Kenai, Kasilof & Russian River Fish Runs
When is the best time to fish for salmon in Alaska? The best time to fish Alaska's top rivers are:
Kenai River Chinook Salmon:
June 1 - June 16
July 11 - July 31
Kenai River Sockeye Salmon:
July 11 - August 19
Russian River Sockeye Salmon:
June 14 - July 8
July 28 - Aug 24
Copper River Sockeye Salmon:
May 24 - July 15
Nushagak River Chinook Salmon:
June 14 - June 23
Nushagak River Sockeye Salmon:
June 19 - June 24
July 3 - July 13
Nushagak River Coho Salmon:
July 30, Aug 7, Aug 14
Deshka River Chinook Salmon:
June 2 - June 25
Anchor River Chinook Salmon:
June 5 - June 20
Ninilchik River Chinook Salmon:
June 14 - July 26
Kenai River, Russian River, Kasilof River fish run timing can be found below. If you want even more details around how we arrive at the dates above check out our Alaska Fish Counts analysis which covers even more of the rivers in the Alaska.
Kenai, Kasilof & Russian River Fish Run Details
Each species of salmon comes up the river at a unique time. As you can see from the chart below, every month has some type of fishing going on in Alaska. Fresh water fishing in the winter months, while sometimes cold and forbidding, bring a focus to resident species of trout that include Dolly Varden, Steelhead, Northern Pike, and trophy size Rainbow.
Venturing into the salt waters of Alaska's oceans and inlets brings the opportunity to target King Salmon, Rockfish, and amazing Halibut.
The legendary salmon runs of the Kenai Peninsula are some of the most amazing runs anywhere in the world. and if you want to catch some of these great fish you need to show up when they do.
While so many different descriptions only show extremely generic "bad, good, better, best" type fishing by month (like the fish chart shown below) we'll dig in and show you some tools to further pinpoint the best type of fishing available during your trip to Alaska.
May through September is one of the most popular times to visit Alaska. It also coincides with the annual salmon migrations and is one of the most spectacular times to fish anywhere, anytime in the world. During this period All 5 salmon species make their way up Alaska's rivers and tributaries to the fertile spawning grounds.
The following charts show the fish counts from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. They provide an excellent picture of how the seasons stack up from year to year. To explore this information on your own and even get daily updates, fishing reports, tides, marine weather and more - download the Alaska FishTopia App.
Kenai River King Salmon Run Timing
The King Salmon return on the Kenai River is actually two very distinct salmon runs. They are classified as the Early King Salmon run and the Late King Salmon Run.
The early run is May 15 - June 30 and the late run is July 1 - August 15 although King Salmon ends by regulation on July 31st at midnight.
These two runs are managed by Alaska Department of Fish & Game as truly independent runs with separate escapement goals for each run.
From the graphs on the right you can see the 3 year running average (2017 - 2019) of King Salmon Fish Counts as well as the 3 year average comparing the run to the escapement goals set by ADF&G
Kenai River Sockeye Salmon Run Timing
The Kenai River Sockeye Salmon run is one of the largest salmon runs in the entire state and world.
These are really powerful fish and when you find yourself on one and they start to use the current along with their power against you the fight is on!
The red line represent the 3 year average for 2017-2019 and the black line is the 2019 specific run. We're showing this because the sockeye run for 2019 was absolutely incredible. The escapement goal was achieved extremely early in the run allowing ADF&G to liberalize the fishery and and allow anglers to catch 6 per day instead of the usual 3.
Notice that we had many days where more than 75,000 fish came up the river and several days of nearly 100,000 fish.
Kasilof River Sockeye Salmon Run Timing
The Kasilof River is often overshadowed by the reputation of the Kenai River. Located just 12 miles south from Soldotna, towards Homer, the Kasilof river has a great run of both Sockeye Salmon and King Salmon.
The river is quite a bit smaller than the Kenai. Even though the total number of fish that come up the Kasilof is about 5 times less than the Kenai River, because of it's small size, the quality of fishing is about the same.
Due to the shallow nature of the river this is a drift boat only river creating a very picturesque, quiet, and relaxing day of fishing.
Like the other charts, the red line is showing the 3 year average (2017-2019) and the black line shows what happened specifically in 2019 for comparison.
Russian River Sockeye Salmon Run Timing
The Russian River is one of the tributaries flowing into the Kenai River just below the town of Cooper Landing on the Upper Kenai River. The first run of sockeye that enter the Kenai River between May 15 and June 30 are headed for this and other tributaries of the Kenai River.
This means there are actually two opportunities to catch these sockeye, once on the Kenai and once again on the Russian River but most anglers choose to target them at the Russian where it's more productive.
This fishery is managed as two independent runs by ADF&G which is why you can see two different escapement chart lines.
2019 was an amazing year with ADF&G raising the limit to 9 sockeye per person per day!
Planning Your Fishing Around the Salmon Run Timing
Alaska has the most extensive fish management plan of any place in the world. There are more than 100 streams & species combinations of fish that are actively managed through manually counting methods such as weirs & fish bridges to advance in river sonar.
By looking historically at this data we can develop a very good picture of when we can expect the fish to return each year during their salmon migration. We can figure out the best rivers to fish, how many fish we expect there to be, and which ones we expect to be there. In addition, by knowing a few things about how fast the fish are moving up the rivers (between 1 & 3 mph) we can also start to make estimates on where we can find them.
All of the fishcounts that are discussed here are courtesy of an app called Alaska FishTopia which provides a lot more information than just fish counts. At just $1.99 annually this is a great app for helping you to plan your Alaska fishing trip and keeping track of all things Alaska Fishing while your visiting or throughout the year. It will even help you figure out what entertainment and excellent events & food options are available wherever you might be in the state. Definitely worth checking out.