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Alaska Visitors Guide

Whether you’re flying out or in the city, Alaska is what fishing dreams are made of

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: April 27
  • Published April 27

Fishers stand in Ship Creek on the first day of the Salmon Fishing Derby in 2016. (Sarah Bell / ADN)

Sensational silvers and killer kings. Trophy-worthy trout and fantastically finned grayling. Hearty halibut and rewarding reds. It’s a lineup of Alaska fishing dreams and these spectacular species — and many more — are all within casting distance, driving distance and short-flight distance of Anchorage.

Yes, Alaska’s largest, busiest and most populated urban hub is also a fishing fantasy come to life. And that isn’t a fishing tale. Even the most secretive fisherman will brag about this fishery, and it couldn’t be kept secret anyway — Anchorage is a mainstay on any “America’s Best Fishing Cities” list.

“You can go fishing just about anywhere in Anchorage,” Dan Bosch explained in a 2018 interview. Bosch is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s regional management coordinator for the Anchorage area, among other Alaska regions. “It’s some of the best fishing around. And the accessibility — it’s so easy. Right at your doorstep.”

For Alaska visitors, that includes hotel doorsteps. The community is covered in streams, creeks and lakes that are packed and stocked with tens of thousands of fun, fighting fish. And there are even more fishing options a short and scenic drive or flight away. Southcentral Alaska is truly where fishing fantasies come true.

Ship Creek - Anchorage

One of Anchorage’s most exciting fishing holes is set in one of the city’s most popular hospitality hot spots — downtown. Ship Creek carves across the northern side of Anchorage, passing by the William Jack Hernandez Hatchery before depositing downtown into picturesque Cook Inlet. It’s a beautiful natural oasis on the edge of Anchorage’s cityscape. Its water is home to a constant run of summer salmon — kings early in the season, silvers (coho) later — and its banks are usually bustling with fishermen.

“Right downtown you can fish for king salmon and coho salmon,” said Bosch, himself a Ship Creek regular who has worked and fished the Anchorage area for decades. “If you haven’t fished there before, just watch what everyone is doing, if they’re using eggs or spinners, and where they are setting up along the creek.”

Urban hot spots

Ship Creek might be the most visible venue, but incredible fishing opportunities abound in every corner of town and every direction of Southcentral Alaska. Anchorage lakes (Campbell, DeLong, Jewel, Mirror, Sand Lake) are loaded, and creeks (Bird, Campbell and Ship) and rivers (Eagle and Eklutna) are crammed with an array of fish: from several freshwater and landlocked salmon species to Dolly Varden/Arctic char and awesome Arctic grayling. Chester Creek runs through the center of town and can be great for rainbow trout (8-12 inches!), too.

Sport fishing is a year-round activity in Anchorage and Alaska, but the action surges in summer. From May to September, the fish counts are high, the sun is warm and bright into late and early hours, and fishermen are giddy. Where should you wet a line? Around Anchorage, practically anywhere there’s water, there are fish. Many of these fishing holes also offer peace, quiet and the natural vibe of wild Alaska. As you cast and relax, it’s easy to forget you’re in Alaska’s biggest city.

Outside Anchorage action: Road trip reeling

A sockeye on a stringer on the opening day of fishing near the Russian River Ferry crossing on the Kenai River in 2017. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Anchorage is also the jumping-off point for fishing adventures all over Southcentral Alaska and beyond. A short drive or quick hike in practically any direction from urban Anchorage adds more casting spots. For next-level groundfish and salmon fishing, drive south for an hour (Prince William Sound out of Whittier) or two (Resurrection Bay out of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula) or five (Kachemak Bay out of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula), or drive north for 30 minutes to two hours (Matanuska-Susitna Borough).

Some of Alaska’s — and the world’s — most exciting salmon fishing goes down on the Kenai Peninsula, a few hours’ drive south of Anchorage, where the Kenai, Russian, Anchor and Kasilof rivers flow flush with fish. This is action-packed angling for Alaska’s salmon species. It can also be combat fishing at its gnarliest. When the fish are running, anglers line the banks, practically shoulder to shoulder, while locals and guides motor boats up and down the rivers, homing in on the hot spots. For most, all the work is worth it when they land one of Alaska’s bright and hard-fighting salmon, creating photo-worthy moments that will be social media profile shots for years.

