There’s fishing. And then there’s fishing in Alaska for salmon. The stunning vistas. The jumping fish. The fresh air. The excited kids. The bear cubs on the banks of the river with the mother bear lurking in the woods. It all adds up to an exhilarating adventure you won’t want to miss.
The Thrill of Fishing in Alaska
Alaska is known for its salmon. There are many locations around Alaska where you can fish for one of the five main species of salmon, including Ketchikan, the “Salmon Capital of the World,” and along the Kenai Peninsula.
Before this trip, I had only been fishing twice – once in the Seven Seas Lagoon in Walt Disney World and once from a friend’s boat in New Jersey. Fishing in Alaska, however, is a completely different experience and one not to be missed, particularly during the height of the salmon runs in the summer.
During our family vacation to Alaska, were lucky enough to hit the first sockeye salmon run in the Kenai River, which happens during the second half of June. Both of our little ones (ages 4 and 8) enjoy fishing off of our dock back home with my husband, so they were very excited to try it in Alaska.
Those Crazy Salmon
One of the biggest highlights was just watching the salmon actually jump out of the water. That’s what they do when it gets too crowded for them in the water. The kids thought it was “awesome” to see king salmon, the state fish of Alaska, jumping when we pulled off the road in Homer on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula,. We also watched sockeye salmon shooting out of the Kenai River, where we had a fishing tour one evening.
It’s best to fish either very early in the morning or later in the evening. That’s easy in Alaska in June, when it’s light almost 24 hours of the day. It’s also cooler for the fish and not as crowded with fishermen along the shore.
Alaska Fishing Tours
There are dozens of fishing tours to choose from on the Kenai Peninsula, with prices ranging from $155+/person for half-day tours to $275+/person for full-day tours (and significantly more for private flights to remote fishing locations). After speaking with several companies while I was planning our trip, I ended up choosing Kenai River Fly Fishing. The owner has a small child and understood my need for flexibility since I wasn’t sure how restless our little ones would get while fishing. Our half-day tour with a private guide, boat, fishing gear and waders for the adults totaled about $620. The children needed to wear their rainboots since the tour operator did not have waders in children’s sizes.
We finished our sightseeing tour of the Kenai Peninsula and arrived at Cooper Landing around 7pm. Cooper Landing is near the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers. Our guide was waiting for us with a specialized row-boat known as a drift boat.
All adults fishing in Alaska are required to have a fishing license. They can be purchased in many stores in the area or ordered online. Each person can keep only 3 fish per day. We purchased our licenses via our smartphone before slipping on our waders. Then our guide paddled to a quiet spot along the Kenai River.
Watch Out for the Bears
Our guide explained about fly fishing and how to cast a rod. Then he took turns helping each child try it. Our plan was to walk along the bank, but then a black bear cub came out of the woods. We all jumped back into the boat, particularly because we also heard the cub’s mother in the woods. While we loved seeing the black bear, they are omnivorous and can be extremely aggressive, so our guide quickly continued down the river, warning many of the fishermen along the banks to be on alert.
Our second stop was a quiet stretch along a narrower part of the river. That was helpful because the fish had less area to spread out. The children had a blast watching the sockeye salmon leap out of the water and our guide was extremely patient as he helped each child take turns reeling in their catch and holding the large net underwater to help land the fish.
An 8-pound salmon swimming upstream was hard to reel in for our little ones, but our 8-year-old daughter did well casting with the fly rod. They both got soaked by the icy-cold water in the process, but had a such a great time running along the bank watching the fish jump, or helping to bring in the catch with the net, that they didn’t care – they would just periodically sit down, empty the water from their rainboots, put them back on, and go back in!
Heading Home with Our Catch
After fishing for several hours along the bank, we had hooked close to one dozen sockeye; we kept 3. We then got back in our boat and the strong current whisked us back to the landing. The scenery was lovely, especially seeing all the eagles perched in the trees and along the branches in the water. There are no shortages of eagle sightings in Alaska and we all loved seeing our national bird!
It took about an hour to cover the 12 miles back to the landing site. We arrived around 12:30am (with plenty of light still around). Our guide helped us bundle two sleeping children into the van and then drove us back to our car further up the river. He offered to clean the fish for us and then packed it in freezer bags. We picked those up the next day and enjoyed took the salmon back to our hotel room, which came complete with a kitchenette. Another option would have been one of the many processing stores in Cooper Landing, where they clean, package and ship your fish home. Financially, that only makes sense if you have 20+ pounds of fish.