Freshwater Fishing in Alaska

Alaska's freshwater fishing opportunities are seemingly endless. With literally dozens of species available across the state, there is almost no place in Alaska that does not offer good fishing opportunities at certain times of the year. It all starts with the arrival of spring steelhead and salmon in coastal estuaries and continues as the ice melts in the areas north of Cordova, freeing lakes and rivers from their frozen mantle. Through the summer it builds to a peak of activity with all freshwater species in a feeding frenzy while anadromous species wend their way up rivers across the state. It starts to wind down in the fall and finally slows in winter when the hardiest anglers brave the elements to catch fish through the ice.

kenai fishing

 AOS Salmon Run Charts button 

Regional Differences

The settings range from small coastal streams in Southeast, home to beautiful cutthroat trout, steelhead, and salmon, to Southcentral's stocked and wild rainbow and Dolly Varden fishing, to the Interior's opportunities at grayling and northern pike, and the amazing char fishing of the Arctic. Each ecosystem offers something different not only in terms of species, but also in terms of the conditions; the scenery, and the terrain. It is truly a fisherman's paradise.

Region 1 (Southeast Panhandle)Alaska Region 1 Map

Game Management Units: GMU 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Fishing Southeast's coastal streams is like slipping back into a time when the Pacific Northwest was mostly undiscovered and the clear, clean rivers, teeming with life, flowed through old-growth forests as ancient as the earth itself. It's possible to don your waders, grab your fly rod and hike from pool to pool, casting to large fish finning in crystal-clear waters beside ancient fallen timbers and boulders that lie as they have since the last ice age.  Besides the amazing opportunities for cutthroat trout in many rivers, most also host runs of several salmon species as well as steelhead. You'll even find brook trout in many of the lakes. To the north, in the Yakutat / Cordova area, you'll find legendary steelhead opportunities on some streams and one river that stands out from the crowd, the Situk, is floatable if you have a small raft.

Haines / Skagway |   Juneau |   Ketchikan |   Petersburg |   Prince of Wales |   Sitka |  Wrangell |   Yakutat

 Available species:

Halibut | Lingcod | Rockfish | Pacific Cod | King Salmon | Red Salmon | Pink Salmon | Grayling

 Region 2 (North Gulf Coast, Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak / Afognak Archipelago)

Alaska Region 2 Map

Game Management Units: GMU 6, 7, 8, 14C, 15

Streams of the North Gulf Coast are mostly remote, accessible only by boat or aircraft. But they offer unique opportunities for sea-run cutthroat trout. The Kenai Peninsula is another story altogether, offering what is without question the best road-accessible freshwater fishing in the state. Depending on your timing, the Kenai Peninsula offers all five species of Pacific salmon, grayling, Dolly Varden, rainbow trout, lake trout, and even northern pike. To the west, the Kodiak / Afognak Island group offers great freshwater salmon fishing in season, as well as stocked rainbow trout and grayling on Kodiak Island.

Region 2 East: North Gulf Coast / Kenai Peninsula  |  Region 2 West: Kodiak / Afognak Archipelago

 Available species:

Halibut | Lingcod | Rockfish | Pacific Cod | King Salmon | Red Salmon | Pink Salmon | Grayling | Lake Trout | Pike

Raspberry Island

Raspberry Island is nearly uninhabited, with only two year-round residences; Port Wakefield and Raspberry Island Remote Lodge. The former was a cannery before the 1964 earthquake, but now both are operated as wilderness lodges, with caretakers living there during winter months. Electrical power comes from hydro generators that operate from nearby streams. 

Afognak Island

Afognak has only one settlement, the town of Aleneva. It's a tiny community of Russian Old Believers, with about 70 people living there. They are living below the poverty line and have the lowest per-capita income in Alaska. Their main means of support are logging and subsistence activities. There is also a logging camp there owned by a native corporation.

The island hosts the northernmost stands of Sitka spruce, although nobody seems to know how the trees became established, as their closest relatives are hundreds of miles away in southeast Alaska. The trees don't reach the towering heights found in southeast, but some are between 300-400 years old. In addition to spruce forests, the island is carpeted with alder and other understory, and grasslands. The brown bear population numbers in the hundreds. 

