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Top Fishing Charters in Kenai River

Fishing in Kenai River

Each summer, anglers the world over spend the hottest months of the year on the Kenai River fishing for some of the largest Salmon and Trout they’ll ever see. The Kenai begins in Cooper Landing, flows west through Skilak Lake, and eventually empties into Cook Inlet—spanning little over 80 miles in total. While it’s not the largest river known to anglers, it is the most renowned and frequented fishing spot in Alaska. Lifelong pros and beginners alike cast a line here for record-breaking King (Chinook) Salmon, trophy Rainbow Trout, and color-changing Dolly Varden.

Located on the Kenai Peninsula and just a 2-hour drive from Anchorage, some parts of the river are relatively accessible by local standards. For those who are eager to escape the hustle and bustle, however, a journey downstream into the remote reaches of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge will do just the trick. Rest assured there’s a memorable catch no matter where the current takes you, and plenty of Kenai River fishing guides to help you reel it in. Whether you’re an avid angler or just an adventurous spirit, welcome to this little slice of heaven.

The Kenai River’s Top Catches

King (Chinook) Salmon

The lower Kenai River is Alaska’s premier fishing spot for King Salmon. For those who believe in going big or going home, there’s no better place to land the largest of the Pacific Salmon species. The waters running from Skilak Lake to Cook inlet have witnessed many IGFA line class records for this fish, with the local record still standing at 97 lbs 4 oz.

You can expect good to excellent King Salmon fishing on the Kenai starting in late May (if the legal season is open). By June, the lower part of the river is crowded with boats full of anglers who are eager to land the next record-breaking fish. Many navigate the deep, smooth-flowing water of the lower Kenai in drift boats or power boats, often backtrolling with spinning or conventional gear. Timing is everything when it comes to Kings, and once hooked, they take off like a freight train.

Red (Sockeye) Salmon

The Kenai River gets double runs of both King and Red (Sockeye) Salmon, which overlap in June. The earliest Reds arrive in the middle of the month, but the peak season for this species really gets underway from late July through August. While you can certainly fish for Kings and Reds at the same time, you won’t always find the best of these two species in the same places. The shallow, swift-flowing currents in the upper Kenai tend to produce better Red Salmon fishing. In years that end with an even number, this species is joined by hordes of Pink Salmon.

Reds are the least aggressive of local Salmon, but they are one of the most numerous and hard-fighting. This makes for an especially thrilling experience, since they are hard to hook and even harder to reel in! If this is your target fish, plan to hire a savvy guide and prepare to spend a few hours patiently waiting before you get a bite. Enticing a bite from these fish usually means swinging a fly directly in front of them multiple times. With millions of Red Salmon swimming through the Kenai each season, those who master the secret to catching them can hook as many as 50 in a day.

Silver (Coho) Salmon

When it comes to sheer fighting action, Silver (Coho) Salmon take the cake. These are the most aggressive and acrobatic of the Pacific species. In this respect, the Kenai River saves the best for last, bringing these showstoppers to the stage in August. The river’s peak season for Silver Salmon coincides with the peak season for Rainbow Trout, giving light tackle and fly anglers a chance to make the most of their day on the water. It’s common to navigate the upper Kenai in a drift boat or inflatable raft before stopping and wading into the current to cast. If you cast your line early in the morning, you can expect these fish to strike just about any bait on a good day.

Rainbow Trout

Amongst fly fishermen, Trout fishing on the Kenai River is almost as legendary as the local Salmon fishing. From mid August through fall, you can hook into some real trophies around here. The last several miles of the upper Kenai—known as The Canyon—boast some of the biggest Rainbows. Here, it’s common to cast from a drift boat, since the water below Skilak Lake is deeper and there’s less opportunity to make use of the shoreline. Trips to this part of the river are weather dependent.

You can expect most Kenai River fishing guides to provide spinning and fly fishing gear, but you’re typically welcome to bring your own, as well. A 7-10 weight rod is recommended, along with a large arbor reel spooled up with a good drag system. A weight forward floating line is ideal, and don’t be afraid to overline by a couple of sizes.

Dolly Varden

This member of the Char family is another source of light tackle action, typically weighing 1-5 lbs. You’ll find the look of this fish as pleasing as the fight it puts on. Spawning in fall, Dolly Varden change from a chrome-silver color with light pink spots to a deep green shade. Their fins and bellies turn orange and a stunning white stripe appears along the edge of their lower fins. Catching one of these beauties can be an unexpected highlight in any Kenai River fishing experience. Local fish typically measure 18-28”, with a few 30-inchers thrown in.

