Kenai River
Fishing Guide

The Best Place For Fishing In Alaska

The Kenai Peninsula is known around the world for its world class river fishing. With annual salmon migrations and pristine scenery, the Kenai River is a prime destination for sports fishermen to spend their days casting into the river for a bite. 

Kenai is located where the Kenai River pours its turquoise waters into the Cook Inlet. It’s at this point where anglers witness the massive salmon runs which send hundreds of thousands of fish upstream to their annual spawning grounds.

Kenai is the perfect location to set up your Alaska fishing vacation. Whether you access from the beach, on shore, or by boat, Kenai offers anglers multiple ways to enjoy their time on and off the water.

Kenai River Geography

The Kenai River spans 57 miles from its starting point at Kenai Lake to its outlet at the Cook Inlet. The river is divided into three distinct and unique sections.

The Upper Kenai River runs about 17 miles southwest from the Kenai Lake at Cooper Landing to Skilak Lake. First, the Upper Kenai section meanders through passive water for approximately 12 miles before beginning the whitewater surge through Kenai Canyon. Below the canyon, the river continues for about three more miles before emptying into Skilak Lake.

The Middle Kenai River spans approximately 19 miles. After leaving Skilak Lake, the river travels for 10 miles before encountering Naptowne Rapids roughly 3.5 miles southeast of Sterling. 

The Lower Kenai River section encompasses the final 21 miles of the Kenai River. This section begins at the Sterling Highway Bridge in Soldotna and ends at the Cook Inlet. This section runs directly through the City of Kenai.

Fishing the Kenai River

Different sections of the Kenai River offer fishermen different opportunities.

Kenai River Fish Runs

Different species prefer different times of the summer and early fall seasons.

Before planning your trip, you should review the availability of the species you most desire.

Fish Species Details

Red (Sockeye) Salmon
The sockeye run lasts from mid-July to mid-August. Sockeye salmon typically peak in the last two weeks of July and this run lasts between 7 and 10 days with as many as 100,000 fish entering the river per day. Generally speaking, the red salmon season on the Kenai River ends around early August.

Silver (Coho) Salmon
About 40,000 silvers are harvested by anglers every year throughout the river’s two distinct runs. The early silver salmon run on the Kenai River begins in late July and peaks early to mid-August. The second run spans from September to October. The Kenai Silver Salmon Derby happens in mid-September to take advantage of the later silver salmon run.

Pink Salmon
This species is found in the Kenai from late July through mid-August. Young and novice anglers favor pinks because of this species’ large numbers and aggressiveness towards almost any lure, thereby making them an easier and more exciting fish to pursue. Because of their two-year lifecycle, pink salmon numbers are highest in even-numbered years: 2020, 2022, 2024, etc.

To avoid salmon madness during the busier summer months, the best time for Rainbow Trout fishing on the Kenai River is in late fall. More than 40,000 trout are caught in the Kenai every year.

Dolly Varden
The Kenai River is known for resident and ocean-going dolly varden. Anadromous dolly varden enter the river in early July, with the run continuing into September. Resident dollies are present the entire year throughout the river and in both lakes.

Kenai River Boating Regulations

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The entire upper section of the Kenai River is available only to drift boats, and all motorized boats are prohibited. Boats with outboard or combination of outboards having a total propshaft rating greater than 50 HP are prohibited upstream of a DNR marker located at approximately river mile 4.2 (downstream of the Warren Ames Bridge). 

Motors may be used to transport anglers to shore fishing locations, but anglers may not fish from any vessel that has a motor on board between the outlet of Skilak Lake and the Sterling Highway bridge in Soldotna on any Monday between May 1 and July 31.. A motor of 10 hp or less may be used only downstream of an ADF&G marker at Cunningham Park, and only after fishing from the vessel has stopped for the day.

Kenai River Public Fishing Access Sites

There are multiple public access sites along the Kenai River. However, what’s listed here is what is considered “publicly available”. If you’re fishing with locals, they’ll know secret access points where you can fish from the shore or have access to boat docks not listed here.

Fishing Access Site Details
Upper Kenai River - River Miles 82 - 65Cooper Landing Boat Launch RM 82
Cooper Creek Campground RM 80
Russian River Campground RM 75
Russian River Ferry/Sportsman Landing RM 73
Sterling Hwy Milepost 57 Pullout RM 71
Jim’s Landing RM 69.5
Middle Kenai River - River Miles 64 - 43While there are no public boat launch sites or public park grounds,
the Middle Kenai River can be accessed by drift boat.
Lower Kenai River - River Miles 42 - 0Bings Landing State Recreation Site RM 39.5
Izaak Walton State Recreation Site RM 36.5
Morgan’s Landing State Rec Area RM 29.5 - 31.0
Funny River State Recreation Site and Campground RM 30.5
Soldotna Swiftwater Park and Boat Lauch RM 23
Centennial Park RM 20.4
Poachers Cove RM 17.1
The Pillars Boat Launch RM 12.5
Eagle Rock, Kenai RM 11.5
Kenai Cunningham Park RM 6.6
Kenai Landing Boat Launch RM 3
City of Kenai Launch RM 2

Kenai River Fishing Guides

If you plan on fishing alone and don’t have friends locally to join you, there are plenty of Kenai River fishing guides who can ensure you enjoy a successful fishing trip. A simple search online will yield you many results to quality fishing guides for a day on the Kenai, or you can use FishingBooker online to book a charter for your trip. 

You can also contact the Kenai Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center for recommendations on guides and best places to fish on the Kenai River.

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