Sensational silvers and killer kings. Trophy-worthy trout and fantastically finned grayling. Hearty halibut and rewarding reds. It’s a lineup of Alaska’s finest fishing action 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 said in a 2018 interview. Bosch is a passionate fisherman, now retired from a longtime role at Alaska Department of Fish and Game, most recently as 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 seemingly endless fishing options around Southcentral Alaska that are just a short and scenic drive or flight away.
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 midnight sun is warm and bright, 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.
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.
Outside Anchorage action: Road trip reeling
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 Matanuska-Susitna Borough. You’ll also find exciting fishing all around the Mat-Su, some less than an hour from Anchorage, some a little farther. 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, floatplanes, skilled pilots and savvy guides will get you to the fish in high flying fashion.
Often, you’ll take off in a floatplane 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 cast? Half-day, full-day and multiday 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 from casting and your nights recovering like royalty in massive cabin-like lodge. This is the ultimate in Alaska fishing experiences.
Overwhelmed by 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 (email@example.com or the Fishing section of adfg.alaska.gov) for questions about fishing, licenses, regulations or anything else Anchorage or Alaska fishing related. Fish and Game’s We Fish AK and Go Fish AK sport fishing websites are especially helpful for ambitious anglers.
The Sport Fish Information Center (333 Raspberry Road) provides up-to-date information on all the fisheries. You can even borrow fishing gear. 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 ($15) to 14-day ($75) to annual ($100). 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, blind), so do your research. For the savvy shopper, many license prices have dropped from prior seasons following a dip in sales during the pandemic.
Note: You might see or hear about Alaskans slaying the salmon and filling the freezers while dipnetting. Yes, it can be an awesome and fruitful fishing experience, but only Alaska residents are legally allowed to do it.
Alaska sport fishing licenses are available at most sporting goods shops, even many grocery and convenience stores, and online, of course. It’s also a fisherman’s responsibility to know regulations, which are easily available in print and online. Bosch said the key to figuring it out is to read the general regulations for each region (example: the Anchorage area), then look for site-specific regulations for streams (example: Ship Creek). In other words, know where you are fishing and what you are fishing for. Oh, and always be bear aware — clean your fish and dispose of 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, how long you want to fish, and how much you want to spend.
One charter fishing bonus: It often comes with 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 in regions across Alaska. Catching a trophy fish in Alaska is memory making; neglecting to buy a derby ticket and then landing a potentially winning fish is heartbreaking.
Sportfishing through the pandemic
As the COVID pandemic devastated the physical, financial and mental health of millions of Americans last year, many found a respite in reeling as fishing, the original social distancing sport, experienced a sharp increase in popularity and participation.
People spent more time playing outside and shaking off the hunker-down blues in 2020, so it’s no surprise that the lure of sportfishing rode an upward spike along with other outdoor recreational activities and industries that took off during the pandemic (biking, skiing, camping). And when 2020 turned into the summer of the Alaska Staycation for residents, many sought out fishing fun.
“I think the majority of Alaskans were happy to have the opportunity and distraction from the COVID situation – everyone was eager to get some fresh air and take advantage of what we have locally,” said Jay Baumer, Sports Fisheries Manager Biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game who manages the Anchorage, Prince William Sound and North Gulf Coast regions.
“And a lot of Alaskans, because they maybe had a little more time on their hands, were driving a little further, going to new fisheries, and really enjoying going fishing. And with nonresident numbers down, crowds were smaller in a lot of places, too.”
Alaska resident fishing license sales were up in 2020, mirroring a national trend. There were more than 95,000 resident sports fishing licenses sold in 2020, the highest total since 2016 and up from 89,313 in 2019 and 85,956 in 2018. Resident King Salmon stamps were especially hot tickets.
Conversely, 2020 nonresident license sales were down dramatically, undoubtably due to travel restrictions and concerns: while 121,439 1-day nonresident Alaska sport fishing licenses were purchased in 2019, only 33,463 were bought in 2020. That meant calmer casual fishing conditions around the state, but also that Alaska’s sportfishing charter operators and guides who rely on tourists as their main source of business had to negotiate difficult waters to stay afloat.
“It was a mixed bag, from what I heard – some guides were able to accommodate the mandates, other had difficulty, but I do know that business was not as strong as previous years and there was definitely financial hurt,” said Baumer. “A lot of their normal clientele are tourists, so many charters adjusted their seasons and rates, and also targeted residents to maintain their businesses.”
Baumer is hopeful that with travel complications calming and life slowly swimming toward normalcy, the 2021 fishing season could reflect last year’s interest by locals while starting a fresh nonresident fishing run, too.
He added, “This coming season, we hope to have an increase in travelers coming back to the state and getting back out into the fisheries… And we’re very fortunate here in Southcentral, where we have so many diverse fisheries. You can go fishing for a wide variety of species and have different opportunities, whether it’s a remote experience or you just want the convenience of something nearby. We’ve got it all here, which is fantastic.”
Baumer recommends visitors and residents alike spend time on the ADF&G’s sportfishing website – adfg.alaska.gov – for updates on everything from hot fishing spots, places to rent or buy gear, to potential COVID-19 restrictions.