Dolly Varden are abundant at the same time of year as Rainbow Trout, and you will have great success fishing for them on the same tackle. If you’re relying on spinning gearing, bring a light rod with a reel holding about 200 yards of 10 lb test line.

Need to Know

Kenai River fishing guides typically provide everything you need, including tackle, bait, and anything else that may be appropriate such as flies and hip waders. Of course, you are welcome to bring your own gear if you prefer, just make sure you discuss this with your guide ahead of time so they can help you come prepared.

Whether you plan on hiring a guide or fishing alone, be sure to bring an Alaska fishing license (available online). A freshwater license is required for residents age 18 and above, and non-residents 16 or older. If you plan on catching and keeping King Salmon, you will also need to buy a special stamp.

Bear in mind that it’s not always legal to fish for Salmon in the Kenai River. Regulations vary depending on what section of the river you plan to fish and your target species. In general, King Salmon are open to harvest on the lower Kenai during most months, but you may not be able to fish for them in the upper Kenai. The fishing season on the upper Kenai is closed during May in some years.

Trout and Dolly Varden are open to harvest year-round (size and bag limits apply).

You can read more about regulations in specific areas of the river on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.

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Kenai River Fishing Seasons

Winters blues got you down? Head to Seward for the annual Polar Bear Jump! Put on your funniest costume and plunge into the bay to help raise money for the Alaska Division of the American Cancer Society.

Average temperatures barely tip the scale past 20°F in February. The Kenai hosts Dolly Varden and Trout, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a buddy who’s willing to hit the river with you at this time of year.

Average temperatures are creeping higher, finally hovering above 30°F. Many local anglers head to Homer for the Winter King Salmon Tournament for a chance to reel in massive saltwater Kings.

With the river’s main fishing season still one month away, you’ve got time to practice casting for Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden without rubbing elbows with tourists.

King Salmon are the first to arrive, with the first run beginning in mid-May. You can expect superb fishing for this species from the start—just make sure the legal season is open. 

The King Salmon run is in full swing, and the first run of Red (Sockeye) Salmon will be showing up around mid-month. Crowds of anglers from far and wide will start showing up this month. 

Fishing on the Kenai River is all about Kings and Reds at this time of year. The lower river will be crammed with drift boats and anglers eager to land the next record-breaking fish!

Just as King Salmon start to take their leave, Silvers (Coho) arrive in time to keep things interesting! By mid-August, many anglers on the river will be locals keen on landing Reds, Silvers, and the last of the Kings. 

If you’ve had your fill of Salmon fishing, this is the perfect time to set your sights on the Kenai River’s stellar Trout fishing. Dolly Varden are also entering their peak at this time.

For those who don’t shy away from a little nip in the air, fall can produce some excellent light tackle and fly fishing for Dolly Varden and Rainbow Trout. You may even land a Steelhead. 

Most Kenai River fishing guides will stop guiding in winter, as average temperatures dip below 30°F. Savvy anglers who aren’t afraid to go it alone can still have a successful day on the water.

If there’s one thing locals on the Kenai know how to do, it’s ringing in the holiday season! The Holiday Weekend in Seward is just one way to kick off the season with craft shows, tree lighting, and more.

Kenai River Fishing Calendar

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What People Are Saying About Kenai River

"Half day trip with Captain Mindy"

Dennis R. fished with Alaskan Widespread Fishing - Power Boat on July 12, 2019

Buy your license at Fred Meyer...very easy. If you catch a king salmon you will not be able to fish for the rest of the trip, but you can enjoy the boat ride.

"Half day river trip"

John H. fished with Jason’s Guide Service on July 10, 2019

You have to go and experience the river fishing.

"Full day fishing with Captain Alex"

Yoshi S. fished with Alaska Slammin Salmon Charters on July 2, 2019

If you really want to catch fish. You need at least a few days. with 1 day ,do not complain about no fish result (target is King salmon.)

"Wonderful Experience with Captain Mindy!!!"

Travis B. fished with Alaskan Widespread Fishing - Power Boat on June 8, 2019

Fishing in June is great because we got there before the big tourist season and didn’t have to fight the croweds.

Top Targeted Species in Kenai River

Salmon (Chinook)

Salmon (Chinook)

Salmon (Coho)

Salmon (Coho)

Rainbow Trout (Steelhead)

Rainbow Trout (Steelhead)

Salmon (Sockeye)

Salmon (Sockeye)

Top Kenai River Destinations

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