot where the term "combat fishing" originated…although, as you'll read below, the entire river isn't like that only certain sections at specific times of the year. During peak seasons at the most popular fishing areas, you may have to wade through hundreds of anglers to vie for a place to toss flies. The Kenai River is one of the most fished rivers in all of Alaska, so the amenities around the area offer visitors lodging, fine dining, access to the river, hiking, and many other outdoor activities.

The Kenai River Canyon on the Upper Kenai River
The Kenai River Canyon on the Upper Kenai River

Fishing the Upper Kenai River

The Upper Kenai River is a 17-mile stretch that runs from Kenai Lake to Skilak Lake. Note - Kenai Lake is a no-fishing zone. The Upper Kenai is a drift only zone as no powerboats are allowed, but there are places where designated trails lead down to the river, and you can DIY fish. Cooper Landing is at the heart of the Upper Kenai, and here you have access to King Salmon, Silver Salmon, Chum Salmon, and millions of Sockeye Salmon. On occasion, you may encounter a Pink Salmon though they tend to stay in the Lower Kenai River. Beyond the Salmon are the massive Trophy Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden and on occasion, Steelhead. The area around Cooper Landing has many amenities and fishing guides.

The Upper Kenai is a great place to hire a guide and with good reason. First, there are special permits required to fish parts of the river. The river flows through a national forest, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The King Salmon season begins in May and closes by July. There are two runs of Kings – the first run peaks by mid-June, and the second begins by July. The better time to fish for Kings is early as the season on the Upper Kenai can close early. Mid-August to September is the better time to fish for Silver Salmon in the Upper Kenai. The Sockeye runs start in mid-June and peak by Mid July. Expect Dolly Varden in the 4-6 pound range and big Rainbows from 5-20 pounds.

One of the hottest spots to fish is at the confluence of the Russian River and The Kenai River. This occurs around river mile seven. You can access this spot via the Russian River Campground and hike the trails. You can also take the Russian River Ferry across the Kenai River and access the confluence. The place is active with fishers as many of the fish in the Kenai River spawn in the Russian River.

Fishing the Middle Kenai River

The Middle Kenai River stretches from Skilak Lake to the town of Sterling. If floating the river, you'd float through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The Middle Kenai is vast and runs slow. It is a broad stretch of water that is perfect for targeting big fish, Trophy Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden, and Salmon. Salmon tend to pool downstream and then dash up the Middle Kenai in large groups. This is one of the reasons this is a hot fishing spot. Big Schools of Salmon, followed by Big Trout and Big Dolly Varden, means it is easier to target Trophy Fish.

The Middle Kenai River is a drifter's paradise, though there are spots where you can DIY fish. This area of the Kenai is also A hot spot for late-season fishing. . After the Salmon have spawned the big Fat Rainbows remain. You can fish this area into the winter until the Rainbow Trout season closes. August and September are some of the best months to fish for Silver Salmon on the Kenai River.

Note: Rainbow Trout Season opens here on June 11.

Fishing the Lower Kenai River

The Lower Kenai River runs from Sterling to the Mouth, where it empties into Cook Inlet. There are two runs of King Salmon here, and the first begins in early May and peaks mid-June. Mid-July begins the second run of Kings and the Sockeye Salmon too. Sockeye show up here in the hundreds of thousands of fish. The lower Kenai is also a hot zone for Trophy Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden. The flowing water washes down salmon roe, Salmon carcasses, and other food sources that fatten up the Rainbows and Dolly Varden. You may also encounter Steelhead now and then.

The Lower Kenai River is one of the most fished areas of the entire 82-mile body of water. Powerboats are allowed here, and people drift too. There are plenty of places to fish from the banks also. Early Season Fishing remains hot as May 17 was the fabled date when the World-Record King Salmon was caught - on the Lower Kenai River.

As one of the most significant Salmon fisheries in the world, the Kenai River attracts thousands of visitors each year. The local area supports the influx of fishers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, and travelers. With such a diversity of fishing and such a fantastic selection of sports fish, it is no wonder that the Kenai River is one of the most visited places in Alaska.


