Updated: Oct 19, 2020
A fishing trip to Alaska is considered a must do bucket list vacation! For some, that once-in-a-lifetime experience turns into a yearly trip. It's that awesome! Yet, with over 350 different Alaska fishing lodges, charters, and guides located throughout the state, you have too many options to choose from. Unless you did multiple trips year after year like it's your job, the possibilities are endless. Finding the best time to fish Alaska, the best location, and then picking the fishing lodge or guide to go with is extremely important. We are hopeful that this will help guide you in the right direction to finding your perfect Alaska fishing trip!
Alaska Fishing Trips: A Guide to the Best Alaska Fishing Trip
1. Saltwater or Freshwater: Saltwater
2. Best Time to Fish Alaska: May - September
3. Best Location: Sitka, Alaska
4. Guide or Self Guided: Guided
5. Multi Day Trips or Day Charters: Multi Day Trips
6. Lodge or Remote Fish Camp: Lodge
7. The People: Family owned & operated
8. Accessibility: Commercial Airport
9. Boats & Fishing Techniques
10. Planning: Book Early
1. Should you pick a saltwater or freshwater Alaska fishing trip?
Sport fishing on any venue can be fun and relaxing. Freshwater fishing is super fun and we know lots of people who absolutely love being out in the nature fishing in the freshwater. We are not here to discourage you from doing that, but in our opinion, saltwater fishing offers you a more authentic Alaskan experience. Here's why:
Saltwater Fishing Offers More Variety
Depending on the location you choose in Alaska, and we will help you with that here soon, you get a chance at targeting up to 5-6 different species on every fishing day. Ranging from salmon to lingcod, the ocean just has more fish swimming beneath you. Along with the different fish you catch, you also get to experience various fishing techniques and different fishing locations.
Saltwater Fishing Offers High Quality Fish to Take Home
Saltwater fishing in Alaska offers anglers the chance of taking home some of the best tasting fish in the world. Salmon and halibut are some of the best and healthiest fish to eat! When you catch one, you're going to want to take that home to share with your family and friends. Other fish commonly caught and kept to take back home include lingcod, black cod, and various species of rockfish.
Saltwater Fishing is More Exciting
Saltwater fishing gives you the chance to reel in a 100+ pound halibut or a 50 inch ling cod, see a pod of killer whales, or witness a breaching humpback whale. Being out on a boat on the Last Frontier is a magical experience!
Saltwater or Freshwater: Pick a Saltwater Alaska Fishing Trip!
2. Timing: When should you plan for your saltwater fishing trip to Alaska?
Saltwater fishing in Alaska is offered seasonally and for most fishing lodges in Alaska, trips are available during the months of May to September. The fishing is seasonal due to the late spring and summer run patterns of salmon. Large schools of salmon arrive at the near coastal and inland waters of Alaska to feed in the late spring and throughout the summer months depending on the type of salmon.
The months of May through September offers you the best chance to catch salmon and bottom fish depending on which fishing port you decide to go with. Halibut, lingcod, black cod, rockfish and other bottom dwelling fish are consistent throughout the entire year. It's the saltwater salmon fishing that peaks during the summer months that makes it the best time to come to Alaska.
Large schools of adult salmon frenzy feed in the saltwater throughout the summer months before leaving upstream to their respective rivers to spawn in mid to late summer or early to mid fall depending on the type of salmon.
Best Time to Fish in Alaska: May, June, July, August, or September
3. Location: Where is the Best Saltwater Fishing in Alaska?
Most anglers searching for a saltwater fishing trip to Alaska are interested in catching salmon and halibut. Finding a location that consistently catches both on every fishing day is important. Finding a location that offers premier salmon/halibut fishing, but also offers anglers the opportunity to catch black cod, lingcod, rockfish and sharks is when you have found the winner!
Understanding the Migratory Pattern of Salmon
Juvenile salmon leave the freshwater at a young age and travel out to the open ocean to feed and get big before returning back to their respective river to spawn. Several factors play a role in the salmon run, the biggest ones being oceanic currents and the presence of baitfish to feed on. Schools of salmon swim down current feeding on plankton, krill, herring, and needlefish along their way. Some regions are more favorable than others.
