If they can be caught on a fly we want to catch them! If we fish for them they’re  listed here; with some, what we hope is, interesting information.

Here’s the link to (ADF&G) Alaska Dept of Fish & Game’s list of Alaskan Fish. They include all species alphabetically, so we’ll link specific species within the text below.

A friend of our, Bill Hauser, published a book called “Fishes of the Last Frontier”. Bill’s a retired fish biologist with a slant towards writing. Check it out.



 Sockeye Salmon: commonly called Reds by locals.  As in – “The Reds are in! Let’s go fishing tonight after work!”

Sockeyes average six to eight pounds and, when fresh from the ocean, have blue/green backs and silver sides; with possibly some fine pepper-like speckling, but no large spots. As they start their spawning cycle their bodies will turn brick to bright red with olive green heads. It’s this color phase that the common name “Reds” come from. Prized for their firm orange meat when fresh, once a fish as started to darken up, the meat softens considerably. Females will maintain their general streamlined body shape through out spawning, but not so with males. They will develop a humped back, hooked jaw, pronounced teeth, and nasty attitude towards other males. Once they’re past their prime, sockeyes should not be a targeted species. When you do hook spawning fish (and you will) land them as fast as possible and get them back into the water; they’re making babies.

Sockeye are the primary salmon that return to Southcentral’s Kenai river drainage, and starting in mid-June,  thousands of residents and visitors alike flock to the rivers they pass through on their spawning journey. The Kenai River system has two distinct runs of sockeye salmon. The first run is almost exclusively headed for the Russian River drainage, specifically the upper tributaries, where they spawn. Once they enter the Kenai River from the ocean they blaze 75 miles upriver to get to the Russian River.  It’s not unusual to find sea lice on early run fish caught above Jim’s Landing  at RM 70; they can move that fast. The upper Kenai River and the Russian River are the primary focus of the angling effort for this first run of fish. Opening day is always crazy, and if the Reds are in, it’s a big friendly circus. Plan on crowds… everywhere. But in particular in the favorite holes, which are usually easy to get to, or traditionally hold a lot of fish. This will be Combat Fishing at it’s finest. Hitting the run as early as possible is one of the keys to success. Once there’s aton of angling pressure, these fish are  even more motivated than normal to get pass the “gauntlet” and into their protected spawning waters.

The second run starts in early July, and these fish fill the entire Kenai watershed. The second run historically peaks in mid-July in the Lower Kenai River, and late July through the Russian River weir (at the Lower Lake). You can catch sockeyes through out the drainage on the second run. The challenge is that as the season progresses you find fewer and fewer fresh fish surrounded by more and more spawning fish. It’s a diminishing return type of fishing. Once again, the earlier in the run you can find fish the better odds you have for success.

ADF&G maintains fish count stations in several locations in Alaska. Both the Russian River and Lower Kenai have current year and historical counts. For first run Sockeyes go to the Russian River page, for second run fish you’ll want to watch both the Lower Kenai and the Russian River pages, adding the appropriate number of days to the Lower Kenai run that allow for fish to come up past Skilak Lake.

Sockeyes are not known for striking flies. The longer they are in freshwater, and into their spawning cycle, the less likely you are to get one interested in your fly. It’s this tendency of theirs not to bite, with the fact that they will sit in the river in plain sight, that has developed a unique method of fishing for them (actually, any salmon under the same circumstances). A heavy rod, a heavy leader (or line), a large bucktail-style streamer, and a large amount of lead (18″ above the fly); all cast quarter upstream and allowed to drift/pulled down through the fish. Or at least through the hole they are holding in. All with the hopes of the fly ending up in the salmon’s mouth. It’s a bit more sophisticated than that; but basically, that’s the technique most people think they need to use to catch sockeyes. We disagree…

It is our humble opinion that sockeye will take, or “pick up”,  flies; especially small, sparse patterns. Your best chance for active fish is finding them as fresh from the ocean as possible. Good fly fishing may last a couple of weeks during the first part of the first run. After that, the fish start to stale and become very tight lipped; to say nothing of the fact that they’ve been hammered by 10,000 anglers by then. We use a dead drift, nymph-style presentation. Sockeyes are grazers in the ocean, with their primary food source being amphipods and copepods, which are relatively inactive. As such Sockeyes do not seem to have much interest in chasing their dinner, or your fly. We use long leaders, with just enough weight to get the fly to the fish’s level. Drift it fairly close to the fish and try not to jerk set your hook, you’ll be bumping into a lot of fins and tails once you get the hang of floating your fly though a group of fish. If you think you have a fish on, simply raise the rod until your line tightens. If you feel a tug back, similar to a trout, or better yet, can see a fish’s head move towards you then set. If you feel any thing else you’re likely on a pectoral fin, or worst yet the dorsal fin, or the very, very worst the tail. Relax your rod and see if your hook will slide off the fish. You can not believe the power a fresh sockeye has when hooked in the top or butt section of its body.

7 and 8 weights are the most popular fly rods to use for sockeyes. That said, my brother uses a 9wt because he hates to lose fish. The rod weight is not so much about the casting, usually you can get by with fairly short casts, it’s the backbone you want once you hook a fish. Fresh sockeyes have a lot of power, and the first minute or two of your battle will usually determine the winner. After the initial hook set, let the fish run. Usually they will not go very far, especially in smaller water. I keep my drag set light while fishing and crank it down after the fish has made it’s initial run. Fight the fish with consistent lateral pressure. Try not to pull up. A high rod looks good in the movies, but will work against you on the steam. Let the fish have a second, or even a third run. Point the rod at them and let them pull against your drag. As soon as they stop, go back to the lateral pressure. It won’t take long and you’ll feel them start to tire and slide towards you. Hopefully, you’ll have a buddy that can help with a net. If not, look for an area where you can beach the fish once it’s tired enough to control. Maintaining the lateral pressure the entire time, gain speed as you head your fish up onto dry ground. Expect some excited flopping as soon as it realizes it’s no longer in water. Now’s the time for your priest, bonker, or even (my personal favorite) a rock. Stun the fish enough to put it out.

Once stunned, get a rope (stringer) on the fish and cut it’s gills on both sides, at the bottom. It may sound a bit cruel, but you want the fish to bleed out. The heart will continue to beat for a very short time after the fish is stunned. This action pumps the blood out of the meat, the reason you’ve killed the fish to begin with. Once I learned to do this, the quality of my fillets went way up.