kasilof river kings

Tide-fresh Kasilof kings are suckers for a sardine-wrapped plug. © Nigel Fox

Kasilof River Kings
Blog by Nigel Fox

Kasilof River Kings: The kickoff to the fishing season

Just 15 miles south of the world-famous Kenai River lays a hidden gem that may be a smaller river but has king-size stature. The Kasilof River is 17 miles long, running out of Tustumena Lake, dumping into the Cook Inlet. Being a smaller and less-famous stream then the Kenai River does not mean it is a lesser fishery. In fact, the Kasilof River kicks off the salmon season on the Kenai Peninsula for most of us.

The Kasilof River is separated into two sections to float and fish. The upper section starts at Tustumena Lake and ends at the Sterling Highway Bridge boat ramp. The Upper Kasilof is less busy, with swifter waters and runs through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. This section also has several gravel bars to fish sockeye (red) salmon starting at the end of June through the end of July and also supports healthy runs of coho (silver) salmon and steelhead later in the year. The lower section begins at the Sterling Highway boat ramp and flows into Cook Inlet with the Kasilof Cabins boat pull-out being the last place to take out. This section is really popular because of the Chinook (king) salmon fishing that takes place here and there are also a few places to fish early-run sockeye (red) salmon.

Upper Kasilof River

The upper Kasilof is often much less busy than the lower river. © Nigel Fox

The Kasilof River supports two distinct runs of kings. The first run starts mid-May and runs until about the end of June; the second run starts the first part of July and goes through the end of the month, with the season closing on the 31st. The first run of kings averages 15 to 25 pounds with some fish in the 30- to 40-pound range. This run is made up of mostly hatchery fish, but it does have wild fish also. Second-run kings are all wild and average 30-50 pounds with a few in the 60-pound category.

MORE: Browse blogs and articles from our friends at Alaska Drift Away Fishing

May 16th is the unofficial beginning of our salmon season here on the Kenai Peninsula. Of course you can catch king salmon prior to that on the Kenai River and in Cook Inlet, but the 16th of May is usually when bait becomes legal on the Kasilof River. Guides and private anglers start to show in greater numbers once they are allowed to fish bait. Of course, you can have some great days on the water without bait, but we all know king salmon are pretty tough to catch and it is always nice to get an upper hand when fishing for these crafty fish, especially in glacial water like the Kasilof.

The first run kings are our main focus here. Generally there is a two-fish limit per person, but that has changed over the years with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) releasing Emergency Orders (EOs) and changing regulations for a given year. Be sure to check the regulations and EOs before hitting the water.

king salmon

The Kasilof may be a short river, but it produces some nice kings, like this tidewater-caught buck. © Nigel Fox

Fishing from a drift boat, backtrolling and backbouncing either eggs with a Spin-n-Glo or a sardine-wrapped plug is your best bet for catching prized Kasilof king salmon. From my experience guiding clients on the Kasilof, backtrolling a sardine-wrapped Kwikfish through most of the runs and then backbouncing eggs on the tide has been a recipe for success. I generally re-work runs several times over, methodically rowing back up and trolling back down, picking a different slot each time through the run.

There is also great fishing from shore, which is accessed from the Crooked Creek State Recreation Site. This shore-access spot is popularly known as the People Hole. It’s a long, deep stretch where fresh kings come in and hold for a few days before heading up river. Shore anglers have luck drifting salmon roe under a float/bobber, or plunked or drifted on the bottom. I have also seen side planers with a wrapped plug do well and there have been many times when shore anglers have outfished the drift boat anglers.

If you are a local or visiting angler and you want to catch a prized king salmon, the Kasilof is the perfect river in which to do so. It might not boast world-record kings like its bigger brother, the Kenai River, but it is consistently productive. So the next time you are planning to fish somewhere on Kenai Peninsula in June or July, you should make this quiet little river a stop on your list. You will be pleasantly surprised.


Nigel Fox has been partners with Jeremy Anderson and Nick Ohlrich 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.