Visit Kodiak, Alaska; nicknamed the Emerald Isle, Kodiak is one of the top places to fish salmon, halibut, lingcod, rock fish and more!
Kodiak Island was scraped into its present form by the massive glaciers of the Pleistocene Ice Age, which ended 11,000 years ago. The receding glaciers carved the fiord-like coast and deposited tons of rock around the island, creating a shallow water environment rich in marine life.
The fact that Kodiak Island is newly formed is visible as you explore. While the mountains don’t reach high elevations, the slopes are steep and the ridgelines sharp. On the beaches, the grains of sand are large and coarse. In the rivers the bedrock is angular, not rounded. Topsoil is very shallow and everything is rocky. The vegetation on the island is affected by this shallow topsoil: most of the plant life is thick low growing brush that is a beautiful emerald green color in the summer months, giving Kodiak its nickname, the Emerald Isle.
The native inhabitants of Kodiak are the Alutiiq. They called their home Kadyak or Kikhtak, translated this means “island.” Capt. James Cook first used the name “Kadiak” on October 20, 1778. The modern spelling, “Kodiak,” was later adopted because of popular usage.
From a fishing standpoint, Kodiak Island has it all—prolific salmon, halibut and rockfishing offshore and epic stream and lake action inland.
Fly to Kodiak, rent a car, get a room, get a fishing report while buyingyour license, buy some food at Safeway and go fishing for the day. Grab dinner at a local restaurant and talk the fish you caught today and where you want to go fishing tomorrow. A fishing trip to Kodiak can be that simple. In fact, for the do-it-yourself angler, Kodiak’s road system is one of the best-kept secrets on the planet.
Access to Kodiak Island is most readily accomplished by flying on ERA Alaska from Anchorage to Kodiak. The trip is about an hour long, and there is a plentiful schedule of daily flights. We have worked with ERA Alaska for a decade and appreciate the airline’s commitment to serving many fishing destinations throughout the state.
After arriving in the city of Kodiak, your next plane ride will take you to outlying destinations, such as the Karluk River or communities like Old Harbor. We recommend using Andrew Airways. We have flown with them all over the island, both on wheeled- and floatplanes, and have always appreciated their friendly attitudes, good pilots and excellent service. Flights are rarely longer than 30 minutes long and are filled with glorious views of mountains, bays and wildlife.
Beach Fishing for Pink Salmon
Pink Salmon arrive in large numbers in the estuaries of Chiniak Bay from late July through August. Running three to five pounds, they are the smallest salmon but what they lack in size they more than make up for in sheer numbers, plus they are aggressive biters. For this reason, they are a top choice for anglers wanting action and lots of it. If you’re thinking of a father-and-son type trip, you can’t go wrong with a pink salmon trip.
Along the road system, several classic estuaries exist with small creeks or delta channels furrowing a broad, gently sloping flat of sand or fine gravel. The mouth of the Olds River is one of these places.
On your first trip to a flat, follow the tide out and learn the topography. The water is really shallow so it’s not unusual to find yourself in two feet of water with the beach 50 yards away. Alaskan tides come in quick, so it’s good to know in advance where the nearest high ground is.
At low slack tide, salmon will be staging then venturing into the confines of the river channels as the tide comes in. Wade into position, put on a #4 Crazy Charlie-style fly in either chartreuse, pink or fuchsia and slowly strip it back. Very soon, you’ll likely be rewarded with a pull, a silver flash and good battle lightweight tackle.
The fishes’ behavior is definitely dependent on the tides. They’re very aggressive from low slack until two hours after high tide, then stop biting as the water starts to drain.
As the season progresses, chum salmon begin to show more and more. They are easy to recognize, even in bad light, because they cause a lot of commotion in the water, often jumping and launching themselves in a twisting, sideways lunge that is distinctly different from the clean jumps of the pinks and silvers.
If you’re going to target chums it’s recommended you switch to heavier tackle because they are large and play rough. Whenever you spot a chum within casting distance, cast about five feet off its bow. The idea is to get the fly roughly into the fish’s swimming lane, let it slowly sink and the fish will do the rest. Strikes are light. Chum fishing is challenging, and you’ll miss a lot more than you hook.
Dolly Varden Fishing
Kodiak Dollies average two to three pounds, great sport on 5-weight fly tackle. Larger specimens of six to seven pounds are taken each year. Kodiak Island’s rich estuarine habit is ideal for supporting a healthy Dolly Varden sport fishery and action can be fast.
People rarely travel to Alaska to fish for Dolly Varden exclusively but while you’re there it’s a great change of pace and lots of fun. When the tide changes and pink salmon stop biting, try chasing some colorful Dolly Varden. There’s 17 hours of daylight during the summer, which leaves plenty of time.
The American River is the most popular Dolly Varden stream on the road system because it’s usually loaded with Dollies. Access is good thanks to the Saltery River Road. A word of caution: Saltery River Road starts out looking okay and then gets bad fast. There’s really no reason to attempt to drive up it as the best pools and runs are within easy walking distance of the parking lot. The lower river meanders a little, so if you walk up the road until you see the river, you have plenty of gentle riffles, nice pools and undercut banks to cover. The underbrush between the road and the river can be thick, so it’s best to venture off the road only when the river is in sight.