The location of Southeast Alaska in relation to the Gulf of Alaska makes this location the best for salmon fishing. The combination of favorable ocean currents pushing salmon to the coast off Southeast Alaska along with a high abundance of baitfish makes this place unbeatable; in the center of the return of ocean feeding salmon.
Open Ocean Fishing
The open ocean has the highest abundance and variety of baitfish for fish to feed and grow. Fishing locations that provide quick access to the open ocean will always have the highest and most consistent catch rates for all species. The natural configuration of Southeast Alaska in relation to the Gulf of Alaska is super favorable for fishing due to the close proximity to the open ocean. Finding a fishing port that offers accessibility to the open saltwater is an important part in your selection process.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) uses data from sport fishing to create catch rate reports. Harvested per angler-hour of targeted effort, or HPUE, is what the ADF&G has come up with to depict catch rates. The higher the number for HPUE equals higher catch rates.
The ADF&G has only made catch rate data (HPUE) available for fishing ports in Southeast Alaska. We will be looking at the most recent catch rates for the last 5 years (2014-2018) for King salmon, Silver Salmon, Halibut, and Rockfish for all major ports in Southeast Alaska.
Alaska King (Chinook) Salmon Fishing
The most sought after of all the salmon because they are the biggest, the best sport fighting fish Alaska has to offer, and has the highest oil content! The largest on record is a whopping 126 pound King salmon taken in fish trap back in 1949. The largest sport King salmon caught was 97 pounds (1986). King salmon needs to be on your list of species to catch in your lifetime. If there ever was a bucket list fish to catch in Alaska, it would be the King Salmon! Most anglers who get a taste of the fight, keep coming back year after year for that same feeling.
Location: Where is the best saltwater King (Chinook) salmon fishing in Alaska?
The only way to figure out the location with the best saltwater King salmon fishing is to take a look at the most recent catch rates available.
Sitka, Alaska has the highest saltwater catch rates of King salmon on average throughout all of Southeast Alaska. Learn more about the best time to fish Sitka, Alaska.
Timing: When is the best time to saltwater fish for King (Chinook) salmon in Sitka, Alaska?
In general, May and June is the best time to come get the thrill of reeling in a monster King salmon. This is true for two reasons. One being that May and June have higher catch rates, and the other being that regulations typically change mid season (typically July 1) for King salmon in Southeast Alaska.
Let's take a closer look at the King salmon regulations over the past 5 years.
King Salmon (non-resident) regulations: May & June
2017-2019: 1 per person per day, 3 annual
2015-2016: 2 per person per day, 6 annual
King Salmon (non-resident) regulations: July, August & September
2018-2019: 1 per person per day, 1 annual (emergency closure August 1-15, '19)
2017: 1 per person per day, 3 annual (emergency closure August 10-Sept)
2015-2016: 1 per person per day, 6 annual
Regulations allow anglers to keep more in May & June. Combine that with higher catch rates, and you can see why May & June is a better time to come fish Sitka if King salmon is high your list of species to catch.
Best month: June
Best week: 6/18-6/24
Best 3 week stretch: 6/11-7/1
Alaska Silver (Coho) Salmon Fishing
Very sporty fish to catch while mooching with some acrobatic skills! A redder meat than King salmon, but still a lot of oil content. Great to catch and eat! Made up for in size by the quantity you can catch per day.
The saltwater run for Silver salmon is later than King salmon. Silver salmon start coming in schools to the near coastal waters in early - mid July and stay until to early - mid September. Throughout the summer months, the Silver salmon are frenzy feeding; growing by about 1 pound per week!
Location: Where is the best saltwater Silver (Coho) salmon fishing in Alaska?
Sitka, Alaska has the highest saltwater catch rates of Silver salmon on average throughout all of Southeast Alaska.
Timing: When is the best time to saltwater fish for Silver (Coho) salmon in Sitka, Alaska?
In general, the months of July, August, and September is the best time to come catch some Silver salmon. Unlike King salmon, the regulations for Silver salmon have not fluctuated over the years and we don't foresee it changing anytime soon. Here are the regulations over the last 5 years.