The fishing is also exciting in port towns like Whittier, Seward and Homer, which are all a beautiful drive south of Anchorage. There, you can cast from the banks for salmon, but you’ll improve your odds and your options by jumping aboard a charter boat to chase the big, bad, barn door halibut and cruise along salmon runs as they return to their freshwater spawning grounds. Catching a big halibut is tough work, but it’s a different kind of fish fight. Instead of running and splashing, these flat lunkers are more likely to play like dead weight as you slowly reel them up from the dark of the ocean bottom. They sometimes freak when they surface and see daylight, but handy deckhands are ready with a net and/or a gaff to snatch the flopping fish.

The port town of Valdez is an even longer drive away, but the roads there are about as scenic (glaciers, mountains, wildlife, waterfalls) as it gets and once you’ve arrived, the fishing is equally impressive.

Point your vehicle north from Anchorage and you’ll soon have awe-inspiring Denali looming large in your windshield, guiding you toward the glacier-carved and fish-filled Mat-Su. You’ll also find exciting fishing all around the Mat-Su, some less than an hour from Anchorage, some a little further. When the salmon are running, the region’s rivers are slamming, especially the Deshka River, Willow Creek, Susitna Rivers, Eklutna Tailrace and Montana Creek. If you prefer a slower pace, there are dozens of lakes packed with grayling, trout, Arctic char and landlocked salmon; favorites include Nancy Lake, Big Lake, Rolly Lakes and Knik Lake. If you like lakes, consider packing a lunch and your gear, renting a canoe, and soaking up the midnight sun and the peace of the Alaska outdoors.

Outside Anchorage action: Flying fishing

If you’ve come all the way to Alaska to chase fish, you might as well dial up the fun to a once-in-a-lifetime experience by booking a fly-in fishing adventure. From Anchorage, float planes, skilled pilots and savvy guides will get you to the fish in high flying fashion.

Often, you’ll take off in a float plane from Anchorage’s Lake Hood, which buzzes with around-the-clock activity during Southcentral’s warm, bright summers. If you think the takeoff from the lake is thrilling, what until the landing! And that’s just the start of the fun. (Of course, more conventional plane rides are available; you could even fly commercial to great fishing towns like Cordova, Ketchikan, Juneau and more.)

What do you want to catch? A fighting salmon? A plump trout? A vicious pike? All of the above? Your guides have you covered. How long do you want to go? Half-day, full-day and multi-day trips are available.

Want to go really big? Hook up with an outfit that will get you to a remote, fly-in lodge, where you can spend your days fishing until your arm is sore and your nights recovering like royalty in massive cabin-like lodge. Yes, this is the Alaska fishing experience of your dreams coming true.

Fishing factoids

Overwhelmed by all the options? Too excited to think clearly? Contact Fish and Game in person, on the ADF&G Sport Fish Information Center phone line (907-267-2218) or online (adfg.license@alaska.gov or adfg.alaska.gov) for questions about fishing, licenses, regulations or anything else Anchorage or Alaska fishing related.

The Fish Information Center provides up-to-date information on all the fisheries. You can even borrow fishing gear from its Raspberry Road location! There are also area fishing blogs and message boards, friendly fishermen and retailers who are happy share tips while you shop for tackle or gear.

Lures and lines, rods and reels — the choices are endless. But there’s one piece of equipment fishermen (residents 18 or older and nonresidents age 16 or older) must carry: a sport fishing license. Nonresidents have many fishing license options, from one-day ($25) to 14-day ($105) to annual ($145). If you are on a quest for a king, you will also need a king salmon tag, which runs an additional $15 for one day and up to $100 for an annual stamp. For residents, there are numerous license options for different fishermen (military, low income, senior citizens), so do your research.

Note: You might see or hear about people slaying the salmon while dipnetting. Yes, it can be awesome and fruitful, but only Alaska residents are legally allowed to do it.

You can purchase Alaska sport fishing licenses at most sporting goods shops, even many grocery and convenience stores, and online. It’s also a fisherman’s responsibility to know regulations. Bosch said the key to figuring it out is to read the general regulations for each area (example: the Anchorage area), then look for site-specific regulation for streams (example: Ship Creek). In other words, know where you are fishing and what stream you are fishing on. Oh, and always be bear aware — clean your fish and fish waste responsibly.

If you’re plotting a chartered or guided fishing experience, whether by road, boat or plane, shop around. Most reputable charter companies have years of experience and are easy to study up on via their websites and social media. Find a perfect fishing fit by being specific about what you want to catch and how much you want to spend.

One charter fishing bonus: It often comes with free sightseeing in some of Alaska’s most incredible landscapes and wildlife, including water wonders like whales, orcas, porpoises and countless seabirds.

And don’t forget the bevy of fishing derbies that take place all summer. Catching a trophy fish in Alaska is life-changing; neglecting to buy a derby ticket for a winning fish is heartbreaking.

Fish on!

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