King Salmon start to arrive at our rivers around May 15 in two distinct runs of fish known as the early run and late run. The early run is from May 15 to June 30 and the late run is from July 1 to August 15. We fish both the Kenai River and Kasilof River for King Alaska King salmon as well as the salt waters of Cook Inlet. The Kenai River is known for having the largest genetics of nearly all species of salmon, including King Salmon. The Kenai River has held the world record for the largest king ever caught since 1987 weighing in at 97 1/4 lbs. It’s easy to see why this draws anglers from all over the world

Kasilof River Sockeye Salmon Guided Fishing

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye salmon are some of the most sought-after fish in Alaska and the world. The Kenai River boasts one of the largest run of sockeye salmon in terms of both sheer volume and physical size. These are some of the hardest-fighting fish anywhere. And when you’re in the middle of the run limits come easy. Kenai River sockeye average 8-12 lbs on the Kenai River but are a bit smaller elsewhere in the state. We’re going to teach you how to target these fish so you can do it on your own but also give you some insight into tips and tricks we use as well on our guided trips.

Starting around July 1st each year, these salmon will come up the river by the millions. Along with the tens of millions of pink salmon on even-numbered years, silver salmon in the fall, and King Salmon throughout the summer, Alaska’s annual summer migration may be the largest protein migration on earth. And with it comes an abundance of wildlife – eagles, bears, halibut, seals, whales – all following this enormous migration of protein. And let’s not forget humans! The Kenai River sockeye run is one of the most popular fisheries in the state.

It’s easy to understand why. Long summer days, often t-shirt wearing warm temperatures, a beautiful river, and large powerful sockeye on the end of your fishing rod makes for a great experience.

Kasilof River Sockeye Salmon

Like the mighty Kenai River 12 miles to the North, The Kasilof River has an impressive run of sockeye salmon as well. Starting at the outlet of Tustamena lake, the 8th largest lake in Alaska, the Kasilof flows 17 miles before reaching the saltwater of Cook Inlet.

Four species of salmon—sockeye, king, pink and coho salmon—and rainbow trout, steelhead, char, and whitefish spawn in the Kasilof River drainage. The river’s king and sockeye salmon draw the greatest interest from salmon fishermen. And sockeye salmon—the species the sonar site produces estimates for—are by far the river’s most abundant.

Our Kasilof River sockeye salmon fishing trips are done exclusively in a drift boat due. Depending on the time of the year we will either fish the upper section or lower section of the river. Starting in mid-June we can do combo fishing trips for King Salmon and Sockeye Salmon.

There are very few areas accessible by car but once we put in and drift down there are numerous gravel bars to stop and get out and target the sockeye. With no motor traffic on the river, it’s incredibly peaceful and sightings of moose and other wildlife are extremely common.

Bob Nilsen Holding Kenai River Sockeye Salmon
Kasilof River Sockeye Salmon Run Timing

Kasilof River Sockeye Salmon Run Timing

When targeting any of Alaska’s migrating salmon, the most important aspect to catching fish is to show up when the fish do! Luckily, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game uses sonar on most of our important rivers and tracks every single fish that passes the sonar. While the purpose of this data is to understand and manage the health of this fishery, we can use this information to plan our own fishing excursions.

The Kasilof River sockeye salmon start to enter the river about mid-June and by around June 21st each year, the number of sockeye entering the river will approach 5,000 fish per day. The Kasilof River is much narrower and shallower than the Kenai so fish counts of 5,000 or more per day usually makes for pretty good fishing. 

These fish don’t linger though and head straight up into Tustamena Lake and start targeting the tributaries of the Tustumena. Once in the lake, they are much harder to target and we restrict ourselves to fishing for them in the river.

The Kasilof River gets its run of king salmon, sockeye salmon, and silver salmon a couple of weeks earlier than the Kenai. The historical peak of the sockeye run on the Kasilof is July 20th each year.

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Run Timing

The late run Kenai River sockeye begins on July 1st. The Kenai is a big, powerful, wide, and deep river. Fortunately, sockeye salmon instincts drive them to swim very close to the shoreline where the current is not nearly as swift as it is out in the middle of the river. Swimming within just a few feet of the channel makes wading out just a few feet to fish for them possible.

Due to the size of the Kenai River and the way we target these fish the best fishing will take place when the daily fish counts are above 20,000.  This number is usually achieved around July 12 and will continue to increase almost daily until the peak occurs around Aug 3rd each year.

Fishing for sockeye salmon is often successful as late as Aug 20th but it’s important to remember that on even-numbered years a massive influx of Pink Salmon enter the river in numbers that literally dwarf the sockeye. For this reason, the sockeye fish count data can vary widely in the later parts of August screwing the average. 

Kenai River Late Sockeye Run
Anglers Fishing On The Kenai River Holding Sockeye Salmon

How We Fish For Sockeye Salmon

We use a technique that goes by a variety of names such as flossing, lining, flipping, plunking, and the locally named Kenai flip. Essentially we are exploiting 2 things about these fish. The first is the sheer numbers that enter the river, which we explained above, and the second is the fact that they come up the river extremely close to the bank in the shallower slower moving water. So, we know when they are coming and we know where they are swimming. Now what type of equipment should we use and how do we catch them?

You can read more below about gear and terminal tackle but we’d really like to point you to a video done by Scott McLean at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on How To Fish For Klutina River Red Salmon. Scott’s description of gear and technique is exactly the same as we use on the Kenai.

Interested in booking a Kenai River King Salmon Fishing trip or a Kasilof River King Salmon Fishing Trip. Select from one of our dedicated King Salmon Fishing Trips below or select a combo/multi-species salmon fishing trips available on selected dates.

Let's Go Fishing!

Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Trips

Kasilof River Sockeye Salmon Trips