Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing Alaska

Alaska is called the last frontier for a reason. Vast mountain ranges, frozen, tundra, and huge river systems cover the largest state in the United States. With so much water covering the state, it’s no surprise that fly fishing in Alaska is insane. From trout to salmon any angler will be in love with the variety of fishing to be had in Alaska. This article is the ultimate fly fish Alaska piece and we hope you check it out before planning your Alaskan adventure.

Glossary:

Best Places to Fish in Alaska

Alaska Fishing Regulations

Alaskan Fishing Guides and Outfitters

Alaska Fish Species on the Fly

Seasons in Alaska

Best Places to Fish in Alaska

Kenai River

Very popular amongst Alaskan anglers, the Kenai River is a bustling fishery full of rainbow trout, silver salmon, sockeye salmon, and dolly varden. Summertime on the Kenai is very busy because many people are subsistence salmon fishing. The best way to experience trout fishing on this crystalline blue river is with a guide. Last summer I had an incredible experience with Jason, a well-known Kenai guide, and my family and I caught more trout than we could count.

kenai river alaska mountains

Kasilof River

Located on the southern part of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, the Kasilof is only 11 miles away from the Kenai River. It is quite different from the Kenai though. The Kasilof is more protected and no motorized boats are allowed, as with any fishery be sure to check local regulations for other rules. Steelhead make the Kasilof popular in the spring and fall, and anglers brave the cold to catch them. Rainbow trout, dolly varden, sockeye salmon, and king salmon also come through the Kasilof.

Kasilof Site and River, Alaska Fisheries Sonar, Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Picture Credits: ADF&G

Russian River

Another Kenai Peninsula river, the Russian is insanely popular during sockeye runs and I recommend going in August and early September to avoid the July crowds. Although it is mainly known for sockeye, the Russian is a great trout fishery and a smaller river that is walkable. The Russian can be accessed via the Russian River Campground or the ferry (during certain times). Where the Russian and Kenai meet is a great fishing spot that rainbow trout are often caught at, it is a bit of a hike from the campground, but can be rewarding! An important facet of the Russian is that there are often multiple bears in the area, so much so that it is illegal to have your backpack/rod/gear more than a few feet away from you. It is recommended to bring bear spray or a gun and to be aware of your surroundings on this beautiful Alaskan river.

russian river alaska

Quartz Creek

Known amongst Alaskans as a great dolly varden fishing location, Quartz Creek offers terrific views and a unique fishing experience. Dollys are only found in Northern areas such as Russia, Canada, Korea, Japan, and Alaska. Quartz Creek can give you the opportunity to catch these beautiful fish while fishing in crystal clear water. Quartz also offers some great views of spawning salmon, but it is illegal to fish for salmon year-round. Because Quartz Creek is a smaller creek, it is easily walkable.

quartz creek alaska

Lake Creek

If you can get out to Lake Creek in the fall, you won’t be disappointed. The rainbow trout are golden and enamoring. If you hit this remote river at the right time, you can catch a rainbow cast after cast. It is also home to all 5 pacific salmon species and arctic grayling. I have experienced the beauty of Lake Creek, but also the scary flux in water level. Lake Creek is very rain-dependent and the water level can change quickly overnight, so it is wise to go with a guide. The only way to get to this remote creek is via bush plane or jet boat.

alaska fly fishing rainbow trout lake creek

American Creek

Located in Katmai National Park near Bristol Bay, this creek is filled with rainbow trout and arctic char. Only accessible by airplane, the pristine nature of the Katmai National Park will amaze you. American Creek is known as an amazing dry fly fishery because of its low and crystal clear waters. Katmai is also known for a large population of brown bears, and even if fishing is slow you will be astounded by the beauty of this Alaskan National Park.