This is a good place to mention that bear sightings are rare along the road system, but who wants to bust brush in Kodiak bear country? Not me! Once you’re on the water, the walking is easy provided you’re prepared to wade back and forth across the stream. For this reason, felt soles are recommended.
The Buskin River also offers excellent Dolly fishing between the main road in front of the airport up to nearby Buskin Lake. How’s that for easy access? Generally speaking, the Buskin River Dollies are a little larger than their cousins in the American River. The trade-off is they’re also more difficult to catch since the Buskin River is close to town it receives more fishing pressure.
In the summer months, mature Dolly Varden reenter freshwater streams to feed before spawning in the late fall. The primary food source at this time is young Dolly Varden and a great imitation is a size six olive Woolly Bugger naturally drifted along the bottom or swung across the current. Young Dollies are always present, taking three to four years before reaching the five-inch smolt size and migrating to sea.
In the fall, Dolly Varden often feed on drifting pink salmon eggs. To be really successful, “match the meat hatch” and give the Dollies exactly what they want. Glo-bugs are the most popular egg imitation fly but they are often two or three times bigger than the real thing. This is probably a reason plastic beads have become such a popular and effective egg imitation; it’s easy to get them in small sizes. The new micro-egg patterns are much closer to the actual size of real salmon eggs and Dolly Varden just can’t seem to let them pass by.
In the American and other streams, you don’t want to fish more than a mile above the tidewater. Above the coastal flats, the streams are fast, shallow, braided and sterile. All the good fishing water is within a mile of the beach.
Try to spot Dollies using polarized glasses before casting to them. The white stripes on their fins usually give them away. Spotting the Dollies first, then casting to them, produces much better success than blind casting.
Dolly Varden like to move around quite a bit. Yesterday’s hotspot could be dead today. They won’t be miles away, however. A move of a hundred feet to a few hundred yards will usually find them.
Big Silver Salmon
Kodiak is famous for its large silver salmon. Arriving in good numbers from September through early October, fishing is done very close to saltwater in shallow lakes like Buskin, Rose Tead and Kalsin Pond. Specimens are in prime shape; strong and full of fight, offering a strong appeal for the trophy angler.
The waters on Kodiak Island are shallow, averaging only 2 ½- to 5 feet deep. Stuck close to the surface, silvers are usually “showing” either by jumping or fining, making it easy to locate them. The combination of large schools of silver salmon jammed into shallow water makes for great fly-fishing. There’s no place in the Lower 48 quite like it.
Silvers love leech flies. Generally speaking, flies should sink head first to produce a light jigging motion on the retrieve. This is very important. However, if the fly is too heavy it sinks into the weeds. As mentioned before, the water is shallow. Flies tied with bead heads or bead chain eyes work well but patterns with lead dumbbell eyes are too heavy. Hot pink, fuchsia, purple and chartreuse are best tied on #1 to #4 size hooks.
Leaders tied with a stiff Mason leader material turn over big flies in windy conditions. A 10-foot leader tied with 20-, 16-, 12- and 10-pound tippet works very well.
It’s possible to wade to most of the best fishing along Kodiak’s road system. But, wading here takes some getting used to. The Katmai eruption of 1912 deposited eight to twelve inches of volcanic ash. On the lake bottom, it feels like sticky quicksand when you’re wading through it and does not want to let go! Make sure your wading boots are laced securely when you’re doing the Pasagshak shuffle.
While long casts are not necessary, on big water sometimes it is fun to see how far you can throw your fly. The double haul is a skill that will put, and keep, your fly in fish zone. To maintain angling efficiency, an excellent goal is to consistently fly cast fifty feet or more with three false casts or less.
Additionally, slow trolling in a float tube is a great way to cover water and pick off cruising salmon but this technique rarely produces fast fishing by itself. However, if you keep your eyes and ears open and when salmon jump or splash nearby, do your best to get your fly in front of them. Do this consistently and you’ll be rewarded.
In the fall, the water in the lakes averages 47 degrees. On the good side, this cold water keeps the salmon in a biting mood. On the bad side, your legs and feet can get really cold! Heavy polypro long johns plus 200-weight Polartec pants, liner socks and thick wool socks keep me warm. Neoprene booties are great to have while float tubing.
Kodiak Island is famous for its storms. Besides heavy rain, the wind can blow very hard when a front moves through, turning fly-casting into nightmare. However, the really bad weather that makes fishing impossible usually doesn’t last more than a day. A fast moving weather system moves out just as fast it moved in. This stirs up the fish and the day after is usually great fishing.
The best “heavy rain coming in sideways” rain gear is a two-layer affair with PVC or GORE-Tex on the outside and polyester fleece on the inside. Make sure your rain jacket is lightweight for freedom of movement with a hood and elastic cuffs.
