Alaska Salmon Fishing - Tackle, Gear, and Technique

The Kenai River is one of the most famous rivers in the world. With the world record king salmon being caught here in May of 1985, millions of king, sockeye, and silver salmon making their yearly migrations, and easy access from Anchorage, the Kenai River is one of the most popular fishing destinations in the state. The genetics of both the king salmon and the sockeye salmon found in the Kenai River make them the largest of both of those species. Combined with a later summer and fall Silver salmon run the Kenai River is simply in a league of it's own.

After you've checked out this overview make sure to check out the pages going into great detail on how we specifically target king salmon, silver salmon, and how we fish the Kenai River in general.

Kevin With Big Silver.jpg

Using a combination of techniques it is quite possible to target each specific type of Alaskan Salmon. This guide will discuss some of the tackle and techniques to target each individual species of salmon. We'll discuss the general techniques you will definitely see on the river. Keep in mind though, every experienced angler has their own special way of doing things so don't be afraid to experiment.


When it comes to catching a specific type of salmon the #1 factor in determining what you will catch will be fishing at the appropriate time of the year.  All species of salmon are migrating from May to September but there is without a doubt, a "peak" that occurs for each species of fish.  For most species of salmon there is usually an "early run" in the spring (May-June) and a late rune (July-August).  Understanding when each of these migrations peaks and fishing during those times is absolutely the most important rule when targeting a fish.  Trying to catch a Coho Salmon on the Kenai river in June for example is going to be pretty tough as they really don't run until late August and September.  If you want to target King Salmon the 3rd and 4th weeks of July on the Kenai river is definitely the time to target kings.  You can find a great deal more about salmon migration timings from our website or the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Pink Salmon Fishing Tackle & Technique 

Pink Salmon are the most abundant species of Alaska's salmon. They are also the easiest to catch. Certainly a good part of this is their sheer numbers but another reason is these fish pretty much strike at anything put in front of them.


For good and for bad they run only on even numbed years. Why good and bad? Well the good is there is loads and loads of action. Sometimes the action can get so good you can cast out 3 or 4 times and if you don't get something, you start to wonder what's wrong. When is the last time you went fishing and was surprised when every 3rd or 4th cast didn't line a fish? That's how good it can get. Kids love it! The bad is that you might be here in an odd numbered year.  At any rate, Alaskans consider the pink salmon a nuisance and a pest as they try and target the more preferred species of sockeye, silver, and king. So in odd years, the fishing is still great, you just won’t be catching a lot of Pink Salmon.

Blue Fox Vibrax Lure
Blue Fox Nickel Plate Pixie Lure

Pixie Lure

Blue Fox Vibrax

Silver Salmon Fishing Tackle & Technique

Kwik Fish K-15 Lure

A K-15KwikFish 

Kiwkfish K-15 Lure With Sardine Wrap

A KwikFish K-15 With a Sardine Wrap

Silver salmon are certainly one of the prized river catches. Typically the 2nd largest of th salmon species they can reach approximately 20 pounds and make for excellent table fare. 


These fish typically run in the shallows and are most easily targeted from a boat with a plug.  A plug is the generic name for any kind of lure that has a built in action to it. One of the most popular plugs for salmon fishing is made by Luhr-Jensen which was recently purchased by Rapala called the Kwikfish K-15 and K-16. The K-15 and K16 differ only in size.


Silvers are typically late august and September fish when anchoring in position is allowed on the river.  Find your fishing hole, anchor up fairly close to the shorline, and ideally using a salmon rod and casting reel set the Kwikfish 60 feet behind the boat into the current.  The river current will catch the Kwikfish and begin to make it "wobble" in the river as well as dive down. The lure does not need to diver down far as most silvers are caught near the shoreline in 6 to 10 feet of water.  


When allowed an additional favorite technique is to use bait on the lure as well. A herring or sardine wrap is a common addition to add scent to improve the chances of a strike.  Things to keep in mind is that the Kwikfish will not work in water that is not moving at a sufficient speed and the lure must run true and straight.  The lure actually needs to be tuned in order to travel in a straight fashion and not veering left or right. 