Region 3 (Interior, central & eastern Brooks Range)

Alaska Region 3 Map

Game Management Units: GMU 12, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26B, 26C

The eastern portion of Region 3 offers excellent salmon fishing in the Copper River system, including the Gulkana, the Klutina, and other tributary rivers. Many of the lakes offer excellent trophy lake trout fishing, along with grayling and northern pike. The western part of Region 3 serves up salmon fishing in many of the rivers, along with Dolly Varden, rainbow trout, and grayling.

Region 3 East: Eastern Arctic / Eastern Interior  |  Region 3 West: Central Interior 

Available species:

King Salmon | Red Salmon | Pink Salmon | Grayling | Lake Trout | Pike

 Region 4 (Southcentral, Alaska Peninsula, Aleutians)

Alaska Region 4 Map

Game Management Units: GMU 9, 10, 11, 13, 14A, 14B, 16, 17

The far eastern portion of Region 4 offers excellent access to parts of the Copper River drainage, which is of great interest to dip netters seeking sockeye and king salmon. As you move west, the Anchorage bowl offers many road-based opportunities of both stocked and native fish, including all five species of salmon, grayling, Dolly Varden, and rainbow trout. The Iliamna / Lake Clark area produces some of the best salmon and trout fishing in the state, with a number of remote, fly-in lodges located in this area. Region 4 offers what many consider to be the crown jewel of rainbow trout fishing in the entire state; the waters of any of several blue-ribbon trout streams draining into Bristol Bay. In addition, it is the population center of the state and offers many roadside angling opportunities around the year.

Anchorage  |  Matanuska / Susitna / West Cook Inlet streams

Region 4 East: Southern Interior, Anchorage, Susitna Valley  |  Region 4 West: Bristol Bay and the Alaska Peninsula

Available species:

Halibut | Lingcod | Rockfish | Pacific Cod | King Salmon | Red Salmon | Pink Salmon | Grayling | Lake Trout | Pike

Region 5 (Western Brooks Range, west coast to Bristol Bay)

Alaska Region 5 Map

Game Management Units: GMU 18, 22, 23, 26A

The western Arctic offers some of the best char fishing in the entire state, with fish running close to 20# in some areas. Some river systems offer good salmon fishing, along with icconnu, or "sheefish", which can grow quite large- up to 60#. You'll also find grayling in abundance, and to the south in the Yukon / Kuskokwim Delta area, northern pike in large numbers. This area is arguably the best pike fishing in the state, with several lodges catering to pike fishermen.

Region 5 North: Western Arctic  | Region 5 South: Yukon / Kuskokwim Delta

Available species:

Halibut | Lingcod | Rockfish | Pacific Cod | King Salmon | Red Salmon | Pink Salmon | Grayling | Lake Trout | Pike

All in all, fishermen in Alaska are in for opportunities on a scale unparalleled elsewhere. Whether you're after big-game on the saltwater, hard-fighting salmon and large trout in the rivers, or quietly paddling a lake or stream in pursuit of relaxation, it's all here for you.

Additional Resources

The following tools are the minimum "must-haves" for Alaska fishermen. 

  • Alaska Fishing, by Gunnar Pedersen and Rene Limeres. Covers the entire state, freshwater, and saltwater, including locations, tackle, and terminal gear for each of Alaska's species.
  • The Highway Angler, by Gunnar Pedersen. If you're fishing the road system, you need this book! It walks you through all the species, gear, and precise locations and timing of Alaska's roadside fisheries.
  • Flyfisher's Guide to Alaska, by Scott Haugen. A comprehensive overview of flyfishing in all regions of Alaska, including the gear needed for each species. Includes popular fly patterns.
  • Fly-Fishing for Pacific Salmon II, by Les Johnson and Bruce Ferguson. A great book featuring popular saltwater flies and techniques for Alaska's salmon.
  • Be sure to check out our Cookbook Section in the bookstore, for cookbooks for your take-home species.