Red Salmon (Sockeye)
Red salmon are hard to hook as they are the least aggressive of all the Salmon. You’ll need a few hours with a good guide before you can hook up consistently. You need to swing a fly right across their nose before they will bite and often you need to repeat it several times to finally induce a strike. Once you get it down, though, you can have 50 fish days!
Luckily the red runs tend to be counted in the millions so you’ll have lots of fish to practice on. Most red runs peak mid to late July and the big runs keep going well into August. And, on the Kenai, there is also an early run in mid June.
Even after you finally get one to the net, it will still be fighting like you just hooked it. The other great thing about reds is that their run timing coincides with the King Salmon runs so you can fish for reds one day and kings the next!
Red salmon travel right along the shore line in 3 to 5 feet of water. This means that a fly fisherman wearing polarized glasses can see the fish! The casting distance is short and consequently you don’t need to be a great fly fisherman to put the fly in the perfect spot.
Once you hook a red, be ready… they burn across the river and start jumping. They do this really tricky ‘cartwheel’ in mid air and quite often that shakes your hook… Once you learn to ‘bow’ in respect to the jump, you will usually manage to keep them on. But the fun thing about reds is that they just don’t give up.
Silver Salmon (Coho)
Silvers are one of the most aggressive of the salmon and some days they will strike just about anything, especially early in the morning. Other times, they will be in a funk and you will need to give them many chances before they bite. Once they do, hang on!
Silvers have a first run that can make your reel smoke and often get airborn so make sure your reel is up to the task.
Silvers begin to arrive in mid to late July in the most rivers in Alaska, August finds them in many rivers across the state and a good number of streams, including the Kenai have a late run in September.
One of the best things about fishing for silvers is that the peak times to fish them coincides with peak rainbow fishing. Many anglers plan their trips for late August through September to be able to fish for both silvers and rainbows.
Early August silver runs often overlap Chum Salmon runs. Only a few folks have discovered that ocean bright chums are one of the best fighting fish in the world. Most of those were taught this lesson while fishing in places where chum and silver salmon mix. It is a great fishing day when you can catch both silvers and chums and both are ‘chrome.’ Your arms will be tested!
King Salmon (Chinook)
The Alaska King Salmon is the largest of all the Salmon. The Alaska state record is 97 lbs, 4 ozs! It was caught, of course, on the Kenai River in late May by Les Anderson of Soldotna.
The typical king salmon spends one year in fresh water before heading to the ocean then spends two to six years in the saltwater so they range from as little as 15 pounds up to the behemoths that are in the 100 pound range with the typical Alaska king ranging between 20 and 40 lbs.
Hooking and landing a big king salmon is the dream of most of the fisherman who come to the Kenai Peninsula. Kings are aggressive, but, like any fish, there are times when the bite just isn’t on. The runs are never huge in numbers.
You can still have some great days where you hook 10 or 15 kings and you can fish all day for just one. Luckily they are BIG and just hooking one is enough to bring you back time after time to fish for them.
They are by far the most popular fish to try for in Alaska even though statewide the average is 36 hours of fishing per fish caught! These huge fish like the deepest fastest part of the stream and can easily take all the line off any reel.
You’ll need a lot of skill and a little luck to put your hands on one. Timing is everything when fishing for kings. They have a hard bony plate in their mouths which means a good, well timed hook set is critical.
Without that, you are almost certain to have the hook pull free sometime before you get a net under the fish. When you finally do net that giant king, you’ll be shaking from the adrenaline and high-fiving everyone in the boat.