Best Time to Fish Alaska
Fishing in Alaska is All About Timing
I personally don’t think there is a bad time to visit Alaska for fishing during the summer season especially if you choose a good fishing lodge/outfitter. The time you go is dependent on what type of fishing experience you’re looking for and what species you’re most after.
This is an outline of fishing reports for June/early July, late July/August, and late August/September in an effort to help steer you into the right week based on what you want out of your Alaskan fishing adventure. Of course this is a broad summary of the Bristol Bay Region and each specific area, river system, and fishing lodge within the vast region can have varying reports so it is always best to consult with your agent on the best time to go for you!
The Best Time to Go Fishing in Alaska:
Fishing Alaska in June and Early July
Most rivers in the region open in early June to sport fishing and these first weeks are a great time to be in Alaska.
The rivers are often in good shape and due to the many different techniques used this is a great time for the first timer to experience what Alaska fishing is all about. Rainbow trout, arctic char, grayling and sockeye salmon, chum salmon, and king salmon, can all be caught in these first weeks of the season. The weather can be great during these weeks and the amount of daylight in June is spectacular and can offer the die-hard angler with after dinner “night fishing”.
In early June the rainbow trout have just finished spawning and are on the feed. Fishing streamers such as sculpin, leech, and salmon smolt patterns are often a good way to target the larger fish. Fishing with bugs under an indicator is the most effective way to catch higher numbers. Dry fly fishing with caddis, mayflies, and even mouse patterns can also work well. Remember these fish haven’t seen a fly in months and are hungry!
The grayling fishing is at its best this time of year and you will catch them while fishing with indicators and nymphs as well as dry flies. It is not uncommon to catch 30-40 grayling on a dry fly in a day. If you have never caught a grayling before the vibrant colors of the large dorsal fin, a distinct and unique characteristic of grayling is sure to catch your eye. You will want to capture a photo of these colorful fish.
Arctic char fishing can be off the hook in June and early July. This is some of the hottest action if you hit it right. The char gather at the river mouths and feed on the millions of salmon smolt traveling down the rivers back to the ocean. The smolt are 1-4 inches in length and provide a seemingly endless buffet for the char. The char travel in schools chase them into bait balls. The action can be hot and double hook ups with you and your fishing partner are common. Some days if the wind is calm and the sun is out you will see the char chasing the smolt around the lake and river mouths, busting on the surface as they gorge on them. Sight fishing for these hard pulling fish is always fun. There is nothing quite like watching a six to eight pound char inhale your fly just feet from the boat! You can also catch them on spin rods and a spoon if you are new to fly fishing but after you catch 20 fish this way you will want your guide to help you learn to cast and accept the challenge of getting them on a fly rod. Fresh char make a great shore lunch and can often be enjoyed this way.
Sockeye salmon are the most prevalent of all the salmon species in Alaska and are great table fare. Many people travel to Alaska each year just to catch sockeye to bring home. The Bristol Bay region has the largest run of sockeye anywhere in the world. Each summer tens of millions of sockeye return to the bay to swim up the many rivers to spawn. They start running up the rivers to spawn in June with the peak of the run usually the last week of June until the first week of July and lasting until the middle or end of July. The technique for fishing them is not too difficult for beginners to learn and your guide will teach you how to get them. This dime bright fish will put up a good fight on a fly rod and you will be wore out after a day of fishing them. Many people say “pound for pound” they are the hardest fighting salmon. Sockeye or “reds” make great fillets and are great to fill the fish box with to bring home. Sockeye are personally my favorite salmon to eat.
Chum Salmon begin to run up the river in mid June and continue to run until the end of July. These are great fighting fish and can reach upwards of 20 pounds. Once these salmon hit fresh water they take on unique color patterns of red, green, yellow and black and make for great photos. The Chum isn’t usually brought home for the table but can be enjoyed fresh if they have just come into the river system. The Chums are often a by catch while fishing for king salmon and can make the day if the king fishing is slow. Chums are very aggressive and take bright colored flies retrieved with a strip-strip-pause cadence. They pull hard and are fun to catch.
King salmon runs vary by river in numbers and timing but usually show up the same time as the chums from mid June into late July. These salmon are named the king for a reason. They are heavy hard fighting fish that pose a challenge to hook but are even harder to land. Kings are often fished on spin tackle and bait and take off like a freight train when hooked. If you want a bigger challenge many rivers are conducive to fly fishing for these beasts with a spey rod and swung fly or a 10 wt single hand rod. You will want a larger arbor reel and powerful drag to put the brakes to these fish.
Depending on the river king salmon will range from 15-50 pounds in the Bristol Bay region. Many people consider kings to be the best table fare of all the salmon with a more fatty oily flesh than the sockeye salmon. King Salmon are a draw for many anglers heading to Alaska each year but don’t expect to catch a lot of them. A one or two fish day is a good day king fishing and you can certainly get skunked, but when you do hook and land a big king the patience will have paid off and nothing can compare to seeing one up close!
