Meet the Fish: King (Chinook) Salmon
The reigning heavyweight champ of Alaskan salmon, the chinook has earned the nickname "king" for its size, fight, and table-worthiness. Chinooks are available from May to September, with most runs peaking in late June and July. Although Chinook are available in all regions of the state, the biggest runs occur in Bristol Bay, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Anchorage-MatSu area. Chinook can be fished in both fresh and salt water, with the best fishing occurring in the large and long rivers. Averaging 18-30 lbs, the chinook can reach 80 lbs, or more, in some river systems and represents the pinnacle of the North American freshwater fly fishing experience. Kings are a large, hard-fighting fish that require stout tackle to bring them to the net so be sure you select the proper gear.
Rod choice is dictated by personal preference and type and size of water that you plan to fish. There's a place for both single hand rods and two handed rods when fly fishing for kings in Alaska. For single handers, stout 9 to 11 weight fast action rods that can handle casting heavy sinking lines, long leaders with added weight and monstrous flies are preferred. If you plan to swing flies with two handed rods we recommend 8 to 10 weight spey rods. Longer rods (13'+) are best for big rivers such as the Kenai, Nushugak, Naknek, Alagnak and shorter rods (11'6'-13') work well on small to medium sized rivers such as the Goodnews, Togiak and Kanektok. Switch rods can also be a great tool if you plan to overhead cast long distances when fishing the tide water from the beach, or for short casts on small rivers.
A good king reel should have a smooth quality drag with plenty of stopping power along with a high-capacity spool. Between the power of the fish and the water current, you can be assured that the drag on your reel will be put to the test. Don't fall victim of loosing a fish of a lifetime because you skimped on buying a quality reel, make the investment it will be worth it.
Lines and Leaders
In Alaska, most fly fishing for kings is done in medium to large rivers. Kings tend to hug the bottom and sit in deep holes. Often, an aggressive sink tip is needed to get into the zone. For single hand rods, a 20-30' streamer tip or full sinking fly line can cover almost any situation. For Spey and Switch, compact Skagit lines and Skagit Switch lines that have short aggressive heads are the norm. These lines are designed to throw big flies on heavy sink tips. For dead drifting large egg patterns, look for an aggressive weight forward single hand line or an indicator-style switch/spey that is capable of turning over long leaders and bulky flies.
Kings can be taken on a variety of fly patterns depending on water type and your preferred fishing style. If you enjoy swinging flies in big rivers, large profile patterns like intruders and articulated flies in two contrasting colors are the ticket. Baitfish and attractor patterns such as mega clouser minnows and hareball leeches work well when stripped behind a sink or floating line. And for fussy kings, big egg patterns dead drifted and bounced along the bottom can be very effective. AFFG carries a wide selection of king salmon flies and a complete king fly selection that includes a cross-section of proven patterns that cover the gamut of fishing situations.
If you have any questions about fly fishing for King Salmon in Alaska, feel free to contact us or call the shop at 907-586-1550.