Silver Salmon regulations: May - September
2015-2019: 6 per person per day (no annual limit)
Best month: August
Best week: 8/27-9/2
Best 3 week stretches: 7/23-8/12 & 8/20-9/9
Alaska Halibut Fishing
Halibut is typically very high on all angler's wish lists! Halibut are a great tasting white meat, a bottom dwelling fish found on flat bottoms near structure. Halibut can grow as big as a "barn door" with the sport fishing record being an astounding 459 pounds.
Understanding Halibut Regulations
Halibut is regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a federal agency. The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) approves catch limits for Pacific halibut each year for several regulatory areas in Alaska. They have divided Alaska up into sectors for their halibut regulations. We are only going to focus on Area 2C (Southeast Alaska), and just touch on Area 3A (Southcentral Alaska).
Location: Where is the best halibut fishing in Alaska?
This is where it gets tricky due to the different sectors (Area 2C which is Southeast Alaska and Area 3A which is Southcentral Alaska) but we are going to do our best to simplify it. We've already covered that Southeast Alaska has the best salmon fishing. And we understand that halibut is super important too. You travel to Alaska to catch both!
Area 2C (Southeast Alaska) Halibut Catch Rates
Let's take a look at the most recent catch rates for the last 5 years (2014-2018) for halibut in Southeast Alaska.
Prince of Wales comes in first, with Sitka coming in second.
Area 2C (Southeast Alaska) Halibut Regulations 2019
One halibut per person per day (no annual limit)
Reverse slot limit: Less than/equal to 38 inches (~25 lbs) or greater than/equal to 80 inches (~275 lbs)
Halibut: Weight matters
In Area 2C, you can only catch 1 halibut per person per day and for the most part we are targeting halibut under the lower end of the reverse slot limit. In 2019 for example, that meant we were targeting halibut 38 inches (~25 lbs) or less. Getting close to that 38 inch mark is important to maximize the poundage of halibut you take home. We consider anything over 32 inches and 38 inches or less a keeper.
With the regulation of halibut being only one, I think it's important to point out that most fishing ports in Area 2C have pretty good halibut fishing. Fishing ports with better access to the open ocean (Prince of Wales, Sitka) will typically be better and more consistent.
Area 3A (Southcentral Alaska) Halibut Regulations 2019
Two halibut per person per day (4 annual limit)
Size restrictions: One halibut must be no more than 28 inches (~9 lbs), and one halibut any size
Random closures: may not catch/retain on any Wednesday and 5 Tuesdays in 2019
The ADF&G does not report average catch rates (HPUE data) for Southcentral Alaska. But they do report number of fish catch caught and average weights for subareas. Here's the most recent one.
Area 2C vs Area 3A
Area 2C: Average weight all sectors = 12.76 lbs (no annual limit)
Area 3A: Average weight all sectors = 14.55 lbs (4 fish annual limit)
There's not that much of difference in average weight to justify leaving the best saltwater salmon grounds (Southeast Alaska) to find a bigger halibut. Remember, you come to Alaska to catch both!
Alaska Lingcod Fishing
A bottom dwelling fish hanging around rocky structure, near rockfish. Jurassic park looking but don't let that prehistoric look fool you, they are fun to catch and very tasty.
Location: Where is the best lingcod fishing in Alaska?
Most saltwater fishing locations in Alaska will have pretty good lingcod fishing. The ADF&G doesn't make catch rates readily available. Plus it would be tough to analyze as lingcod are typically caught as bycatch while rock fishing or while halibut fishing. The hard part is not catching one, but catching one that you are allowed to keep.
2019 Lingcod Non-resident Regulations (Southeast Alaska)
Daily Limit: 1 Ling Cod per person
Annual Limit: 2 per person (one of which is 30-35 inches and other is >55 inches)
Size: 30-35 inches or 55 inches and longer
Peak Time: May - September
Very deepwater species, 700-3000 ft of water. Not necessarily very sporty to catch as electric reels are commonly used to target these species. But made up for in taste- some say the best tasting fish Alaska has to offer. Nicknamed butterfish for a reason. Trust us, it's still a lot of fun!
Location: Where is the best Black Cod (Sablefish) fishing in Alaska?
Black cod are most densely located off the the slope of the continental shelf, very deep water. Finding an accessible location that you can take by boat out to the continental shelf is the tough part. Sitka is located in a unique position in that it is the closest fishing port to the continental shelf. If the ocean weather is fair, Sitka is by far the best location for deep sea black cod fishing.