Late July to Mid August is the heart of Alaska’s fishing season.
Late July is the heart of the short fishing season in Alaska and the best time for a grand slam of all 5 pacific salmon species.
The trout and grayling fishing is also great at this time with a large variety of techniques used to target each species in the Salmon Grand Slam. The weather is usually good with many sunny and warmer days in July followed by an August storm and then cooling weather.
Rainbow trout fishing remains good and you can target them a variety of ways. Some rivers allow you to fish dry flies or skate mouse patterns. Others the best way to get a big rainbow is with a streamer by either stripping it or swinging it past them. If the river you are on has kings and chums you will find the trout behind them gorging on their eggs as these salmon begin their spawning phase. Often times the biggest trout will be hiding in the deeper runs eating eggs and won’t be visible on the shallow gravel like the dollies. Trout are by far my favorite and fight the best in my opinion. The big ones are trickier to catch and harder to land on a fly rod.
Grayling fishing is great in July and through the end of August. Dry fly fishing can be stellar this time of year and is the most fun way to catch them. They usually aren’t very picky when it comes to fly selection. A caddis, foam hopper or big mayfly will work. Grayling on some of these rivers will exceed 20” and put up a decent fight on a fly rod.
Dolly Varden fishing gets good toward the end of July as they follow the salmon up stream. In August they really begin to flood the rivers and you can have 25-100 fish days fishing during this time! These colorful fish readily take beads and streamers and can grow to be over 30”. If you have never been to Alaska this is a great time to come fish. You won’t be disappointed in the number of fish you catch during your week! Often times you can sight fish the bigger “dollies” who are eating eggs behind the king and chum spawning beds.
The first of the Silver Salmon begin to come into the rivers the last days of July and peak on many of the rivers in mid August. These are one of the greatest salmon to fish in my opinion and many people return each year for them. Silvers are great table fare and readily take a fly. When fresh from the ocean they are very acrobatic and hard fighting fish. Many people compare them to the way big rainbows fight. You will fish them by stripping a bright colored fly or conventional tackle. Some of the bigger rivers you can also fish them with plugs or bait.
As for the Salmon species the Sockeye salmon have been in the system for a couple weeks now and taper off as the season closes and they begin to change to their spawning colors and stage in holding water. Anglers can still have good fishing for kings and chums until the end of July but many rivers close to king fishing and they have run far up the rivers to spawn.
Pink Salmon begin to run up the rivers and are fun sport on a fly rod. They are the smallest of the salmon but are quite aggressive. Similar to Chums they are usually only kept when caught fresh and enjoyed as a shore lunch. Pinks will run through August and begin Spawning at the end of August. Pinks run every other year and it is the even numbered years that the runs will be strong. Even on off run years you will see a few pinks that come into the system.
Late August through September
The days are getting shorter and the weather cooler.
If traveling to Alaska in early fall be prepared for some cold and rainy days but I can promise you will be rewarded with excellent fishing! Trout and Dolly Varden fishing is at its peak and Silver Salmon are coming into the rivers by the hundreds. You will have a sore arm after a day of fighting 10-12 pound silvers. Many argue they are the best eating salmon so you will want to bring some home!
Rainbow trout fishing is prime in late August and September. Many of the serious anglers looking to catch huge trout come to Alaska in September. The trout have gorged on eggs and salmon flesh until they literally puke for the last month. Yet they continue to feed as winter is coming soon and they pack on the fat to survive. Sockeye Salmon are spawning and dying providing the next big food source for trout. All of the rainbows are now a few pounds or inches longer than they were in June. They will take beads, flesh flies and streamers. Often times a favorite way to fish the big ones is swinging a streamer such as an egg sucking leech or a large flesh fly. When they hit you will know, the rainbows in September are hard fighting and fat!
Grayling fishing has tapered off although you may still catch a few. The grayling do feed on salmon eggs as well but usually are pushed out of the main feeding lanes by the big dollies or rainbows. So you will still likely catch a few if you are on a river with strong populations.
Dolly Varden fishing remains good during this time but many of them have traveled farther upriver to spawn themselves. You will still find good numbers of dollies but often times the average size has decreased.
Char fishing can be good during August and September, as they too will follow the salmon in to eat their eggs and flesh after they die. The river mouths are usually the best areas to find char however they will travel distances to feed. Char will sit in slower eddies or runs where food is washed to and gorge before the winter months.
Silver salmon fishing is still in full swing through august and remains good fishing in most rivers well into September. You can’t go wrong coming to Alaska in September. These are often the most highly sought after dates and many of the better lodges are booked full far in advance from the middle of August until the end of September.
It can be cold, but few of the lodges remain open into October.
Fishing can be great for big rainbows at this time but the weather can be cold and windy. Char and Dolly Varden are still around. Fishing is best with streamers, flesh, and dead eggs. Of course every river system varies by days or even weeks for the salmon runs. Weather can play a role in run timing, as well as the water levels, snow pack, etc.