Alaska Fishing

Fishing in Bristol Bay Alaska

Bristol Bay Fly Fishing
Image courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Bristol Bay Fishing Information

Bristol Bay is in the Bering Sea and is nestled on the northern side of Alaskan Peninsula. It is nearly one hundred and eighty miles wide at its mouth and narrows into several of Alaska’s largest rivers. This area was named by Captain James Cook, the first European to discover the Hawaiian Islands, in honor of the Earl of Bristol, in England.

Bristol Bay has some of the highest tides in the world with tidal changes in excess of 30 feet. This combined with the shoals, shallows and sandbars make Bristol Bay dangerous for some large sea vessels to navigate. In spite of this fact, it is the home of the largest Sockeye Salmon fishing operation in the world. There are a number of small towns, all of which are accessible by charter plane or boat including Dillingham, Naknek and King Salmon. Despite the massive area Salmon runs, Bristol Bay sees less pressure from sports fisherman than most other areas in Alaska.

Salmon Fishing in Bristol Bay

Bristol Bay is home to some of the largest and least targeted runs of Salmon in the world. It is estimated that over 60% of the worlds Sockeye Salmon call Bristol Bay home. Luckily for anglers it does not stop at Sockeye. King Salmon, Coho Salmon and other species also populate area rivers and streams. With limited pressure, you will not be "combat fishing" here. Many guides specialize in fly-out trips to remote areas where few humans ever visit. The king salmon runs here begin in June and run through about the middle of July. Sockeye Runs occur earlier, starting as early as may and running into late June. Coho, or silver salmon, arrive later in the summer. There are also some of the densest populations of trout in the state to be had, so this is truly an anglers paradise..

Bristol Bay Halibut Fishing

Most people think of Homer Alaska when they think of Halibut Fishing, but the smart few know that Bristol Bay provides some of the largest halibut in the state. Because of Bristol Bays remoteness, as well as its prime location near both the Pacific Ocean and the Bearing Sea B-Bay provides a virtual paradise for Halibut. Known as "Halibut Heaven" this area supports such large (both in numbers and size) populations of halibut many guides discourage bait fishing as it is a waste of time and effort.

World class halibut are caught in the area every year, including some monsters topping the scales at over 400 pounds. Popular techniques include jigging and bouncing baits off the bottom in waters of variable depths near structure. Local guides, familiar with the area, can help put you on the halibut of your dreams. If you are really serious about halibut fishing in Alaska, Bristol Bay should definitely be on your list.


Dillingham Fishing Opportunities

Dillingham, is the largest of the three major towns and is on the north shore of Bristol Bay. It is most easily reached by air, and is three hundred and sixty air miles from Anchorage. A native settlement, Dillingham was originally settled by the Yupik people who make up the majority of the current population. It was settled by the Russians in 1818 and became the site of Alexandrovski Redoubt, a trade center for the peoples from the Kusokwim region, the Alaskan Peninsula and the Cook inlet.

Dillingham supports sport fishing year round, especially in the Wood River and the various lakes north of town. Here you can fish for King Salmon as well as Pike and Trout. There are some guides that will take you up to the best fishing spots in these areas. Because only a few experienced guides serve the area be certain you make your reservation early. Many areas are only accessible by boat or float plane, so guided services are the best way to go, but you may want to make boat rental reservations if you can, for the occasional unguided day, so you have the necessary transportation to get where the fish are.

Most anglers that fish up in Dillingham rent lodges that include fishing or hunting packages. It is recommended that you obtain any fishing licenses or stamps (such as for king salmon) required before going up to this or any of the Bristol bay's remote towns as locals may have run out. Although it rarely occurs, you don’t want to be counting on the ability to obtain the license in town only to find they don’t have any more to sell.

Naknek and King Salmon Fishing

These towns are both located on the Naknek River in the south eastern part of Bristol Bay, nearly at its apex. Since they are so close together, and offer fishing in the same rivers and tributaries, we will treat them as one area. Starting your fishing trip in either one of these towns will give you access to sport fishing on the Naknek River system which includes Paul’s Creek, King Salmon Creek, Naknek River, Naknek Lake, Big Creek, Brooks Lake, Iliuk Arm, Savonski River, Lake Grosvanor, Lake Coville, and American Creek.  

The Naknek River starting at Naknek(town) down to Rapid’s camp is provides great fishing for King Salmon as well as lots of Sockeye and some Silver Salmon. Paul’s Creek and King Salmon Creek feed into the Naknek River between the Town of Naknek and King Salmon. These are spawning creeks for the King Salmon runs which occur between June 1st and July 31st. You can catch them in the Naknek and Big Creeks, but King Salmon fishing is prohibited in Paul’s Creek and King Salmon Creek. However, other types of fish can be caught and harvested here including Rainbow Trout, Pink Salmon, Red Salmon and some Silver Salmon. Big creek allows King Salmon fishing, but it is catch and release only here. Silver Salmon are also available in the Naknek River. Their runs begin in July and end in September with its peak in mid August.

Bristol Bay Remote Island Fishing
Image courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

If you want to try for Sockeye Salmon, the best spot for reds is the Naknek river above Rapids Camp. This is a great place for Sockeye fishing as they see runs at or above 2 million fish each year. Sockeye runs begin late June and peak around July 4th. However, there are certain restrictions on the type of lures you can use in this area. There is no bait fishing allowed here, only artificial lures with single hooks are permitted.

Brooks creek and Brook’s River are great places for Rainbow Trout in this region. In fact, the entire river system is well known for the abundance of rainbow trout and their relatively large size. Some fish exceed 30 inches and 10 pounds in weight.

In order to protect the size and abundance of these fish, the Alaskan Department of Fishing & Game have set some guidelines for Rainbow Trout. Specifically, in Brooks creek and lake as well as further to the north at American Creek, you cannot fish at all from April 10th through June 7th. Thereafter, fishing is fairly open, though some restrictions may apply.  It is always recommend that you consult a regulation guide before taking a fishing trip up the Naknek River, as it has some pretty specific guidelines to protect the diversity of available fish in the area.

Geoffrey Deshazer
Alaska Fishing Contributor

Visiting other towns in the Western Alaska? Here are more places to look for Alaska fishing information on this remote paradise:

Kodiak : Remote Kodiak : Kodiak Road System : Bristol Bay : Dillingham : Dutch Harbor : Bethel

Fishing in the Anchorage Area