Visit Kenai, Alaska; Every year the Kenai River delivers tremendous runs of king, sockeye, pink and silver salmon.
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Kenai River OverviewThe Middle Kenai
The middle Kenai River is the longest of the three sections and flows from the outlet of Skilak Lake to the Sterling Highway Bridge. According to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources roughly 14% of the Kenai River’s guide services operate on this section of the river, making it the least utilized section of the River.
For a distance of about 10 miles from Skilak Lake to Naptowne Rapids there are a number of quality trout and salmon holes including Rainbow Alley, Super Hole, and Thompson’s Hole. The first four miles of the middle river flows within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge with the only access point for boats at the lower Skilak Lake landing. You can also utilize the put-in at Bing’s Landing and jet upriver. Portions of the river in this area can be up to 15 feet deep.
Downstream of the Naptowne Rapids is the Isaac Walton Park boat launch at the Moose River confluence in Sterling. Be aware that there are two areas closed to fishing in this section, Morgan’s Landing and Funny River.
The Kenai River delivers tremendous runs of king, sockeye, pink and silver salmon. Following these salmon are huge rainbow trout and Dolly Varden that feed off the salmon eggs released during spawning season. Most people know the world-record king salmon caught in freshwater was caught on the Kenai River. Weighing in at a whopping 97.4 pounds, the Kenai Peninsula has proven to be fertile ground for sportfishing.
Beyond the river there are the many lakes that dot the Kenai Peninsula containing grayling, pike and burbot. You can drive down the road a bit for a chance to land a barn door sized halibut. Lingcod and rockfish are also available and quite delicious as well as salmon in the saltwater, and some steelhead.
Whether you like to bait cast, fly fish or enjoy the adventures of deep-sea fishing the Kenai Peninsula is truly a fisherman’s paradise. And standing out even among all the amazing options, the Kenai River is a jewel, even with all the pressure and strain it receives. We’ve struggled with our king fishery in recent years, but it is a prolific and bountiful area that we all need to work towards maintaining.
The final 21 miles of the Kenai River is commonly referred to as the Lower Kenai. Starting at the Sterling Highway Bridge in the small town of Soldotna, the river repeatedly winds and bends but ultimately flows west-ward towards the town of Kenai to the point where it meets the saltwater of Cook Inlet. Due to the close proximity to these two small but modern towns, this section of the river is the most populated with many private residences, several RV parks and multiple launch sites located on the bank.
The final 12 miles of this section are inter-tidal and it is here that the bulk of the fishing pressure occurs during the busiest king salmon season, specifically the peak of the July late run. This fishing is serious business best done from a stable boat. The big fish, many obstacles and numerous boats necessitate a skilled operator, heavy tackle and much patience-but the reward can be big! It comes highly recommended to hire a guide for king fishing the lower river.
While the lower Kenai remains clean, calm and civil most of the year, especially early in the king season and during the fall Coho runs, if one is looking for a quiet, wilderness experience during July, the lower Kenai won’t be their best bet. After all, the pulses of fresh fish brought by the tides of the lower river make it a great spot to fish. Combine this fact with a July time frame that marks the arrival of the abundant late-run sockeye as well as the largest strain of Chinook on the planet, and it’s only natural that people travel the world to fish the lower river. Count on numerous boats, sometimes totaling in the hundreds, in close proximity during your July day on the lower river. However, the fishery operates in a remarkably civil way despite serious boat traffic and heavy pressure, and many anglers return year after year in their quest for the biggest salmon they’ll ever catch!
The Upper Kenai
The upper section of the Kenai River is world renown for its quality of trout, dollies, and fresh sockeye Salmon. The river starts near the peaceful town of Cooper Landing and quickly becomes class one rapids. It is the drift-only section of water on the Kenai. The public boat launch at the Kenai Lake outlet provides access to the upper stretches of the river. The river flows gently past various businesses in Cooper Landing before reaching its most famous tributary, the Russian River.
Just past the Russian River confluence is another boat launch with a ferry that takes anglers across the Kenai River to fertile fishing grounds. This can be shoulder to shoulder fishing during one of the two sockeye runs. From here to Jim’s Landing is some of the most picturesque scenery in Alaska containing exceptional Dolly Varden and trout opportunities.
The first 12 miles of the upper Kenai flows at a nice leisurely pace before being funneled through the Kenai Canyon. This two mile stretch is fast and provides enough whitewater to excite experienced floaters and kayakers. Experienced oarsman can find excellent fishing in this section of the river. After exiting Kenai Canyon the river flows at a gentler pace for about three miles before emptying into Skilak Lake. Fishing for king salmon is prohibited in the upper Kenai. Rainbow trout are catch and release only including in Skilak Lake within one half-mile of the river.