Top Rated Fishing Guides, Camps & Lodges

Alaskan Fishing Adventures
Alaskan Fishing Adventures
Top Rated Alaska Fishing & Adventure Lodge | Something for Everyone - Perfect for Families, Couples, Groups or the Die-Hard Angler!
109 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $3,000 to $4,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $3,000 to $4,000 Per Person
Package: 4 Night Stay - Guided Fishing Package
Package: 7 Night Stay - Guided Fishing Package
Jimmie Jack's Alaska SeaScape Lodge
Jimmie Jack's Alaska SeaScape Lodge
All-Inclusive Fishing Trips Combined with Five-Star Luxury Accommodations | Freshwater Fishing, Saltwater Fishing & Fly-Out Fishing Options along with Fine Dining, Wine & Drinks When You Get Back!
33 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $3,000 to $4,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $3,000 to $4,000 Per Person
Package: SeaScape All Inclusive Package
Alaska Fishing with Mark Glassmaker
Alaska Fishing with Mark Glassmaker
Top-Rated Fishing Guides & Affordable Lodging Packages | Kenai River, Cook Inlet & Remote-Fly Out Fishing
58 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person; $500 to $599 Per Person
Package: Day Trip - Guided Fishing on the Kenai & Kasilof Rivers
Package: Day Trip - Guided Remote Fly-Out Fishing
Jimmie Jack's 'Original' Alaska Lodge
Jimmie Jack's 'Original' Alaska Lodge
All-Inclusive Top Quality Guided Freshwater & Saltwater Fishing Trips | Expect a High Quality Experience Both On & Off the Water at an Affordable Price!
252 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Current Special: Big King Combo Package
Alaska FishOn! Charters
Alaska FishOn! Charters
Affordable Kenai Peninsula Fishing & Lodging Packages | Kenai River, Kasilof River, Cook Inlet & Fly-In Fishing Options
46 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $500 to $1,000 Per Person
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Current Special: 4-Day Salmon & Halibut 'Captain's Special' Package (August & Sept)
Cooper Landing Fishing Guide
Cooper Landing Fishing Guide
58 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Package: Full Day of Salmon Fishing - $275 Per Person
Package: Half Day of Salmon Fishing - $175 Per Person
Soldotna B&B Trophy Lodge
Soldotna B&B Trophy Lodge
Top Rated Alaska Fishing & Adventure Lodge | Whether you are looking to fish, canoe, hike or just enjoy Alaska, we have packages for you.
246 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
Half Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Full Day: $300 to $399 Per Person; $400 to $499 Per Person
Package: Fly Fishermen's Focus
Package: Everything But the Kenai Sink
Great Alaska Adventures
Great Alaska Adventures
Premier All-Inclusive Alaska Fishing, Adventure & Family Trips | Stay at our Beautiful Lodge on the Kenai River and Choose From a Wide Variety of Fishing & Adventure Packages
200 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $4,000 to $5,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $3,000 to $4,000 Per Person
Package: Our #1 Alaska Fishing Experience
Package: All Inclusive Alaska Fishing & Wildlife
Discover Alaskan Adventures
Discover Alaskan Adventures
23 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Captain Bligh's Lodge & Guide Service
Captain Bligh's Lodge & Guide Service
2 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $100 to $199 Per Person; $200 to $299 Per Person
Beaver Creek Cabins & Guide Service
Beaver Creek Cabins & Guide Service
4 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person; $200 to $299 Per Person
Full Day: $100 to $199 Per Person; $200 to $299 Per Person
Alaska Rivers Company
Alaska Rivers Company
126 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Alaska Heavenly Lodge
Alaska Heavenly Lodge
134 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
The River Crew
The River Crew
25 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Alaska Troutfitters
Alaska Troutfitters
20 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person; $900+ Per Person
Fish Em LLC
Fish Em LLC
24 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Gone Fishin Lodge
Gone Fishin Lodge
1 Review - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
ACE Fishing Adventures
ACE Fishing Adventures
21 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Alaska Legends Kenai River Lodge
Alaska Legends Kenai River Lodge
All-Inclusive Corporate Retreats and the Entire Lodge To Yourself And Your Group on the Kenai River
3 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $3,000 to $4,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
Double Haul Fly Fishing
Double Haul Fly Fishing
31 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
BoatMan's Fly Fish 'n' Drift
BoatMan's Fly Fish 'n' Drift
16 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Kenai River Drifters Lodge
Kenai River Drifters Lodge
244 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $3,000 to $4,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
Alaska Fishing & Lodging
Alaska Fishing & Lodging
109 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Orca Lodge
Orca Lodge
45 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person; $300 to $399 Per Person
Alaska Streamers
Alaska Streamers
20 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Alaska Drift Away Fishing
Alaska Drift Away Fishing
91 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Tower Rock Lodge
Tower Rock Lodge
184 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
Rod 'N Reel Alaska Fishing Charters
Rod 'N Reel Alaska Fishing Charters
18 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Denise Lake Lodge
Denise Lake Lodge
21 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Big Sky Charter & Fishcamp
Big Sky Charter & Fishcamp
15 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Full Day: $300 to $399 Per Person; $400 to $499 Per Person
Kenai River Fly Fishing
Kenai River Fly Fishing
15 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Riddle's Fishing Lodge
Riddle's Fishing Lodge
11 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Alaska Eagle Head Resort
Alaska Eagle Head Resort
12 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Kenai River Cowboys
Kenai River Cowboys
62 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
Alaskan Widespread Fishing Adventures
Alaskan Widespread Fishing Adventures
83 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person
All Alaska Outdoors Lodge
All Alaska Outdoors Lodge
45 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
6 - 7 Days: $2,000 to $3,000 Per Person
4 - 5 Days: $1,000 to $2,000 Per Person
Five Dogs Fishing
Five Dogs Fishing
159 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person; $300 to $399 Per Person
King of the River
King of the River
15 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $300 to $399 Per Person
Kenai River Trout Anglers
Kenai River Trout Anglers
179 Reviews - TripAdvisor® Traveler Rating
Half Day: $100 to $199 Per Person
Full Day: $200 to $299 Per Person

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