Yukon River

Right through the middle of Alaska runs the Yukon River, and beneath its waters live some humongous northern pike. The length, width, and speed of the Yukon make it a perfect pike habitat. The tarpon of the north, sheefish, are also found in this remote river. Sheefish are only found in the Northern parts of the world and can grow to be over 60 pounds. If you want a chance to catch a trophy pike or sheefish, it is recommended to go with a guide because of the extremely remote nature of the Yukon.

Yukon (Eagle) Media, Alaska Fisheries Sonar, Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Picture Credits: ADF&G

Naknek River

One of the most famed rivers in western Alaska, the Naknek is known for gigantic rainbow trout. This Bristol Bay river is remote and full of fish that are eager to bring your rod tip down. Late June and July offer salmon fishing at the Naknek, then August and early September bring the huge rainbows and dollys.

Kvichak River

Western Alaska is home to some of the largest rainbow trout in Alaska, and 30″ rainbow are common in the Kvichak. As soon as the salmon start dropping their eggs, this river becomes insane and the rainbows become huge. Although western Alaska is a pricey place, fishing there is world-class. The only way to access this fishery is by floatplane, which is an experience in and of itself.

Willow Creek

One of the most popular creeks in southcentral Alaska, Willow Creek is located on the Parks Highway and is only a two-hour drive from Anchorage. When the salmon are running this creek offers some insane rainbow fishing. Grab your 5wt or 6wt fly rod and stop by a local fly shop before hitting this beautiful Alaskan creek. When fishing along the Parks Highway it is highly suggested to bring bear spray or a gun, and bug spray because of bears and mosquitos.

Denali Highway

Arctic grayling are found in almost every stream along the Denali Highway. It is a bumpy road, I have driven it before in a minivan and made it, but 4 wheel drive is recommended! Once on the highway, the views are amazing, you are surrounded by mountains, raw nature, and epic dry fly action. The Denali highway is awesome for beginning to experienced fly fishers because of the huge grayling population, many grayling will eat a dry fly multiple times!

denali highway fishing alaska

Minto Flats

A unique Alaskan fishery, the Minto Flats is 35 miles west of Fairbanks. The Flats is a wetland area with a large population of northern pike. The only way to access the Minto Flats is by boat or floatplane. If you are able to get in with a local guide you will experience some crazy topwater and streamer action. Pike are vicious creatures and they will smack just about anything.

pike alaska

Situk River

A dream steelhead river, the Situk is located in southeast Alaska. It is the largest steelhead fishery in Alaska and it is common to catch 30″+ steelhead. To get to the Situk, you can fly into Yakutat and drive/hire a guide to take you to the river. If you get the opportunity to go to the Situk in the spring or fall be prepared for some terrific steelhead fishing.

Picture Credits: ADF&G

Alaska Fishing Regulations

Alaska’s vast range of fisheries comes with many regulations. Depending on where you choose to fish, the rules will vary. To fish anywhere in Alaska you will need a fishing license, which can be purchased online here. Before you head out on the water check out the Alaska Department of Fish & Game website for in-depth regulations.

Alaskan Fishing Guides and Outfitters

Three River’s Fly & Tackle

This is the place to stop if you are fishing anywhere along the Parks highway. Three River’s Fly & Tackle is in Wasilla and the owners, Mike & AJ, along with their employees are very informed of what’s happening up north. Three River’s sells a variety of flies and gear, and they also make rods. If you’re rod tip breaks while in Alaska, head to three rivers for an affordable fix.

Mountain View Sports

Located in South Anchorage, this fly shop has a very knowledgeable staff and a wide selection of flies and beads. They also sell high-quality clothing to keep you warm and dry during your Alaska adventure. If you’re staying in the Anchorage area during your trip we suggest checking out Mountain View Sports.

Mossy’s Fly Shop

Also located in Anchorage, Mossy’s offers a variety of fly fishing gear. They specialize in spey/Skagit gear and have a great rod selection. If you’re in the mood to chat fishing, there’s almost always a few guys hanging out next to the coffee pot or tying flies in this Alaskan fly shop.

