The heavyweight champ of Alaskan salmon, chinook salmon have earned the nickname "king salmon" for their size, fight and table-worthiness. King salmon are available from May to September. Most runs peak in late June through mid-July. Although King salmon are available in all regions of the state, the biggest runs occur in Bristol Bay, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Anchorage-MatSu area.
Kings can be fished in both fresh and salt water, depending on your location in the state. The best fishing occurs in the large and long rivers like the Nushagak, Kenai, Togiak, and Kvichak. Kings can reach 80 lbs, or more in some river systems. They represent the pinnacle of the North American freshwater fly-fishing. While fish as big as this are very rare and uncommon these days even the smaller kings will put up a serious fight.
In Southeast Alaska, most of the king salmon fly-fishing is intertidal. In the Juneau area, these are mostly hatchery fish. Because of this, the size is generally smaller than large Western Alaskan rivers. That being said, king salmon caught in the saltwater are no slouch! Kings are a large, hard-fighting fish that require stout tackle to bring them to the net. Because these fish are so powerful and increasingly hard to catch making sure you have the right equipment is critical.
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 or 10 weight, fast action rods, are the norm. Fly rods for king salmon should handle heavy sinking lines with shorter leaders or oversized floating lines and long leaders. The added weight and large profile of many king salmon patterns mean your fly rod will get a workout.
If you plan to swing flies with two handed rods, we recommend 8 to 10 weight spey rods. In places where the average size is greater, go with a larger weight rod. Longer rods (13'+) are best for big rivers such as the Kenai, Nushugak, Naknek, Alagnak. 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 switch rods provide tremendous versatility.
Reels for king salmon should have a smooth drag with plenty of stopping power. Large arbor reels with a high backing capacity are also key. King salmon caught in the ocean are strong powerful fish that can run incredible distances. In large rivers, a king salmon will make a blistering run into heavy current. For these fish spend the extra money and get a quality reel, with a beefier drag. A reel for King Salmon will also have enough capacity to hold at least 150yds of 30lb backing. Don't fall victim of losing a fish of a lifetime because you skimped on buying a quality reel. As an added bonus, most of the reels we recommend here at AFFG for king salmon double as great warm water reels for bonefish, permit, and tarpon.
In Alaska, most fly fishing for king salmon is done in medium to large rivers. Kings tend to hug the bottom and sit in deep holes. Usually, an aggressive sink tip (T-11 and larger) is needed to get into the zone. In large rivers with a single hand rod, fishing king salmon is one situation you will want a sinking or sink tip fly line most of the time. There are still plenty of situations where a WF floating line will get it done. Bring two pools for your reel or make sure and have a collection of weighted Airflo Poly leaders. Rio Versi-Tip 2, Rio Predator, SA Titan Long and great single hand lines for king salmon.
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. Rod length will dictate tip length. For true spey rods, tips between 12 and 15ft are the norm. Once you get into the shorter switch rods you will want to shrink the tip length and stick with either 10 or 12ft, depending on your casting style and location.
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, Mr. Bondagles, Mega Dolly Llamas and Rockstars work well in most situations. 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. We have also put together a custom king fly selection. Whether you are swinging, nymphing, or just trying to get lucky, we have the flies you need.