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 an