By. Andrew Scrivo
A question I get almost every time someone is beginning the process of planning their trip of a lifetime...
The answer is, when do you want to come? There are endless outdoor opportunities here in the Last Frontier and they happen 12 months out of the year. Because of the scope of this question then, I will limit my answer(s) to: "When is the best time to come fishing in Alaska?" Or even more specifically, when is the best time to come fish the mighty Kenai River, where we do most of our fishing.
Spring (Mid March-Early June): The fishing opportunities in the spring can be amazing. Drifting the low and slow skeleton of the mighty Kenai for BIG pre-spawn Kenai 'bows is an amazing experience few will ever have. With that though, you should know that the ambient temperatures will most likely range between 25-45 degrees that time of year and you may spend a bit of time knocking ice out of your eyelets. For the avid fisherman in one of DragonFly Fishing Guides' new custom drift boats though, this won't be as serious an issue with the built-in propane heaters and food warming "pizza" ovens. Let me tell you, there is nothing more satisfying than jumping in the boat and taking a few minutes to soak in the silent icy beauty that is a spring day on the Kenai while warming a little life back into those finger tips and sipping on a strong, hot coffee.
What the fish in spring lack in number they very often make up for in size this time of year. During one of our spring Kenai floats, the daily catch rate is slightly reduced due to low water temperatures and borderline dormant fish, but the average size of the rainbow trout and dolly varden that time of year is somewhere between 18-24 inches and the darkening colors of those pre-spawn rainbows can't be beat! If you want to take things slow, soak up the scenery and fish the Kenai, possibly alone, for huge pre-spawn colored rainbows, a spring fishing experience is what you're looking for.
Summer (Mid June-Aug):Of course, the most popular time to visit Alaska is summer. There is something about those 19+ hour days, salmon runs, wildflowers and bear sightings that keep visitors and locals alike flocking to the bountiful waters of our great state. With all 5 species of Pacific Salmon (Sockeye:Red, Pink:Humpy, Chum:Dog, Chinook:King and Coho:Silver) returning to fresh waters for the spawn, it is easy to see why some people fish exclusively in summer. Four of these species have major spawning events on the Kenai and here is what you need to know about them.
Spawning events on the Kenai happen beginning with the first run of Kings in mid May- early June and continue the whole way through...sheesh...there are silvers spawning as I write this in late January.
The Kings begin entering the river sometime in mid May, but due to recent declines in numbers and current regulations they can only be fished for on the Kenai during the month of July. While some shy away from this fishery because it can be somewhat crowded, if you dream of catching behemoth salmon that can be 50+ pounds, you dream of a Kenai King.
I think it is fair to say that the fish that most people are concerned about in recent years in the Kenai is the Sockeye, or Red Salmon. The Reds come in two distinct runs (usually), with the peaks being on the 20th of June and the 20th of July, interestingly enough. Considered by many Alaskans as the best "eaters" of all 5 species and with generous limits of 3 or 6 per person, per day, these fish are also heavily targeted. But fear not, there is more than enough to go around.
Pink Salmon also run up the Kenai, but only on even numbered years and are most often caught and released by Alaskans. Contrary to popular belief though, a fresh salmon, meaning caught in or shortly after leaving the salt water, is delicious no matter the species and Pinks can make excellent table fare, especially when smoked.
The last, but certainly not least, spawners that enter the Kenai are the Silvers, or Coho. These ferocious feeders bring with them an incredible fight and feeding instinct that is a breath of fresh air after the sparsely feeding Sockeye of July. Tipping the scales at 10-15lbs, these fish are a force to be reckoned with especially on fly tackle! Arriving around the first week of August, Silvers can only be caught and kept until October 31st, but will be a constant presence in the waters until the spring. If you want to fill a freezer or perhaps just a "fish box" to carry on the plane home at the end of your trip, the summer is the time for you.
Fall (Mid Aug-Oct): As the summer wanes and the fish have done their spawning deed and begin to die, that my friends, is when the rainbows and dolly varden really begin to shine. For the serious trout angler this is without a doubt THE TIME. With the release of billions of eggs and millions of pounds of carcass flooding the waters, the trout and dollies go into a feeding frenzy that is somedays, well, indescribable. While the days grow slightly shorter, the crowds of summer depart and the temperatures again dip towards freezing (not a problem in DFG's heated boats) the fishing is just heating up!
Don't forget those Silvers mentioned above either. That's right, Coho make up a significant portion of the excellent fall fishing as well, always offering a killer fight and possibly a little grub for the table in the otherwise catch and release frenzy of fall.
For the hardy angler, wearing the right gear, the breathtaking colors of fall days, 50+ fish days and lessening crowds, may just be the best time to come to Alaska.
So my friends, I have supplied you with enough information to make your decision not easier, nor clearer, but almost impossible, because the experiences you will have fishing in Alaska will be more beautiful and different each time you return. See you on the water.
Oh, and then there is ice fishing, but that's a story for another day...