Blackcod (Sablefish) Nonresident Regulations 2019
4 per person per day, 8 annual
Peak timing: May - September
Rockfish are categorized as non-pelagic (bottom dwelling) and pelagic (suspended throughout the water column).
Consists of the Black, Dusky, Yellowtail, Widow, Blue & Dark Rockfish. Very sporty to catch on light tackle.
Pelagic Rockfish Nonresident Regulations 2019
3 per person per day
Peak timing: May - September
Consists of the Quillback, Silvergray, Copper, Tiger, Yelloweye, China, & Shortraker rockfish.
Non-Pelagic Rockfish Nonresident Regulations
1 per person per day (1 Yelloweye per year)
Season: May - September
Deepwater rockfish, found in depths of 600-1200 ft of water typically. Largest of the Alaskan rockfish. Very similar looking to the yelloweye rockfish.
Season: May - September
Salmon sharks, sometimes described as a mini great white due to appearance similarities, can grow to over 10 feet long and in excess of 660 pounds. An apex predator, the salmon shark feeds on salmon, squid, sablefish, herring and pollock; eating about 8% of their weight in food each day.
Peak Season: August - September
4. Should I do a guided Alaska fishing trip or a self guided trip?
A self guided fishing trip does have benefits. The regulations for halibut on a self guided trip (non charter) change, anglers are allowed to keep two halibut per person per day (no size restrictions). All other fish regulations are the same. Another is that it is most likely cheaper, depending on how you plan your trip.
In our opinion, these two benefits do not outweigh the benefits of a guided trip. Here's why you should plan a guided Alaska fishing trip:
Charter Boats are Bigger, Faster and Better
The technology of boats are advancing at a rapid pace and charter boats (typically) stay current with the times. The standard Sitka, Alaska charter fishing boat is 30-32' long with a walk-around cabin, large heated cabin, and a lot of horse power. Bigger boats allow you the space to reel in lots of fish as your closest friends, business partners, or family members do the same. Faster boats allow you to fish a variety of spots on every fishing day, or change locations quickly to find a more productive fishing spot.
Alaska Fishing Guides and Deckhands
Alaska fishing guides do this for living, on the water everyday during the summer time. They know where the fish are biting, understand the techniques needed to maximize their clients catch, and know when to switch locations to find the best possible fishing spot.
The presence of a knowledgeable, personable, and experienced guide and deckhand is what makes a fishing trip to Alaska special! There are several reasons people come back year after year, one of those being the personal connection created with guides and deckhands.
Please note, not all guides/lodges have a deckhand - this is an important question to ask prior to booking a trip!
Enjoying the Alaskan Experience
Take a guided fishing trip so you can focus on what really matters on an Alaska fishing trip - enjoying the natural beauty of the Last Frontier, reeling in fish, and spending quality time with your family and friends.
Do you want to travel all the way to Alaska and work super hard to catch fish?
5. Multi Day Fishing Trip or a Day Trip?
I'm sure when you do your research you will end up stumbling upon the price of day charters and think that's the way to go. Do yourself a favor and make it worth your while by booking a multi day fishing trip. A multi day trip gives you the opportunity for more- see more of Alaska, catch more fish, and experience more!
Multi day Alaska fishing trips give anglers of all levels the full experience. You will be spending multiple days (up to 30 hours of ocean time for a 3 day trip) on the water catching fish you have never seen before. You will see marine wildlife, rugged landscape, snowcapped mountains, and a large variety of birds.
All fish in Alaska have a daily bag limit, and a lot of them also have an annual limit. For example, King salmon had a daily limit of 1 ('17-'19) and an annual of limit of 3 (May & June '17-'19) for non-residents fishing in Southeast Alaska. Therefore it's beneficial to you to book a 3-5 day trip to maximize your chance to tag all your King Salmon for the year.
A 4-6 hour fishing in Alaska is a waste of your time (for the most part). We have done a lot of short 4-6 hour trips in the past and it's basically a boat ride out to the closest "fishing" spot in town and you may catch fish but you most likely will not. Please, do not waste your time or money with a short half day trip.
