The Russian River is a dynamic, 12-mile long river at the heart of one of the most prolific fisheries in Alaska. Welcome to the Kenai Peninsula and world-class Silver Salmon and Sockeye Salmon fishing. People come from around the world to go fly fishing on the Russian River in Alaska, enjoying the outdoor recreation and the beautiful scenery all around the area. The Russian River is only 12-miles long, but it offers impressive runs of Silver Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, big Rainbow Trout, and Dolly Varden. The river begins at Upper Russian Lake and winds its way through Lower Russian Lake until it empties into the Kenai River. In terms of locality, the Russian is just 110 miles south of Anchorage, which is about 2-hours by car.
Many people come to the Russian River to fish, and others come to camp in the local campgrounds, raft the river, and hike the local area and even enjoy multi-day backpacking trips along the Russian Lakes Trail. That Russian Lakes Trail is a great option for people that want to pack up a backpack and hike in the wilderness of Alaska. You can enter from the Russian River Campground and parking area at mile 52.6. The trail is 26.3 miles long, and you can overnight at the campgrounds at Upper Russian Lake, Barber Cabin, and Aspen Flats. For those of you who want a comfortable but beautiful hike, the Russian Lakes Trail makes a great day hike between the Russian River Campground and Russian River Falls. Always be wary of bear and never bug the moose. There are also cabins available through the US Forest Service. They offer 3-4 rustic cabins along the Russian Lakes Trail.
The nearest town is Cooper Landing, and there you can find motels, lodges, restaurants, groceries, fishing guides, and supplies (Get more Cooper Landing Information). There are quite a few fishing lodges, a motel, and cabin rentals too. Getting to the area is relatively easy. It is a 2-hour drive from Anchorage – it may be slightly longer if you are pulling a boat or in an RV. The real challenge here is leaving as the area feels like home. Another option for camping is Quartz Creek Campground at mile 45 along the sterling highway.
Fishing the Russian River in Alaska
First, the fishing here is fantastic. The Russian River is closed to King Salmon fishing, though they are present. There is a great deal of conservation here, and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game monitors fish populations daily. The targets here are Sockeye Salmon, Silver Salmon, Rainbow Trout, and Dolly Varden. You can think of Dolly Varden char as fancy Rainbow Trout. They are cousins, and they share the same role in the rivers here.
The Russian River is a narrow river making it a magnificent walk-and-wade river, and that means excellent DIY fishing, though a guide is handy in these parts. The most fished area of the river is the stretch that begins at the confluence of the Kenai & Russian Rivers - located three miles from where it empties into the Kenai River to the Kenai River itself. There are small stretches where you can float, but the majority of fishing here is walk and wade. If you love to drift/float, then your best bet is booking a guide from the Cooper Landing area.
An Important Note about fishing the Russian River - The River is listed as a fly fishing only river by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. What that means is that you must use a fly, not a lure or hook. You may most certainly fish with a fly rod or a spin-caster rod, but you must use a fly. Alaska Department of Fish & Game has a great overview of fishing details & regulations on the Russian River.
The best time to fish for Silver Salmon is from Late July through September. The peak for Silvers is Mid-Aug, and by mid-September, the bulk of the run has passed the Weir. The Fish and Game Department has a fishing weir on the Russian, and once the fish pass the Weir, they are off-limits. Silver Salmon Runs on the Russian number in the 9,000 + range, and the season may close at any time if the DFG feels they need conserving. Best time to "floss" for Sockeye mid-June - Mid July...and late June is generally the peak. There are two runs of Sockeye. The first arrive about mid-July when the first run ends. The first run has typically 30,000 +/- fish, and the second run has about 60,000 fish. Rainbow Trout fishing on the Russian River is excellent. The fish range from a foot to 30" in length. Early in the season before they spawn is one of the best times to fish for Rainbows on the Russian. Generally, that is around the first few weeks of June, but check with the DFG as the fishing season for the Russian River can change. Another good time to target trophy Rainbow Trout on the Russian River is after the end of the Silver Salmon Season in September. Without the flood of salmon fishers, the Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden become formidable targets. Learn about fly selection for Rainbow Trout in Alaska here. From time to time, you find Pink Salmon in the Russian River. They appear every other year and only during the even-numbered years.
The Russian River attracts thousands of people each year. The local area can offer year-round outdoor activities and some of the best summer and early fall fishing. The range of amenities makes it easy for everyone to find just the perfect combination of lodging, dining, and fun.