Kenai fishing often means one thing- Sockeye salmon! In two main runs, thousands and thousands of Sockeye salmon swim from the Pacific Ocean into the Cook Inlet and up the Kenai River to spawn. In 2022 ADFG counted over 1.5 million salmon (of various species) making their way up the Kenai River. The first run occurs in late May and early June. The second run occurs in early July and can last well into August.
Sockeye salmon are one of the smaller species of Pacific salmon. They grow to an average of 18-35 inches in length and weigh 4-10 pounds, though much larger record fish have been caught. Like all species of Pacific salmon, Sockeye live in the ocean, and return to freshwater to spawn. As they return to freshwater and make their way upriver, their bodies turn from silver to a vivid red, which is where they get their common name, “red” salmon.
Sockeye salmon are prized for their firm, brilliant orange-red flesh. The quality of the meat from these wild caught Alaska salmon is unparalleled and highly sought after, making Kenai fishing so popular among Alaskans and visitors alike.
Kenai fishing for Sockeye is a fun challenge for anglers. Sockeye salmon are less aggressive than other species and are therefore more reluctant to take a lure. They travel 2-5 feet off the river shoreline, so fishermen stand on the shore (in some places on accessible, constructed platforms) rather than in boats. Short, methodical swings drop your hook upriver then draw it through the current with the goal of hooking a Sockeye in the corner of the mouth. (If the fish is hooked outside of the mouth, it must be released. Snagging salmon is illegal.)
When you sign up for guided Kenai fishing, the guides provide you with the tackle and gear you’ll need and take you to river access points to get at those reds. ADFG regulations for harvesting Sockeye on the Kenai River are: 16 inches or longer: 3 per day, 6 in possession in combination. Less than 16 inches: 10 per day, 10 in possession in combination. It is important to follow these regulations carefully and your guide will be sure that you do.
With the enormous abundance of Sockeye, once you get the hang of it, it is easy to reach the daily limits and take home those delicious, prized, brilliant-orange Sockeye fillets. When the timing is right, guests at Big Dan’s can even fish Sockeye from their Riverfront lodge– it’s always a memorable experience.