Our lodge offers a variety of saltwater fishing adventure packages:
2 Days Fishing | 3 Nights Lodging
3 Days Fishing | 4 Nights Lodging (most popular)
4 Days Fishing | 5 Nights Lodging
5 Days Fishing | 6 Nights Lodging
All fishing packages include:
Transportation - Airport pick-up & drop-off, & boat transfers
Up to 10 hours on the ocean per fishing day (dock to dock)
Experienced fishing guide & deckhand on a 30 ft. walk-around sport fishing vessel
High-quality rain-gear, rods, reels, bait & tackle
All fish retained will be properly cared for iced, vacuum sealed, frozen, & boxed
Fish processing expenses - up to 50 lb. of fish per person
Oceanfront room(s) at the Cascade Creek Inn (double occupancy per room)
Access to our newly renovated lobby, bar, & dining area at the Cascade Creek Inn
All meals by our in-house chef, snacks, & appetizers on the fishing days
Not included in the fishing package:
Alaska fishing license and King Salmon Stamp
Meals on non-fishing days
Alcohol (we are within walking distance of a 24 hour liquor/grocery store)
Fish processing over 50 lb. per person ($3/lb after 50 lbs)
All local taxes
6. Lodge, Guide only, or Remote Fish Camp?
You now know that Sitka, Alaska should be your destination for your multi day fishing adventure due to the amazing variety of fish you can catch on every fishing day. It's time to pick the outfit to go with. You will have plenty of options to pick from. Most lodges in Sitka offer similar packages and price per person, and the fish catching is pretty consistent throughout the fleet.
Booking a package with an established lodge is the way to go here. Fishing lodges in Sitka invest lots of money in boats, experienced and reliable guides, accommodations, and staff to make sure you have an awesome trip. You get all the benefits of using a guide, but also have several staff members behind the scenes working to make sure your trip is as hassle free and memorable as possible.
Oceanside Accommodations are a Bonus
Cascade Creek Inn sits on the shores of Sitka Channel and features expansive views of the North Pacific Ocean. Each one of our ten bright and spacious guest rooms features your own private balcony overlooking the water and our famous volcano, Mt. Edgecumbe.
Cascade Creek Inn & Charters is owned and operated by the Kraft family. The Krafts have lived and fished in Sitka for over thirty years. We love going above and beyond to make our guests feel right at home.
Electric Reels for Deep Sea Fishing
Not all the boats in Sitka have the ability to go out to 2000 ft of water to target Black Cod (Sablefish). If that is something your group is interested in doing, be sure to inquire if the boats provide those. We offer 4 electric reels per boat.
7. The People
Anyone who has taken a vacation understands that the people guiding the tour mean everything. This is especially true about a guided fishing trip!
Personable Guided & Deckhands
You will be spending the majority of your trip with the fishing crew. For a 3 days fishing trip, that's approximately 30 hours (10 hours per day) of time with the guide and deckhand. Most lodges will provide you with an experienced guide. Do yourself a favor by inquiring if the boat provides a deckhand.
Most guides are good at putting clients on fish to catch, it's not the hardest thing to do in Sitka with our high catch rates! Maybe that will be your judgement of a good trip. But keep in mind, we are in the service industry and guides should bend over backwards to make sure you have a good trip. The guides local knowledge of the area, personality, attitude, and experience are all super important. Most guests don't have an idea of who they will get as a guide. That's why most guests who have fished Sitka before typically keep booking back with the same lodge and request the same guide year after year. Even though the fish catching amongst the various lodges are pretty comparable, it's a trust thing.
Read some of our reviews about our fishing crew:
"The highlight of our trip was of course the fishing. Captain Tyler put us on Silvers everyday even in rough seas. We had a wonderful deckhand named Caleb that made sure he catered to our every need including making delicious sandwiches made to order. We had an epic 2nd day of fishing that had us limiting out on Silvers and Halibut by 1:00. You cannot go wrong by booking with Cascade Creek Inn & Charters."
"The fishing was AMAZING. We spent 2 days (they are FULL days) out fishing for salmon and halibut. We went with Captain Tyler. He and his deckhand were great guides for our family of intermediate fishermen. We caught lots of Coho and our limit of Halibut, and a few other species we could keep."