Kings prowl Sitkalidak Strait all year, as feeder kings remain in the area’s baitfish-rich waters. May heralds the return of the big fish destined for other watersheds, as they venture near Old Harbor through feeding lanes. The largest Chinook of the year, fish in the 50- to 70-pound class, are traditionally caught in May and June, with quality fish available throughout the summer. It’s not uncommon for the largest fish of the year in all of Kodiak to be caught in Old Harbor.
In addition, anglers can readily find halibut, lingcod, true cod and rockfish of many species at different places throughout the fishing season. Silvers start returning in August, and a good day late in the month might yield all the species available.
Outside the main city of Kodiak, with its fishy and extensive road system, there are several outlying communities that serve as jumping off points for some of the most prolific and exciting adventures Alaska angling has to offer.
First up, the ancient village of Larsen Bay lays nestled in a stunning valley off a narrow fjord on the western coast of Kodiak Island. Just 60 miles southwest from the city of Kodiak, but accessible only by air or sea, the Alutiiq village overlooks Uyak Bay and is predictably rich in wildlife, offering travelers the chance to view deer, eagles and foxes, as well as the famous Kodiak brown bears. Larsen Bay is surrounded by Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, the 2,812-square-mile preserve that covers two-thirds of Kodiak Island. The refuge’s diverse habitat ranges from rugged mountains and alpine meadows to wetlands, spruce forest and grassland, and perhaps lesser known than the wildlife-viewing opportunities but equally interesting is the birding—the refuge is home to more than 200 different species and 600 breeding pairs of bald eagles. Marine life is also plentiful, including seals, sea lions, porpoises, sea otters, whales and puffins. No roads enter the refuge, and no maintained trails lie within it, so the best way to view wildlife within the refuge is by chartered boat or plane.
Wildlife viewing aside, fishing is the main interest of most visitors to Larsen Bay. Excellent fishing lodges maintain a charter fleet that provides saltwater fishing opportunities within the protected bays and inlets near the village or on the open ocean for salmon, halibut, lingcod and rockfish. Stream fishing for salmon, steelhead and Dolly Varden is readily available and accessed by floatplane. Among the nearby stream fisheries is the Karluk River.
Another fishing community nearby Kodiak city is Port Lions, located in Settlers Cove at the north end of the island. Port Lions was created after the tsunami from the Good Friday Earthquake destroyed the village of Afognak and was named for the Lions Club International, which assisted in the building of the new community.
Within town, a causeway provides foot and bike access across Settlers Cove while charter boat services offer access into the nearby coves and bays for wildlife viewing. Throughout the summer, the waters around Port Lions are an excellent place to spot whales, including humpbacks, fin whales and orcas as well as sea otters, sea lions and seals. For saltwater anglers, this is nirvana—the sheltered bays between Kodiak, Afognak and Raspberry islands are home to some of the richest fisheries in Alaska. In May and June, trophy king salmon can be caught and in August, silvers begin to appear. Halibut can be hooked almost anytime from May through September, while fishing excursions in July often result in a mixed bag of kings, silvers and halibut. Nearby streams and rivers are also very productive with sockeye salmon in June, pink salmon and Dolly Varden in July and silver salmon and Dollies in August.
Old Harbor, a serene port for sport-fishing activity, lies 70 miles southwest of Kodiak and is tucked away in the sheltered waters of Sitkalidak Strait. One of the most picturesque villages on the island, the community of fewer than 200 residents is nestled on a narrow beach at the foot of a lush, green mountain, while more dramatic peaks tower overhead to the northeast. Old Harbor is home to both lodges and charter operators who target kings year-round, but particularly in May and June, and silvers in August and September. The area is known for producing trophies as well. Halibut fishing is good throughout the summer.
Tucked away in Alitak Bay, the most remote village on Kodiak, Akhiok, anchors the southern end of the island, some 98 miles southwest of the city of Kodiak, and is accessible only via plane or boat. Originally called Kashukugniut and located at Humpy Cove, Akhiok was first established as a sea otter hunting settlement by the Russians. For anglers seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures, the village serves as a gateway to some of the more isolated areas of the refuge and this end of the island also offers world-class sport-fishing opportunities in the many protected bays, coves and inlets that surround the area, as well as exceptional sockeye and pink salmon returns.
Not part of Kodiak Island-proper but actually the second-largest island in the archipelago, Afognak Island offers a supremely forested landscape and fertile, protected coastal waters for the sport angler.
Home to brown bears, black-tailed deer and even Roosevelt elk, Afognak is rich in wildlife-viewing opportunities. Orcas, gray whales, humpbacks, finbacks and minke whales populate the offshore waters, where travelers can also see sea lions, seals and sea otters. Fly and other stream anglers will find the numerous streams and lakes of Afognak teeming with sockeye, pink and silver salmon, as well as steelhead and Dolly Varden. Saltwater fishing is also exceptional, featuring on halibut, lingcod and rockfish. There are four public-use cabins in either the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge on Afognak or within Afognak Island State Park.