The Kasilof River is often considered the little brother of the Kenai, sometimes even affectionately called “The Ditch” by the locals. This river enjoys many of the same king salmon, sockeye salmon, and silver salmon runs as the Kenai River. And also, like the Kenai, it has great trout fishing and a steelhead fishery. The Kasilof River is 18 miles long, fed by Tustamena Lake which is the 8th largest lake in Alaska and comes in at 25 miles long, 6 miles wide, and 1000 feet deep!
Read on to learn more about the fishing opportunities on the Kasilof River.
Kasilof River Guided Fishing Opportunities
May 15 - Jul 31
Aug 1 - Sep 30
Jun 15 - Aug 15
Jun 15 - Aug 15
Kasilof River Fishing
Like the Kenai River, The Kasilof River has several different salmon runs that take place throughout the summer. Almost exactly like the Kenai, The Kasilof River has both an early king salmon run from May 15 – June 30 and a late king salmon run from July 1 – Aug 15. It also has a fantastic sockeye run that begins around June 15 and goes until August 15. And, also like the Kenai River, the Kasilof River has a silver salmon run that starts August 1 and goes until September 30th.
There are some really wonderful things about the Kasilof River. The fact that this is a drift boat only fishery makes it a very peaceful, quiet Alaska day with the opportunity to see a lot of great wildlife. Additionally, the Kasilof has very few points for road access, and development along most of the river is really limited so it really feels like it’s just you and nature.
The Kasilof River is fed by the runoff of several large nearby glaciers and is more naturally turbid – less clear due to suspended particles in the water. This makes the color of the Kasilof River much different than that of the Kenai River.
Upper Kasilof River Fishing
The section from Tustamena Lake to the Sterling Highway Bridge is known as The Upper Kasilof. This section is incredibly scenic as part of it flows through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The upper Kasilof River is known for sockeye fishing banks, only accessible by drift boat, silver salmon fishing, and steelhead fishing.
In general, the Upper Kasilof River is swifter than the lower section and sees much less traffic than the Kenai River, and that’s just the way we like it. The biggest reason for this is simply due to the recognition of the Kenai River in such close proximity.
The first two miles of this is a slow-moving meandering portion of water before it finally reaches the start of the river. At this point, we are allowed to use our motors and will usually put our kicker motor in the water and just run it at idle to enjoy the time in this peaceful section and to save our backs for rowing the river section!
The Upper Kasilof River section is a great fishery for silver salmon, sockeye salmon, and steelhead. The Lower Kasilof River section is fished much more heavily for king salmon due to the Crooked Creek hatchery but wild Kasilof River Kings can be caught on the upper Kasilof River section.
Lower Kasilof River Fishing
The Lower Kasilof River section begins at the Sterling Highway Bridge and continues to the pullout located near the mouth of the Kasilof River where it flows into Cook Inlet.
The Lower Kasilof River section is fished much more heavily than the upper Kasilof River section. There are probably a few reasons for this. One would be that the upper Kasilof River boat launch is located at Tustumena Lake and this requires driving down a 10 mile stretch of road that can be pretty bumpy at times. The other would be that the crooked creek hatchery has a very large return of king salmon that is part of the Lower Kasilof River section and the hatchery king salmon do not go further upstream than that. This is a very popular fishery for good reason.
One of the really great attributes of the Kasilof River is that it gets its sockeye salmon and king salmon runs a little bit earlier than the Kenai. This allows us to focus on the Kasilof River during mid-May and June while we await the arrival of the Kenai River king salmon and sockeye salmon.
Kasilof River King Salmon Fishing
Most of the king salmon fishing on the Kasilof River happens on the lower section of the Kasilof River. The king salmon that return to the Kasilof River each year are a mixture of wild king salmon and hatchery king salmon from the Crooked Creek king salmon hatchery program. These hatchery fish are “imprinted” with the location of the crooked creek hatchery as smolt so they do not go further upstream than the location of the hatchery.
This means the concentration of king salmon will always be greater on the lower section of river since only the wild king salmon will migrate upstream of the Sterling Highway bridge.
While The Kenai River may get the majority of the attention for king salmon fishing the Kasilof River deserves bragging rights as well. Kasilof River king salmon are regularly pulled out of this river that are 40 and 50 lbs.
Kasilof River Sockeye Fishing
The Kenai River sockeye salmon run begins July 1st but the first Kasilof River sockeye will start returning around June 15th. When they start coming in the Kasilof River sockeye salmon run gains strength quickly. Within just a few days, starting around June 21st the daily sockeye fish count will reach 5,000 fish and it will stay above this number for the next 7 weeks.
The exact peak of this run, approximately July 21st, does usually coincide almost perfectly with the peak of the Kenai River sockeye Salmon run which will also occur right around July 21st.
The numbers on these two rivers are drastically different. The Kenai River may see as many as 100,000 sockeye salmon daily. The Kasilof River sockeye salmon run will usually max out at around 15,000 – 20,000 daily. The Kenai River is significantly larger than the Kasilof River so if you think about the total concentration of fish both rivers are very impressive and both rivers make for fantastic fishing.
Kasilof River Silver Salmon Fishing
Much like the Kenai River, the Kasilof River has a really great silver salmon fishery in the fall. The Kasilof River silver salmon fishing will usually peak in the 2nd or 3rd week of August each year but fishing for silvers can usually begin around August 1st. The first silvers caught each year usually happens while we are still primarily targeting sockeye salmon.
We’ll target silver salmon in much the same way we target kings. Often using kwikfish wrapped with sardine or with a spin-n-glo with eggs. We’ll do this anchored in the boat with the lure out the back in the current, often with a jet diver to ensure the lure is down near the bottom of the river where we know the fish are.
One really nice aspect of fishing for silvers is unlike their extremely lure shy sockeye salmon cousins, silver salmon aren’t shy about striking lures. Fishing for them using spinning rods and reels, in the slower moving holding water, with lures like rooster tails and spinners, is a great way to actively engage in the fishery.
Kasilof River Steelhead Fishing
The Kenai Peninsula has a single run of fall steelhead that starts around August. This is unlike most of the pacific northwest that have 2 runs of fall steelhead.
The Kasilof River has a very nice steelhead fishery that many folks don’t pay attention to because of all the focus given to the salmon. It’s also due to the fact that the steelhead fishery is best in the April/May time frame, long before the salmon (and the crowds) arrive. The best time to fish for steelhead though is in late Sept and October time frame as fall returning steelhead start to make their way back into the river to take advantage of all of those salmon eggs in the river and spawn themselves before heading back out to sea.
Steelhead spend the majority of the winter in the river before spawning in the spring. After spawning they will make their way back out into the ocean.
Kasilof River steelhead fishing has always been a favorite of the local guides getting in some classic steelhead fishing before hanging it up for the winter. This fishing is catch-and-release only and we work hard to ethically fish these fantastic sea-going rainbow trout.
Deep Creek and Anchor River also have a steelhead fishery worth exploring and peaks at the same time as the Kasilof. Both are located a short drive south of the Kasilof River towards Homer.
Kasilof River Guided Fishing Opportunities
Interested in booking a Kasilof River Fishing trip? Select from one of our dedicated Kasilof River fishing trips below with combo/multi-species salmon fishing trips available on selected dates.