Alaska's Premier                                                              Fly Fishing Source

Alaska's Premier Fly Fishing Source


1. When is the best time of year to come to Alaska to fish?

If I had to pick a time I would say July 17 at 3:42 in the afternoon. Just kidding. It is hard to pick a "best time" since it all depends upon what you want to fish for. Are you interested in catching salmon? Trout?  Both? Or do want to target a specific species such as king salmon or rainbow trout? To understand Alaskan fishing, it is crucial to know that Alaska does not have resident fish that stay in a stream for an entire season. Trout and char move large distances throughout the season, and some even venture into the saltwater, in search of food. Salmon live a large part of their lives out at sea and return to spawn for a short window of opportunity. In other words timing is everything.

Here is a "Super-Basic" answer. In general, there is some kind of fishing going on from early May through early October. If you are interested in salmon fishing in the streams, July, August, and September are the best months. Most streams have no salmon in them during May and June. Trout and char fishing is fairly good in May, quite good in June, and usually peaks in July, August, and September. For a first trip to Alaska,  July 15 - August 15 will please most people.

For more specific guide lines, check out our run timing charts on each of the Alaska Region Pages. We have a specific chart for each region since a single species of fish may be present at very different times in different parts of the state. As well, some species only reside in certain parts of the state.


2. Where should I go to fish in Alaska?

The Salmon River. Third bend down from the bridge. Stand by the rock across from the tree with the missing branch. O.K. Kidding again. Alaska is a big place and each of the regions has very different characteristics. Your tolerance for fishing around other people, budget, and fish you want to pursue will determine the best place for you to go. Read up on each of our region pages for a more complete overview. A few general rules of thumb:

  • Places you can drive to (Interior Road System Region and Kenai Peninsula Region) will have more amenities (motels, restaurants, etc.) than more remote areas. In general, hotels, food and goods are less expensive. However, you will likely be sharing the water with other anglers.
  • Semi-remote areas (Southeast and Kodiak) are not connected to the outside road system. You can only reach these regions by plane or ferry.  Once you get there you can drive the roads within each of the towns. There are ample amenities within the towns as well. Cost is moderate and for the most part the streams are not crowded. You can also fly out of these towns to outlying areas where you will rarely see another angler.
  • Remote areas (Bristol Bay and Arctic) have virtually no amenities unless you are staying at a lodge. The fishing is fantastic with few people in most places, but you will end up paying more for most things.  


3. It seems like every lodge and outfitter says they have the best fishing in Alaska. Is the fishing great everywhere?

YES IT IS. But some places are greater than others! The only one who can define "great fishing" is you. Everyone's definition is different. Consider:

  • What species do you want to catch?
  • What is your budget?
  • How many people do you want to see while you are fishing?

If you want to pursue the largest rainbows, kings or steelhead in Alaska then you should expect other anglers fishing in the same area. Not necessarily shoulder to shoulder fishing, but you won't go the whole day without seeing anyone else. If you want complete solitude then consider pursuing less popular species such as grayling, Dolly Varden, pink and chum salmon, or trout in the lakes. 


4. Is fishing in Alaska expensive?

Once again, this depends on what you want. Here are four progressively more costly options;

  1. You can drive the Alaska Highway, camp out, and have some great fishing on a very modest budget.
  2. You could take a multi-day guided float trip, which also will have some great fishing. You'll camp out each night and most likely not see too many other anglers.
  3. You could go to a lodge that uses jet boats to access the fishing.
  4. At the very upper end, you can stay at a lodge that will fly you out every day to some of the most incredible fishing on the planet. You can expect to pay about $1000 a day.


5. Is a "Do It Yourself" trip possible?

ABSOLUTELY. But first let's go over the pluses and minuses. On the plus side, you save money by not going to a lodge, get the satisfaction of putting your own trip together, most likely find some darn good fishing, and probably have some grand adventures. On the minus side, one person's grand adventure is another person's disaster. Realizing that the river you plan to float is actually a mile and half away over soggy tundra is not everyone's idea of a fun time. Renting a Forest Service Cabin only to find out there really isn't enough fishing to you keep you happy for a week is a bummer. Lodges and outfitters are paid to anticipate and avoid as many disasters as possible. Your tolerance for challenging situations is a good indicator if a DIY trip is the best thing for you.


6. I am going on an Alaskan Cruise. Should I bring my fly gear?

DEFINITELY! Most cruise ships stop in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. Some go to Sitka and Hoonah. Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka all have good fly fishing opportunities fairly close to town. Skagway's fishing is much more limited although some beach fishing is possible. Hoonah's fishing is farther out of town and more difficult to access. Bring a rod and reel or be ready to buy one in town. A 5-6 weight for trout or a 7-8 weight for salmon. A floating fly line will get the job done. You will need waders, too.


7. Will my traditional trout flies work in Alaska?

SOME WILL. SOME WON'T.  Rainbows, cutthroat and grayling will eat traditional dries and nymphs at certain times of year. However, most of the year they are searching out the high calorie foods such as eggs or salmon fry. You will do exponentially better with Alaska specific flies.