Alaska Troutfitters

If you are fishing on the Kenai Peninsula, this is the fly shop to go to. Troutfitters always knows what is happening with trout and salmon on the Kenai River. They have the beads, flies, and gear to make your trip wonderful. Troutfitters also offers guided float trips on the Kenai River as well as lodging. This fly shop is only open during the summer and it is located in Cooper Landing.

Alaska Fly Fishing Goods

A one-stop-shop for all your Alaska fly fishing needs, Alaska Fly Fishing Goods is located in Juneau, but also has an online shop. Their website is also very informative, with in-depth information about fishing throughout the last frontier. They want you to have the best time you possibly can in Alaska, and with over twenty years in the business, Alaska Fly Fishing Goods knows what it takes!

Alaska Fish Species on the Fly

A variety of fish reside in the creeks, rivers, and lakes of Alaska. In a state of 663,300 miles, there are countless opportunities to catch salmon, trout, pike, char, and more. The last frontier is unique because almost all freshwater fishing revolves around the salmon. Trout fishing becomes amazing when salmon are dropping their eggs, and plastic beads pegged on your line above a hook are commonly used. Once the salmon are done spawning, they begin to decay and die as part of their lifecycle. Trout eat the rotting salmon flesh, and flesh flies work great for catching the fat fall trout. Alaska will impress you with its beautiful fisheries, but make sure you check the regulations before you go. In many locations, salmon fishing is illegal during certain times of the year.

Coho Salmon

Also known as the silver salmon, the coho is one of the most feisty salmon species. They are caught in the fall and are famous for putting up a fight. Pink streamers, Dalai lamas, and topwater poppers work great for catching silver salmon. It is recommended to use an 8wt at the smallest because of the aggressive fight that coho’s put up.

Picture Credits: Patrick Perry

Sockeye Salmon

One of the most famous Alaskan salmon, people fly in from around the world to catch the “red” salmon. Sockeyes are known as red salmon because of their bright red colors while spawning. If you are catching red salmon to eat them, only keep them if they are silver, otherwise, they will not taste good and it is unethical to keep spawning fish. Because of their popularity as a food and from tourism, sockeye salmon are the most economically important species of salmon in Alaska.

Chum Salmon

This salmon is uniquely known because of its Tiger stripes and sharp teeth. Chums are also known as dog salmon because of their canine-like teeth. Chums are the most widely distributed salmon in Alaska, ranging from the Kenai Peninsula to the Yukon River.

Chinook Salmon

Being the largest salmonoid, chinook salmon fishing in Alaska is unsurprisingly world-class. Because of their size, chinooks are also known as king salmon. It is not unusual for king salmon to weigh over thirty pounds! These huge fish put up insane fights and are known to eat large articulated streamers, closer minnows, and egg patterns. Fun fact, the chinook salmon is Alaska’s state fish.

Pink Salmon

Alaska’s smallest salmon is the pink salmon, they only get to be around 25 inches long. Pink salmon are also known as humpies due to the large hump that forms on spawning males. While these salmon are no trophy fish, they are still fun and easy to catch. Similar to their name, pink salmon love pink streamers and pink flies.

Rainbow Trout

Alaska is many fly fishers dream trout fishery because of the quantity and quality of rainbow trout. These colorful trout are famous for their energetic fights and aggressive head shakes. Rainbow trout in Alaska have been caught over thirty inches, and some of them have similar-sized girths! The abundance of rainbows in Alaska impresses almost every fly fisher.

Steelhead

Steelhead are rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean when they are young and come back to the river they were born in when they are mature. Although some rainbow trout and steelhead look similar, steelhead can be distinguished by their more washed-out coloring, spots above their lateral line, and slenderer but larger size. Fishing for steelhead occurs in the early spring and late fall.

alaska fly fishing steelhead tessa shetter
Picture Credits: Tessa Shetter & Kory Robbins

Arctic Char

A fish unique to arctic and subpolar regions, arctic char are an alluring fish for anglers visiting Alaska and Alaskans alike. Although char are salmonoids, they have very distinguishing spots that make them look quite different from other salmonoids. Arctic char also have a colorful spawning color of bright orange and yellow. These beautiful fish can grow to be over thirty inches.