"The boats are great and our Captain (Nathan) and deckhand (Dayton) were simply awesome to be with. Top notch. Great Experience!"
You won't find better "people" than owners of Cascade Creek Inn & Charters, Richard & Caryn Kraft.
Read some of our reviews about our lodge and owners:
"The family run business is extremely clean and very welcoming to guests, they make you feel like family, and really connect with their customers."
"We can not say enough good things about the entire staff at Cascade Creek. The Kraft family is amazing and run their business with great pride. They all strive to make the Sitka experience memorable and pay close attention to details...the fishing, food, conversations, and the cleanliness of the lodge! Cascade Creek is a fine run operation and the Kraft family is willing to make it a memorable experience, and will even give you the shirt off their backs (literally)!"
-Meyhoff group (Tripadvisor)
8. Accessibility: Commercial Airport
Sitka, Alaska has a commercial airport with Alaska Airlines flying year round and Delta Airlines flying during the summer months. Search for 'SIT'. This gives you plenty of options to choose from and competitive pricing.
All major fishing ports don't have commercial airports. Guests looking at fishing at lodges in Prince of Wales Island or Pelican need to fly to a commercial airport (Ketchikan or Juneau) and then take a float plane to and from the lodge. Not necessarily all bad as it adds to the overall Alaskan experience, but it will cost you extra - up to $500 per person round trip.
Why not just fish Sitka due to the best all around catch rates in Alaska and is the most accessible by most standards. If a float plane ride truly interests you and your group, stay an extra day and schedule one for that off day in Sitka!
9. The Boats & Salmon Fishing Techniques
Sitka, Alaska Fishing Boats
The "Sitka standard" for a charter fishing vessel is a 29-32' aluminum sportfisher, with a 360 degree walk around cabin, and twin outboard engines. The walk around cabin is essential for fishing 4-6 anglers, especially when mooching for salmon. Our lodge runs two 30' aluminum walk around sport fishers.
Sitka Salmon Fishing
The two most popular fishing techniques used to catch salmon are mooching and trolling. Both are very effective, but are quite different in their methods.
Mooching for Salmon
If you are interested in the most hands-on method of fishing in Alaska, mooching for salmon would be it! While utilizing the mooching method appropriately, all anglers fish for salmon with their own rod and reel; and can continue fishing even when another angler has one on the line! This method is most effective when large schools of salmon are in the area, as anglers work their baits up and down the water column.
Trolling for Salmon
Trolling with electric downriggers is another effective way to catch salmon. We typically troll with flashers and artificial bait with downriggers to keep the bait at a desired depth. You have a "fish on" when the line releases off the clip. This method is most effective when the salmon fishing is slower or you have less anglers on board.
Effectively Utilizing Both Methods
A lot of lodges around Sitka effectively fish for salmon either by trolling or mooching, but not many have the option to do both. At our lodge, we give the guests the option to do either. And if one method isn't working to the group's or captain's expectations, we always have the option to try the other.
10. Planning: Book Early
All vacations are more convenient if you plan ahead and book your trip of a lifetime early. Airline prices are cheaper the further in advance you book. Prime fishing dates fill up quickly. Try to get your trip booked before January.
Large Groups get Discounts
Groups are great for everyone involved. You get to share the catch of your life with your family, friends, and/or coworkers. Larger groups get the boat to themselves and some nice discounts.
Sitka, Alaska: The Crown Jewel of the Pacific
"The panorama of sea, island, and mountain, which holds Sitka, Alaska, as a jewel in its setting, is one of the most beautiful of those which surround the cities of the world. Toward the sea from the peninsula on which Sitka is situated stretches an expanse of waters, studded with forest-clad islands which break the swell of the Pacific that foams and tumbles on the outer barriers. To the westward Mount Edgecumbe lifts its perfect cone, its summit truncated by the old crater whose fires have been dead for centuries; to the northward Harbor peak lifts its signal to mariners; the Sisters, with a gleam of snow and ice among their pinnacles, lie in the distance of Indian River; to the east is the arrowhead of Mount Verstovia; the glaciers glisten beyond; and the sweep of mist-clad mountains, in their softness, beyond the bay to the southeast completes the circle... To those who have really known and loved Sitka, there is no place on earth to compare."
-C.L. Andrews in The Story of Sitka