There are five kinds of Pacific salmon in the state of Alaska and along the road system, all of which are present in varying degrees of abundance according to species and location, these being king (chinook), red (sockeye), pink (humpback), chum (dog), and silver (coho) salmon. It is a remarkable family of fish, their numbers sometimes staggering to the mind and distribution no less incredible as they appear in most any type and size of water from shallow coastal streams to glacial rivers and remote headwaters a thousand miles or more from sea.


King Salmon

kingCommon Name: Chinook
General Timing: May into August
Typical Size: 15 to 40 pounds, up to 70 pounds
State/World Record: 97 pounds, 4 ounces
Best Areas: Rivers, streams, and saltwater
Preferred Methods: Spin/bait-casting, fly-fishing
Standard Gear: Heavy rod/reel; 20- to 30-pound test
Top Tackle: Lures, flies, and bait

King salmon – or chinook – is the largest species of the Pacific salmon family, known to attain weights of over 100 pounds. Regularly tipping scales upward of 30 to 40 pounds or more, kings are a very formidable opponent for any angler. It is the king that signals the official start of the fishing season in Alaska.

Springtime is synonymous with the arrival of early-run king salmon in May with most areas producing salmon by June, which is regarded as the best month overall for this species. A few rivers also support late runs that will extend the season through July and even into August. Saltwater aficionados report outstanding catches early in the season (May and June) with year-round opportunities for immature feeder kings.

Despite being the least numerous of all salmon species, kings are regarded as the most sought-after quarry of all anglers. Action can be excellent in many locations, the drainages of Kenai Peninsula, Susitna Valley, and Copper Valley being of particular interest. All three of these areas have something special to offer in terms of king fishing. The peninsula is known for its coastal stream and saltwater opportunities for chrome salmon in the prime of their life, while the Susitna area has, on average, larger fish. Copper Valley is the least utilized by anglers looking for kings but nonetheless has some awesome fishing.


Red Salmon

redCommon Name: Sockeye
General Timing: June into September
Typical Size: 4 to 10 pounds, up to 14 pounds
State Record: 16 pounds, 0 ounces
Best Areas: Rivers and streams
Preferred Methods: Spin-casting and fly-fishing
Standard Gear: Medium rod/reel; 8- to 17-pound test
Top Tackle: Flies and bait

Red salmon – or sockeye – are reputed to be, pound for pound, the hardest fighting species of salmon. Also, their sheer abundance and exceptional value as a food has helped make the red the most popular salmon in the state.

Generally a summer visitor to Alaska’s roadside waters, entering popular fisheries anytime between June and September with most drainages seeing peak returns in July and August. As is the case with other salmon species, some areas experience more than one run of fish during a season. Early runs reach full strength in June while the late runs appear in July and August. A few locations even have salmon available into September.

Anglers targeting reds in rivers and streams report phenomenal catch rates in several of the larger fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Copper Valley. Overall, the red is not as widely distributed as other species, owing largely to the fact that these fish prefer waters with connecting lakes for reproductive purposes. Runoff streams in general do not have worthwhile fishing for reds. Yet, what these salmon lack in distribution they make up for in numbers. The Kenai River for example, a major red producer on the Kenai Peninsula, may in some years receive in the order of 1 million or more salmon, the fish swarming throughout the drainage resulting in outstanding action.


Pink Salmon

pinkCommon Name: Humpback
General Timing: July and August
Typical Size: 2 to 6 pounds, up to 9 pounds
State Record: 13 pounds, 7 ounces
Best Areas: Rivers, streams, and saltwater
Preferred Methods: Spin/bait-casting and fly-fishing
Standard Gear: Light rod/reel; 4- to 8-pound test
Top Tackle: Lures, flies, and bait

Pink salmon – or humpback – are the most abundant of all salmon species, often clogging certain coastal streams during the spawning runs, creating the easiest fishing there is with fish-on-every-cast action common. Typically, runs are heaviest on even-numbered years in southcentral Alaska waters with a few areas being better on odd.

The pink is a summer-run fish throughout the majority of Alaska’s roadside rivers and streams, showing up in July and August with peak abundance from mid-July to early August. Probably exhibiting the greatest contraction in run timing of any salmon, appearances are typically fairly brief yet overwhelming. Early runs, peaking in July, are most common throughout Southcentral Alaska with late runs (August peak) only being the norm in certain locations on the Kenai Peninsula and in Prince William Sound.

Superb action await anglers trying their luck at the mouth of clearwater drainages of the Susitna Valley, in the Anchorage area, Matanuska Valley, and most all coastal streams on the Kenai Peninsula. The marine fisheries of Prince William Sound and southern Kenai Peninsula harbor outstanding pink salmon fishing. Largest runs occur at Port Valdez (known as the Pink Salmon Capitol of the World) with fish numbering in the tens of millions, and the Kenai River that also has a run totaling in the millions.


Chum Salmon

chumCommon Name: Dog
General Timing: July into September
Typical Size: 6 to 12 pounds, up to 17 pounds
State Record: 32 pounds, 0 ounces
Best Areas: Rivers, streams, and saltwater
Preferred Methods: Spin/bait-casting and fly-fishing
Standard Gear: Medium rod/reel; 10- to 17-pound test
Top Tackle: Lures, flies, and bait

Chum salmon – or dog – are more known for their deep-sounding, bulldog-style tug-of-war than aerial antics so common with reds and silvers. They are recognized as the second largest salmon species and known to reach 35 pounds.

Like pinks, chum salmon are typically summer-run fish in Alaska’s coastal roadside rivers and streams, showing up during July and August and peaking in numbers at the split. Late-arriving chums are less common with peak abundance the latter part of August. Adjacent marine waters may see fish a little earlier, toward the latter part of June, with most appearing in July and continuing through August and even into September in some locations.

Currently there are no major species-specific fisheries for chums but several locations do offer excellent catch rates, such as in various clearwater drainages in the Susitna Valley. Additionally, good runs of chum salmon may be found in waters of the Matanuska Valley, the Anchorage area, Turnagain Arm, and parts of the Kenai Peninsula. Prince William Sound also support productive populations of these fish. As with pinks, the lower reach of drainages, including the intertidal sections and mouths, are tops for hitting chrome chums.


Silver Salmon

silverCommon Name: Coho
General Timing: July into October
Typical Size: 5 to 12 pounds, up to 18 pounds
State Record: 26 pounds, 0 ounces
Best Areas: Rivers, streams, and saltwater
Preferred Methods: Spin/bait-casting and fly-fishing
Standard Gear: Medium rod/reel; 10- to 17-pound test
Top Tackle: Lures, flies, and bait

Silver salmon – or coho – is the third largest species of salmon behind kings and chums, although throughout most of the state (and particularly on the road system) it is often second in size. Their tenacity for artificial lures and flies, great abundance and distribution, and long period of availability has earned the silver top marks with anglers and rivals even the mighty king salmon in popularity.

Being the last salmon runs of the brief Alaska open water season, silvers are a late summer and fall fish. The majority of rivers and streams support early runs that peak sometime during the month of August with only a very few locations hosting late runs in September and October. Saltwater opportunities are typically a mid to late summer affair, anglers experiencing the best of it during July offshore and August inshore.

Distribution and abundance of silver salmon provide anglers with ample opportunities throughout the range, excellent fishing being the norm in many locations. The coastal and central fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula, Susitna Valley drainages, marine hot spots in Prince William Sound, and select streams of Matanuska Valley and the Anchorage area are all known as exceptional silver salmon waters. There are significant fisheries in both salt- and freshwater.