Kasilof River kings have a fierce fighting spirit and provide anglers with an exhilarating challenge on the water. Anglers flock to the Kenai Peninsula during the peak king salmon season, typically from May to July, for the chance to reel in these prized fish. The Kasilof River, situated near the immensely popular Kenai River, boasts salmon fishing opportunities that rival its renowned neighbor.
Kasilof River Kings This Spring
by Sean Smart
Kasilof River kings may very well be the most underrated fishery on the Kenai Peninsula. We’re used to hearing about the Kenai king, but how often do you hear about Kasilof kings? In the past, the Kasilof was just an afterthought, but now it is the go-to destination for king salmon fishing on the Kenai Peninsula and it’s just a hop, skip or jump from the Kenai. The Kasilof yields a great king fishery with both wild and hatchery Chinook present in the system during the month of June. Seasoned Kenai River fishing guides know the Kasilof well, and know that it extends salmon fishing opportunities for our fishing clients.
Nicknamed “The Ditch” among area guides, it is my first choice these days when targeting king salmon. The Kasilof is only about 20 minutes outside of the city of Soldotna, making it an easy addition to the itinerary. The first run shows up mid-to-late May and runs through mid-to-late June, bringing a mixture of wild and hatchery salmon. The hatchery kings, supplied by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, are produced from the early run wild fish returning to Crooked Creek.
Only wild fish are used to create smolt for the hatchery and these fish return to Crooked Creek annually via the Kasilof River. Hatcheries get a bad rap at times, but rest assured that these hatchery fish are as much like wild fish as they come. I have caught many over the years and they fight just as hard and taste just as good as their counterparts. Where I live on the Kenai Peninsula, many of us are thankful for this sustainable fishing resource.
As a fishing guide, I love rowing my drift boat and getting anglers hooked into a king. The early season is a “drift only” fishery on the lower section of the river which means no power boats as you would see on the lower section of the Kenai River. What a way to spend the day, floating the Kasilof, enjoying its beauty along with wildlife and king salmon fishing! Catching a king salmon is definitely a common “Bucket List” item for anglers coming to Alaska. Kasilof River kings fight hard, jump, and go on blistering runs while the person on the oars has to chase them down. It’s all hands on deck when a king is hooked and it’s a blast.
When is the best time to fish for Kasilof River King Salmon?
The busiest month on the Kenai Peninsula is undoubtedly July. Anglers often book their trips around the Kenai’s prolific sockeye salmon run. The Kenai River is a healthy and viable river, make no mistake. It holds plentiful stocks of red salmon, silver salmon, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char. It’s just no longer the place to chase Chinook for the time being.
July is a popular time for a reason. It’s the heat of the tourist season, but with all the hustle and bustle of the crowds it definitely makes me ask, “Why not beat the traffic and chase kings in June?” You can enjoy a relaxing and peaceful float down the Kasilof for one- or two days and tie into some king salmon during the first run. You’ll take home fresh salmon fillets and you’re in the perfect location to plan some saltwater bottomfishing for halibut and Pacific cod with Homer or Anchor Point nearby.
Relaxed Kasilof Vibes
Imagine enjoying Alaska in all its beauty without all the tourist traffic. You have more lodging options to choose from, and some places even offer lower lodging rates during late May and early June rather than their high-season rate for July. You can consider adding on some fly-out fishing for variety, or seek some additional adventure activities in the area.
So when exactly should you make plans to fish for Kasilof River king salmon? I recommend the last week of May into the first two- to three weeks of June. It’s reassuring we can still retain king salmon for clients, two a day for hatchery kings with no retention of wild fish. Be sure to check regulations before you fish. Both you and your guide should definitely be aware.
Tips for fishing Kings on the Kasilof
Your best chance for success is fishing from a drift boat with an experienced guide. If they are smart they will tell you the first two- to three weeks of June are the best. This is true as the run will peak at some point during this period. Fresh king salmon come in on every tide everyday during this part of June. Your success is directly connected to your guide’s knowledge of the river and the tide. June has tides favorable for salmon to enter the river, and most days you’ll end up fishing the tidal part of the river. Get ready for a hard fight, you’re so close to the ocean and these kings won’t give up easily! Often when you land these brutes you’ll notice sea lice towards the tail. This is evidence that your fish came into the Kasilof less than 24 hours prior to catching it.
As mentioned, during this first-run timing you’ll have an easier time finding lodging and booking other fishing excursions. Why not take the stress out of your fishing plans and hit the Kasilof in June? Between the hatchery fish returning and wild kings making their way back, you’ll find plenty of early season action.
The Kasilof opens for bait on May 16th most years depending on current regulations. With the added hatchery stock, the limit is generally two fish per person. In recent years there is no retention of wild kings. This is the beauty of the Kasilof, the Kenai River king restrictions don’t affect it. Most years the Kasilof opens with bait and the ability to harvest hatchery kings. It’s a safe bet to book a seasoned Kasilof River king fishing guide on this truly awesome fishery.
About the Author
Sean Smart guides clients on the Kasilof and Kenai rivers as the owner of Kenai River Recon. Sean’s a born and raised Alaskan who continues to make the Kenai Peninsula home with his family year round.
Find more Kasliof River kings, coho and Sockeye here.