What's the secret to catching fish in Alaska?

Posted: Saturday, February 02, 2008

When you're in the world's greatest fishing country, it's tempting to expect huge fish everywhere, all the time. But Alaskan salmon are migratory species with very specific peak seasons.

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In general, king salmon fishing begins in the spring and ends by mid-summer; sockeye, pink and chum salmon follow. Silver salmon fishing happens during the late summer and fall. Halibut, other bottom fish, including lingcod and rockfish, and freshwater Dolly Varden trout are here during the summer, but change locations throughout the season. For visitors apt to say, "We've been in Alaska five minutes already. Where's the fish?" fishing pros give this triple P advice: "Patience and persistence pay."

If you have limited time, hire a professional guide to pick the best option on any given day, and Juneau offers dozens of excellent fishing guide services. For do-it-yourselfers, local professionals recommend fishing deep. Go at least 90 to 100 feet, and fish tide rips using whole herring. Look for clouds of baitfish on the depth finder.

Big fish demand stout tackle. Most regulars use at least 25-pound test line for kings and 20-pound line for cohos. Halibut demand pool-cue-thick rods with 100-pound line.

Avid fishermen also say it's good to experiment. Record water temperatures, air temperature, depth and tides when you catch a fish. Experiment with hoochies and bait. Silvers like a faster speed, and herring that rolls more, while kings like a slow roll.

While most Juneau anglers fish by boat, shore-bound anglers can try their luck at the public fishing pier on Channel Drive, beside the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, or Montana Creek off Kaxdigoowu Heen Dei Trail.

During late summer, fly fishermen can find excellent shoreline action from Auke Bay to Berners Bay for pink and silver salmon. Salmon runs in any of the creeks can be incredible, offering world-class flyfishing action.

Sportfishing licenses and king salmon stamps can be purchased from licensed vendors or online at www.admin.adfg.state.ak.us/license.

The five species of salmon

Five species of Pacific salmon return from the sea to Alaska's streams each summer to complete their life cycle.

As they transform physically, they battle currents, leap waterfalls, evade anglers and bears until they reach the gravel spawning beds where they were born. They spawn, and then, the cycle completed, they die.


King salmon, the largest of the five species, are Alaska's state fish. Kings, also called chinook, average 20 to 40 pounds, but can exceed 90. Valued as both a food and sport fish, kings range from California to the Chukchi Sea in Alaska and are the first to spawn each year.

In the sea, kings have steel blue backs and heads and silver sides. Large black spots adorn their dorsal fins, backs and sides. They have a distinctive black gum lines and remain at sea up to seven years. When entering fresh water, they stop eating, turn a bright red-purple and males develop a hooked snout.


Coho or silver salmon have a light-gray gum line, black spots only on the upper lobe of the tail and average 8 to 12 pounds, though some grow to 36 pounds. Great for poaching or grilling, coho are the last of the salmon to spawn and the most acrobatic of the Pacific salmon. They range from Southeast Alaska to the Chukchi Sea.


Sockeye or red salmon are sleek as polished silver in the ocean and are the number one salmon for smoking. Sockeye range from the Arctic to California, and average 4 to 8 pounds, with the state record at 16 pounds.

Also called reds, spawning sockeye turn a brilliant scarlet color, their heads olive, the males hump-backed with hooked jaws and sharp teeth.


Pink, humpback or humpy salmon also range from northern California to the Arctic. Pinks are an important commercial fish for canned salmon. Spawning males develop a pronounced hump on their backs and turn brown with a white belly. Females turn olive green with dusky bars. They're the smallest of the Pacific salmon, averaging 3 to 4 pounds.


Chum salmon average 7 to 18 pounds and weigh as much as 32 pounds. Spawning males develop green and purple vertical bars, a hooked snout and dog-like teeth. Seldom used for food, chums provide much of the commercial salmon caviar. Alaska Natives feed these salmon to their dog teams.

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