Fishing the Kenai River is the whole point of coming to the area for most visitors. Check at the Soldotna Visitor Information Center for information and regulation booklets, which you must read and understand before fishing. Regulations are also available at sporting goods stores, or contact the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Rd., Ste. B, Soldotna, AK 99669 (tel. 907/262-9368 or 262-2737, for a recorded fishing report; www.alaska.gov/adfg). Serious anglers shouldn't miss that website, which includes daily sonar counts of salmon in the river and information on biology and fishing techniques. Licenses are for sale on the site and in virtually any sporting goods store. There are more than two dozen public access points over Kenai River's 80 miles. A guide brochure with a map is available from the state Division of Parks, P.O. Box 1247, Soldotna, AK 99669-1247 (tel. 907/262-5581; www.alaskastateparks.org), or you can pick up a copy at one of the visitor centers.
Kings -- King salmon, the monsters of the river, come in two runs. The early run comes from mid-May to the end of June, peaking in mid-June. On average less plentiful and smaller, in the 20- to 40-pound range, the run did also produce the sport-caught world's record (97 lb., 4 oz.). The second run comes during the month of July and includes more of the massive fish. Most people fish kings from a boat, fishing certain holes. Boats hold stationary or back slowly down the river, or fishermen drift down river. Your chances from the bank are low; on average, with or without a boat, it takes 29 hours of fishing time to land a king (you'll likely get at least a dozen strikes for every fish that makes it into the boat). With a guide, the average time to land a fish is cut in half, but that still means that if you fish for only 1 day, chances are good that you'll get skunked. A boat of three anglers on a half-day guided charter has roughly a 50% chance of landing a king among them.
A guided charter averages $150 to $170 for a 6 1/2-hour day trip, $250 to $265 full day. There are dozens of guides. Contact the visitor center in Kenai or Soldotna to get in touch with a guide; also, many hotels and lodges have their own. It's possible to rent a boat, but this is advisable only if you are experienced in boats and stay out of the hazardous, faster flowing parts of the river. The Sports Den, 44176 Sterling Hwy. in Soldotna (tel. 907/262-7491; www.alaskasportsden.com), is one charter operator, with river and ocean trips for salmon or halibut, fly-in fishing and hunting, and they also offer lodging packages with large units.
Reds -- The area really goes crazy when the red (or sockeye) salmon join the kings in the river, from mid-July to early August. Reds are plankton eaters; some say they won't strike a lure, some say they do. In some popular fishing areas, regulations allow only the use of flies; check the regulations or contact Fish and Game for details. The best approach is to fish from the bank with coho or streamer flies with small weights 18 to 36 inches from the fly. Flip the rig upstream, allowing the fly to drift down with the current, near the bank. This can be done with a bait, spinning, or fly rod, as you aren't really casting: just pull out 15 feet of line, flip upstream, let the fly drift by in front of you, and repeat. While waiting for a strike, debate whether the fish really attack the flies or get caught when they instinctively move their mouths in an eating motion, which they do in quick-moving water.
Silvers -- Silvers first arrive in late July, peaking during August, but continuing to be in the river through September and even in October. They're easiest to catch anchored in a boat, but you can also do well from shore. Lures work well, such as spinners, spoons, and plugs, as does sinking bait such as salmon eggs.
Other Species -- Trophy-size rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char are hooked in the river, catch-and-release only. Anglers using light tackle may also enjoy catching pink salmon, which are plentiful in the Kenai during even-numbered years, arriving in late July and lasting until mid-September. Use spinning gear and lures. Most Alaskans turn up their noses at this easy-to-catch 4-pound fish; just smile and keep hauling them in. Fresh, bright pinks taste great over a campfire.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.