Alaska salmon flies are brightly colored attractor patterns that look nothing like a traditional trout fly. Salmon react very differently to certain colors, profiles, and action of flies. It is very important to have the right fly to entice salmon. The wrong fly may get a hook up. The right fly may result in a fabulous day of fishing.


8. Is there dry fly fishing in Alaska?

YES. But, you have to time it correctly. Rainbows will actively pursue dries in early to mid summer. This window occurs after the salmon fry have left the streams but before the salmon return to lay their eggs. Grayling will take dries at just about any time. They are opportunistic and sometimes reckless feeders. Cutthroat, especially in slow water, will feed on dries most of the year.


9. Do salmon really take flies?

YES THEY DO! When salmon return to spawn they stop feeding. However, they become very territorial and aggressive as they prepare to spawn. If you watch salmon spawning you will see they continually nip, chase and harass each other. Salmon flies are brightly colored by design in order to trigger an aggressive response from spawning salmon.


10. Can you catch Sockeye Salmon (Reds) with a fly?

YOU SURE CAN. The best conditions are slow to mid-speed current rivers. These flies need to be sparsely tied, relatively small, and the right color. Check out our sockeye flies.

When sockeye are holding in very fast current they tend to be less receptive to taking a fly. In this situation you may see anglers employing the "Kenai Lift."  This "technique" involves rigging a leader with heavy weights and attempt to line the fish. In other words, the leader and fly are drifting along the bottom until the leader ends up in a sockeye's mouth. The angler then draws the line up tight and hooks the fish in the outside of the mouth. Is this traditional fly fishing? Not so much. But we thought you should know about it in case you see an angler doing it.


11. What rod should I use?

Alaska fishing often means repetitive casting of sinking tip lines or heavy flies. A quality rod will cast these challenging lines with much greater ease and much less fatigue to the angler. You'll be glad you made the investment. As well, a 4-piece travel rod is much easier to travel and fly with than a 2-piece rod.

  • For typical fishing for trout, char, Dolly Varden and grayling a nine foot 4, 5, or 6 weight rod is appropriate. Check out our trout rod packages.
  • For trophy trout, such as rainbows on the Kenai or in Bristol Bay, a 9' - 9 ½' foot 7 or 8 weight is necessary. Check out our trophy trout packages.
  • For silvers, chums, sockeye, pinks, steelhead, and pike, a 9'- 9 ½' 7, 8, or 9 weight is ideal. Check out our salmon rod packages.
  • For king salmon a 9, 10 or 11 weight rod is the ticket. Check out our king salmon rod packages.


12. What type of fly line works best?

Try to learn about the characteristics of the water in the area you are planning to fish. This will often answer your line questions. If this isn't possible, in general you will need two lines:

  1. A weight forward floating line for all-around use.
  2. A multi-tip line that allows you to change the sink tip portion depending on the conditions.                                             

OR (if you don't like multi-tip lines)

A Type IV (medium-fast) sinking tip line . The sinking portion of the line should be 10-15 feet in length.


13. Are there good books on Alaska fly fishing?

The subject of fly fishing in Alaska is so large that it really can only be covered by a book. If you are planning a trip to Alaska, a good book can save you a lot of money and frustration. For "where to go fishing" information for the entire state:

  1. The Flyfisher's Guide to Alaska . 
  2. Alaska Fishing . 

For an overview of Alaska fly fishing with great tips on technique we suggest:

  1. Topwater. 
  2. Flyfishing Alaska . 


14. Are silty glacial rivers good places to fish?

NOT REALLY. Salmon and trout both prefer to spawn and feed in clear or semi-clear rivers. However, they will travel through glacial rivers on their way to clear tributaries. Because of the limited visibility in glacial rivers, it is more difficult for fish to see your fly. It is better to focus your fishing attention on clear or semi-glacial rivers.


Alaska has many semi-glacial rivers such as the Kenai River. These rivers have some suspended silt in the water and visibility is often three feet or more. Rivers of this type offer excellent fishing for both trout and salmon.


15. Will I see bears?

GOOD CHANCE. Both black and brown bears inhabit Alaska. Brown bears go by several names depending upon where they live. Grizzlies are brown bears that live in the interior part of the state. Kodiak and coastal brown bears live along the coastal regions and have access to salmon. This means they can grow much larger than a grizzly bear.

Bears are a visible sign of the wildness of Alaska. For the most part they want nothing more than to avoid humans. But during fishing season anglers and bears sometimes cross paths. A few guide lines:

  1. Avoid startling a bear. Make noise, sing, clap your hands, do whatever you can to let a bear know you are coming. This gives them a chance to move away.
  2. Stay away from sows with cubs. Sows are rarely in a good mood and are very protective.
  3. Avoid fishing at night or in the very early morning. This is when bears are most active.
  4. Be careful with your food. Bears that become habituated to man can be very dangerous and usually end up getting shot.

This is only a brief overview. Check with the Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, National Park Service, or the Alaska Department of Fish & Game for more information on safely traveling and fishing in bear country.



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