Ask just about any angler the top 10 places they hope to fish someday, and you can bet that Alaska is going to make that list. Alaska has a very wide variety of fishing opportunities, and fantastic options for each. Although throwing a fly or spoon in any body of water won’t necessarily produce great results, if you can get to where the fish are, it just might ruin you for anything else. Even as a resident of the Last Frontier, I have yet to do it all. But if I had to pick my Alaska fishing bucket list, this is what makes the cut.
1) Northern Pike: Innoko River
Good pike fishing can be had in many areas of Alaska, but the lower Yukon River is the heart of pike country, and if you want to spoil yourself, this is where you go. Logistically and cost-wise, access can be a nightmare for the DIY guy, so a charter is your best bet. Alaska Pike Safaris runs outfitted charters on the Innoko River, and produces some of the best pike fishing Alaska has to offer. When you’re throwing plugs longer than a foot, things are getting serious, and a good dose of catching pike that often get over 30 pounds will set the bar at a whole new level.
2) Saltwater Fishing: Afognak Wilderness Lodge
Saltwater fishing is another niche that Alaska fills very well, and there are a lot of good options if you’re wanting to bring home some of the best eating the ocean can produce. If you’re looking for the whole package, Afognak Wilderness Lodge is tough to beat. It’s a short flight from Kodiak, and smack dab in the middle of some of the best ocean fishing in the state. It’s best if you also enjoy sightseeing, because typically it won’t take you very long to fill your limits. Halibut and Lingcod are the staples, but several species of rockfish are abundant, as well as sockeye and silver salmon depending on the time of year.
3) Sheefish: Kobuk River
Sheefish are one of the most underrated game fish in Alaska. They don’t fight like a pike, but get in the right spot and the action is hot and the fish are heavy. They are the largest species of whitefish found in Alaska, and if you fed their succulent white meat to anyone alongside halibut, they would have a hard time telling the difference. If you’re after the biggest, the Kobuk River is legendary sheefish country, with 30-pounders not being uncommon. A variety of fly out and float options can work for this trip, so it’s a great DIY option.
4) Arctic Grayling: Denali Highway
If there was ever a fish made for fly fishing, it would be the grayling. Coincidentally, they are found in most water systems in Alaska, and in great numbers. A great DIY option is to travel and camp the Denali Highway, which runs across the south edge of the Alaska Range. The country is beautiful and full of streams waiting to be fished. Take a 3-weight fly rod, a pouch full of bead-head nymphs and black gnats, a few cans of bug spray, and you’ll be ready take in some amazing landscapes while you lose count of the fish you catch.
5) Rainbow Trout: Bristol Bay
Bristol Bay gets a lot of its attention for killer salmon fishing, but for me personally, the thought of peeling out rainbows, fat on freshly-laid salmon eggs is much more alluring. You won’t find a better place to do it. Because these fisheries are remote—like many places in Alaska—your best bet is to book a guide/charter service. There are plenty of options available with a wide range of lodging. Go ahead and stock up on those egg patterns and get ready to live the fly fisherman’s dream.
6) Steelhead: Southeast AK
For a certain faction of the fishing community, steelhead might as well be the only fish on the planet. Those diehards are in luck, because there is fantastic steelhead fishing to be had in several regions. The best is primarily in the panhandle of southeast Alaska. These rainbows, beefed up from life in the saltwater, will put your skills and tackle to the test. The fishing is often at its best during the early spring months, while many of the other waters in Alaska remain frozen. There are a lot of options ranging from DIY through fully guided, but either way, you’re going to have a good time.
7) King Salmon: Kenai River
If there’s a single fish that Alaska is known for, it’s the Chinook or “King” salmon. A good portion of the folks dreaming of fishing Alaska have this fish in mind. I also don’t have to tell you the first spot that comes to mind for this is the Kenai River. Although salmon fisheries have struggled in recent years, there’s still big ones to be had. If you’d rather spend more time fishing and less time jockeying with the crowds for your spot on the river, do your homework and search out some of the smaller, lesser known hidey-holes that still hold kings.
8) Coho Salmon: Kodiak Island
Kings get all the credit, but the award for most spirited salmon goes to the Coho or “Silvers.” They are significantly smaller but fight like a fish twice their weight, and have been known to break a rod or two. One Mecca of silver fishing is Kodiak Island. Seeing the island is worth the trip itself, but hit the run right, and you’ll be digging in the hotel ice machine after a day of fishing. There are several road-accessible rivers that have good runs, but if you really want to treat yourself, grab a charter out to a more remote river, where your only competition is the largest land predator on earth.
9) Lake Trout: Brooks Range
Although I wouldn’t consider it to have the best lake trout fishing in the world, there are still monsters lurking in the depths of lakes here that seldom see a fishing line. In fact, there are a lot of square miles of water in Alaska that hold lakers, but given a choice, it would be hard not to pick the Brooks Mountain Range. Charter a flight into any number of remote lakes, right after the ice starts melting away from the shores (usually late June or early July), and you will be set to see some true water predators in action. Especially as the ice begins to go, Lake trout begin to cruise the shallow open water along the shore, feeding voraciously.
10) Arctic Char: North Slope and Northern Brooks Range
If float trips and brilliantly colored fish are your cup of tea, then you need to go farther north. Most rivers draining north out of the Brooks Range and into the Arctic Ocean are full of ocean run char in late summer/early fall. Realistically, only one of these rivers has any kind of road access, so a fly out float trip is your best option. They offer fantastic fishing for both the spinning and fly rod crowds, and as with many places, the scenery will be tough to beat.