Fishing Alaska

Find pristine waters and exceptional vistas in America’s 49th state



by Alex Pulaski

Photo Courtesy: Sergius Hannan

Whether tapping into an ice-covered lake for trout in February or mooching for king salmon in the north Pacific in June, visitors to Alaska encounter some of the world’s most abundant fishing grounds.

The massive 49th state of Alaska is home to 3 million lakes, 12,000 rivers and more than 600 fish species. Avid and beginning anglers can choose from more than 500 licensed fishing guides and resorts, from the Arctic to the interior to the southeast in and around Ketchikan, which bills itself as the Salmon Capital of the World.

The daunting numbers only begin to tell Alaska’s sport fishing story. It’s a place of magnificent beauty, and the memories a visitor brings home of humpback whales, bald eagles, arctic terns and marauding sea lions are likely to rival the stories of the one that got away.

A Fishing Tradition

Photo Courtesy Coldwater, Brad Conley

During the past 15 years, I’ve cast a line into Alaskan waters on a half-dozen different fishing outings, from half-day guided excursions as part of cruise sailings to multi-day experiences at dedicated angling resorts. Most recently, I was trolling for winter king salmon this January in Homer, a 35-minute flight from Anchorage.

I’d always considered Alaska as a summer fishing destination—it is, mostly­—but charming Homer has gained a reputation for winter kings, and hosts the West Coast’s largest fishing tournament every March. Winter visitors experience the stirring beauty of the snow-draped Kenai Mountains, but without the warm-weather recreation crowds.

“This is my favorite time of year,” Captain Garrett Lambert told me as he guided the 36-foot Sweet T out of Homer Harbor. “It’s the best way to experience Alaska without anyone else around.”

That electric sensation of spying the rod tip dive suddenly and hearing the sharp buzz of line playing out is likely to be recalled for months after the return home. Souvenirs from an Alaskan fishing vacation fill freezers and end up on dinner plates, again and again. They’re memories genuinely worth savoring.

Most of my Alaska fishing expeditions have revolved around salmon, and the Homer trip was no exception. My wife, Mica, tagged along this time, and on our first day not only landed two king salmon, but the two biggest ones of the trip. Winter kings run smaller than their summer counterparts—in the 8- to 16-pound range—and don’t generally fight as strongly as the summer kings. But Mica had her biggest one on the rod for a good 10 minutes as it circled around and under the boat trying to escape, in vain.

Across two days we landed five kings, a Pacific cod and a black rockfish. Homer is renowned for big halibut, but they were out of season. We also caught a pollock, which ended up as bait in the crab pot, left overnight 300 feet deep. The next day, as Lambert and crewman Brandon Kosht hoisted the trap onto the deck, Lambert dryly announced, “We did okay.” The trap was brimming with big, salmon-pink Tanner crabs.

A bubbling hot tub waited for us after the adventure, with its views of Kachemak Bay from our deck at the cozy Driftwood Inn. See

Other Accessible Alaskan Fishing Destinations


Known as the Salmon Capital of the World, Ketchikan is home to 28 licensed fishing charters. Outings are available right from town, convenient for cruise-ship visitors.


This scenic coastal city in southeast Alaska is an angler’s dream, renowned for huge halibut and world-class salmon fishing.


The state’s capital just north of Sitka has more than 20 charter fishing boats and two local fishing lodges.


Chum salmon are so plentiful here that this scenic town attracts the largest concentration of bald eagles in the United States each November. Guides also offer fly-out excursions to remote rivers and lakes.


The state’s most populous city, in south-central Alaska, is home to a handful of fishing guides.

Matanuska-Susitna Valley

The Mat-Su Valley, just north of Anchorage, has numerous rivers and streams with all five Pacific salmon species, plus native rainbow trout and char. The area is home to many guides, along with fly-out lodges. 

Photo Courtesy Sergius Hannan 


An Alaskan fishing trip can dovetail with seeing the Aurora Borealis, cross-country skiing or skimming above the scenic Misty Fjords in a floatplane, depending on the season.

Ice fishing and Northern Lights in Fairbanks

A wood-burning stove keeps the cabin toasty as you drop lines through holes cut into a frozen lake, with the wonder of the Aurora Borealis just outside. Stay: The marvelous Borealis Basecamp is about 25 miles north of the city, but a world away.

Cross-country skiing in Anchorage

The giant Kincaid Park is home to excellent groomed trails. Stay: Hotel Captain Cook was built in 1965 in the aftermath of the devastating 1964 earthquake. Its 546 rooms continue to set an Alaskan standard for luxury.

Exploring the Misty Fjords from Ketchikan

Various operators offer tours by sea or floatplane. Stay: Cape Fox Lodge has views of the waterfront, an onsite restaurant and beautiful displays on Native culture.