catch king salmon

A beautiful hatchery Kasilof king caught on float-and-bead setup.

Story and photos by Nigel Fox

Catch King Salmon

catch king salmon

Fisherman and moose hanging out on the river.

The two main rivers fished for king salmon on the Kenai Peninsula are the Kenai River and the Kasilof River. The lower Kenai River king salmon fishery has always been no bait and artificial lures only in June, but the Kasilof River is generally open for bait from May 16th through July 31st. A recurring problem that we are seeing throughout Alaska, especially on the Kenai Peninsula, is the constant changing of regulations by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) regarding the use of bait for king salmon.

catch king salmon

The author’s wife, Americana Fox, with an early run Kasilof king salmon.

What will generally happen on the Kasilof River is they will implement a no-bait, no-scent, artificial-lure-only order when the Kenai River closes to king salmon fishing, which has been the rule rather than the exception over the last several years. I am going to go over a few tactics to catch king salmon when bait/scent isn’t allowed and artificial lures are the only option. I will be mainly talking about the Kasilof River where I guide, but this applies on other streams throughout Alaska as well.

King Salmon Fishing

As a 20-plus-year Kenai and Kasilof River sportfishing guide/outfitter, I have become used to the no-bait, artificial-only rule on the Kasilof. I have had to become creative regarding how and where to fish certain parts of the river to produce king salmon for my clients. I am not going to disclose everything I have learned over the years, but I will get you pointed in the right direction so you can perhaps be more successful and less frustrated. One thing I like to point out is you need to be in the right mindset to be successful; you do not need bait to catch kings. They will bite baited and non-baited lures. Sure, it’s easier with bait or scents on your gear. But if bait isn’t allowed on the river you are fishing, kings will still bite artificial lures, for sure!

catch king salmon

Nigel and a client landing a king salmon on the Kasilof River.

Pick the right fishing spot

The first thing I like to figure out is where will there be less pressure on the river I am fishing. If you are fishing the same spots that everyone else is and have the same general setups it makes it very hard to catch kings. So, I prefer to fish areas where I am not competing with a bunch of other anglers. You still might have to fish with the crowds but having a few spots that don’t have a lot of gear running through them is more ideal.

Try Multiple Techniques

Second is technique, and what I mean by that is either backtrolling, float fishing, drifting gear, or casting some sort of lure. Have rods set up for multiple techniques so you can change techniques if one isn’t working. You can make several runs through a spot with the same method, then change it on the very next run through the same hole, which sometimes produces a bite. Even making a small change can make a big difference when everyone is using the same thing.

Time your fishing right

Waiting on an early morning Kasilof river tide for fresh king salmon.

Lastly, the timing of when and where to be in each spot is critical. This could take you a few times on the water to figure out and is generally the hardest thing to dial in, because it is changing from spot to spot and daily, due to changing conditions and the progression of tides. Certain times of the day in certain runs will produce bites. Some runs are better in the morning versus midday, late afternoon, or the evening. Every run has that perfect time of day to fish it and it becomes more apparent as the run goes on. Granted, early mornings and being the first few anglers through a run can be very productive, but aside from the morning bite, timing can be everything and makes or breaks your catching for the day.

catch king salmon

A diver and Spin-N-Glo setup with no bait produces a nice, early season king.

Stay persistent

King salmon fishing in general can be very frustrating because of how hard they are to catch. Not being able to use bait does not make it any easier. These are just a few general guidelines I like to follow when bait has been taken away for the season. Mixing it up among these few choices could make your trip down the river more productive and, in turn, more enjoyable. I have worked on practicing any technique I can to be more productive. Even if bait is open on the river you like to fish, trying a few of these techniques can be killer and can be applied for silver (coho) salmon fishing also.

Nigel Fox has been co-owner/guide at Alaska Drift Away Fishing for close to two decades. He is a lifelong Alaskan and has been fishing on the Kenai River since he was a young boy, and each year he learns more about the intricate world of catching trophy salmon and trout on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.


For more tips to help every angler catch king salmon and other fishing reading, check out the Fish Alaska blog archive.