Photo Credits: Oliver Ancans

Dolly Varden

Arctic char and dolly varden are very similar salmonoids and are easily mistakable for one another. Smaller char and dollys are especially similar-looking but are distinguishable by their smaller spots, slightly forked tail, and larger kype in spawning males.

Arctic Grayling

Scattered throughout all of Alaska, arctic grayling are beautiful freshwater fish that enjoy the cold and clear streams of the north. They are the most abundant freshwater fish in Alaska. Grayling are well known for their sail-like dorsal fin and silver, grey, blue, and black colors. Dry fly fishing for grayling is quite popular and they will happily eat mosquitos, parachute adams, and mayflies.

Sheefish

Whitefish are commonly regarded as scrap fish, but the sheefish is not your average whitefish. It is the largest of the whitefish family and known as the “tarpon of the north”. They are also called Inconnu by Alaskans. Sheefish are found in northern rivers, often silty and glacial ones in particular. Finding these large fish is no easy task though, sheefish can migrate over 1000 miles in a single summer.

sheefish alaska
Photo Credits: Nate Holmes

Northern Pike

Ferocious and invasive, the northern pike wastes no time in attacking its prey. Fishing for pike is a fun and adrenaline-inducing experience. They have very sharp teeth, so it is recommended to use a wire leader and to hold pike right above their gills so you don’t get bitten. Check out our article on “Tips for Catching Northern Pike” for some more Alaska pike knowledge.

pike alaska

Seasons in Alaska

Spring

The long Alaskan winter is over and the fish are hungry. Sculpins, nymphs, and leeches do great in the spring for rainbow trout. Be attentive to regulations during this time period because rainbows are spawning and therefore illegal to fish in certain parts of Alaska. Pike fishing is also quite great, large streamers and topwater flies such as poppers work well. Once the lakes open up, fishing for trout, grayling, and char can be productive when using leeches, nymphs, and minnows.

Summer

Fly fishing during summertime in Alaska is a surreal experience, you can literally fish all night. In the land of the midnight sun, it seems as though the sun doesn’t set in the middle of summer. This allows for long days of fishing for Alaskan rainbow trout, grayling, dollies, pike, and more. Although summer fishing in Alaska is epic, be prepared for the mosquitos and bears by bringing bug spray, bear spray, and/or a gun.

Fall

August and September bring some of the best fishing for Rainbow trout, they are gorging themselves on salmon eggs and flesh. Rainbows are fat as ever during fall in Alaska, and bead fishing is insane. For more information on Alaskan fall fishing check out our article “Your Complete Guide to Fall Fishing for Rainbow Trout”. Fall in Alaska is known as some of the best fishing, but it comes with cold and wet weather. You need to wear the right gear to stay warm and dry while catching fat rainbows!

Winter

The grind is real in the winter… it is freezing out but there are still fish to be caught. The Kenai River is a local favorite for winter fishing in southcentral Alaska. Not many people brave the cold to catch the big rainbows that live in the frigid water, but those that do can get lucky. Thirty-inch bows are found in winter on the Kenai River, and twenty to twenty-six-inch bows are common. I would recommend summer fishing before you dive into the complications of winter fishing though. It is often icy, and roads and boat ramps can be quite dangerous.

alaska fishing winter iceberg

Experience Alaska to the fullest

Fishing in Alaska is an amazing experience and no matter where you end up going, you will have a story to come back with. If you happen to get chased by a bear or have an eagle grab your fish right out of the water, let us know. We hope this article will help you have a successful and amazing trip fly fishing in Alaska. Check out the articles below for more Alaskan tips and stories!

Ten Flies for Spring Trout Fishing in Alaska

Floating North in the Alaskan Backcountry

Far From Home Episode 1: Alaska

 

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