King Salmon Fishing Tackle & Technique

The elusive king salmon is caught using pretty much the exact same lures and technique as the silver salmon.  There are just a couple of differences.  The first is that unlike silver salmon the king salmon swim in the deep part and center of the river. This is one of the reasons why a boat is nearly a requirement for king salmon fishing.


The Kwikfish does have some dive capabilty but in order to get it to dive down to the 10, 20, 30, or even 40 feet of depth to get to the bottom of the river additional tackle needs to be employed.  In this case one of the most common pieces of tackle is the "Jet Diver".  A 3 way swivel of some sort is simply connected between the Kwikfish and the rod. Beads are usually added to protect the knots to the swivel (and they add a little color and flare!) and bead chain is usually added to provide swivel to keep the line from twisting. To 3rd eyelet of the swivel we can now add the Jet Diver of appropriate size to take the Kwikfish down deeper into the water.


The final difference in targeting kings is that during the months of May through July when the kings are running it is illegal to anchor in a main causeway or in an area that would impede other fisherman. For this reason, back trolling is required. Backtrolling is simply using just enough power on the motor of the boat so that the boat slowly loses the battle against the current and drifts down stream.  Simply point the boat upstream and decrease the engine power until the boat is slowly drifting backwards. It takes a little practice to get used to steering the boat in this fashion and running a straight line through the fishing hole (while keeping separated from other boats as well) but with one person focused on driving the boat and the others focused on fishing with a little practice everyone will get the hang of it.

Jet Diver
Jet Diver
How to connect a Jet Diver
Jet Diver Connected To Rod
Line, Flossing for Sockeye Salmon on the Kenai River

Sockeye Salmon Fishing Tackle & Technique

How to rig a Kenai River Sockeye Lining Setup

Sockeye salmon are some of the most prized fish targeted by anglers.  These fish are sought after because they are really considered the supreme table fare because the meat is an attractive deep red, high in Omega-3's, and presents a wonderfully firm texture compared to the other species of salmon. However, for the inexperienced angler catching these fish can be a challenge. The primary reason is that it is incredibly difficult to get this salmon to strike a lure. Unlike the pink salmon which seem to strike at anything the sockeye salmon seem to strike at nothing - no matter how many times you try.


Sockeye salmon are typically caught in one of two methods.  The first is a net either in the ocean or through the dipnet fishery which is only open to Alaska residents. The other way is through a process that goes by a few different names: flossing, lining, plunking, and flipping are just a few. 


The technique of lining for sockeye is pretty straightforward but does require a little practice for it to become comfortable.  The tackle rigging is to simply put a weight on the fishing line about 6' - 8' up from the hook.  The hook can be a fly, piece of yarn, or anything that provides just a little bit of float (buoyancy) for the hook.  The hook is not casted out into the water but instead you simpy pull out as much line as you can manage between the length of your arms and the length of the rod and "flip" the weight and hook upstream at about a 45 degree angle. With the proper amount of weight you should feel the weight bouncing along the bottom of the river.  When the line is about 45 degrees downstream you pull swiftly pull the weight towards the shoreline.  


The idea behind this technique is that as the salmon are swimming upriver the fishing line finds its way into their mouth.  As the weight is being pulled to the shoreline, bringing the hook with it, the hook is then set in the mouth and it's "fish on!".  Something to note is that if the fish is not hooked near the mouth this is considered a foul snag and the fish must be released.  It's very impressive though how effective this technique works. The term "combat fishing" was coined to describe the scene where anglers are lined up shoulder to shoulder it seems all lining for sockeye. It may seem overcrowded but when the salmon are running there is plenty for everyone!

From boats, mountain bikes and RV rentals to full service guided adventures, lodging and customized trips, Alaska Boat Rental & Guide Service does it all. We invite to you explore what we do and give us a call to learn more