Alaska Fishing Report: 2023 Year In Review

Alaska Fishing Report: 2023 Year In Review

2023 was a standout season for a number of reasons but most notably for lots and lots of sockeye and lots and lots of rain.  I have said it before and will say it again, each and every season seems to have its own distinct personality and flavor and no two seasons ever seem to be the same.    It was another incredible year of fishing for us at Alaska Fishing with Mark Glassmaker and before we move forward to 2024, lets look back on the last six months:

We kicked off the 2023 season in late May on the Kasilof River targeting newly arriving king salmon.  Pre-season management action closed the Kenai to king fishing for the 2023 season, so this did put a huge spotlight on the Kasilof.  To protect naturally produced early run Kasilof kings ADF&G restricted our catch to two hatchery kings per day and no retention of naturally produced (wild) kings.  They also restricted lures to single hook only but still allowed the use of bait.  The ability to use bait was a huge plus and from the last week of May into the first week to ten days of June we saw very consistent fishing for beautiful hatchery kings ranging from 12-25 lbs.

Throughout early June and into mid-month we were seeing significant numbers of sockeye salmon entering the Kasilof and were catching decent numbers on king gear.  By the third week in June, we were entirely transitioned over to fishing just sockeye and there were very few days where we were unable to catch a limit.  The run just got better and better into late June and on June 30 the limit was increased to six sockeye per day, per person.  We continued to float the section of the Kasilof below Tustumena Lake well into mid-July and we experienced some of the best sockeye salmon action this river has seen to date.  Waves of fish were literally running between our legs at times, making for some very action-packed fishing and great days on the water.   We did take a few trips to the Kenai in mid to late June to target the Russian River sockeye salmon run that was passing though the middle river.  This run was also strong and we had excellent success during the short window these fish were present.

Our fly out fishing season on the West Side of Cook Inlet began in early June and there too, sockeye salmon returns were excellent.  The runs at Big River Lake / Wolverine Creek were strong from the beginning and just kept coming in very good numbers well into August.   There was also a remarkable number of bears present this year including several sows with two and three cubs in tow. The weather did present its challenges and we had a number of days where we could not fly due to the low ceiling/visibility.

As the calendar moved into mid-July, the late run of Kenai sockeye was beginning to build.  With a huge snowpack from the previous winter and a wetter than normal summer, water levels were well above average.  As we fish sockeye salmon from the shoreline, high water can present some challenges as fewer spots become wadable.  Fortunately, we were able to adapt to some high-water friendly gravel bars and much like the Kasilof sockeye return the late run of Kenai sockeye was one for the record books.  Through late August, the sonar counter recorded just over 2,350,000 sockeye salmon and even into mid-September, fresh sockeye were still entering the river from the ocean.  I rarely remember us fishing sockeye past the first week of August but this year we ran our last sockeye salmon trips in early September and did exceptionally well.

Silver salmon season started for us as it always does on our fly out trips to the Kustatan River.  We began targeting silvers there in the last week of July and did quite well.  The run was not super strong at first but continued to improve as we moved into August and was excellent throughout the month.  Silver salmon fishing was also good at Big River Lake where again there were plenty of bears to view between silver bites.  The Chuit River also fished very well this season.

On the Kenai and Kasilof the first good number of silvers arrived in mid-August but with such a robust sockeye return and the limit being six fish for sockeye vs two fish for silvers, many opted to stick with the sockeye pursuit, and we were happy to oblige.  By the last week of August, we were taking daily silver trips and getting consistent limits in the lower Kenai.  The Kasilof was also fishing very well in late August and that continued to be the case into September.  On the Kenai we were continually plagued by excessive high water, and this made fishing challenging at times, especially for trout.  Many of the areas we normally fish had way too much volume and as if the rain was not enough, in early September two glacial dams released in the Kenai Mountains pushing the Kenai to beyond flood stage.  Fortunately, the high water was somewhat short lived, and we got a welcome respite from the rain and the river returned to more normal levels after mid-September.  Fishing for late run silver remained good into October and even into the first week of November, fresh silvers continue to enter the system.

Late season trout fishing was good this year, but high water seemed to condense the sockeye spawn and once the water receded so too did the spawning action.  This created a period where there just was not an abundant food source as the high water washed much of the sockeye carcasses down river and the silvers were merely accumulating but not yet spawning.  Steelhead fishing on the lower peninsula rivers was excellent this year with several very nice fish caught.

As always we want to extend a huge thank you to all of our loyal customers but old and new.  Without your business none of this would be possible.  Next year will be our 35th year guiding here on the Kenai Peninsula and beyond and it has been an incredible journey.  Lastly I want to extend a very sincere thank you to all of our incredible guides as they are really the fabric of our business. Behind the scenes of so many great fishing experiences is the homework and preparation that creates success.  We know there are plenty of choices for guided fishing trips here in Alaska and we will always do our best to offer the most professional and rewarding guided fishing options available.  As winter arrives and the Kenai retreats into a winter wonderland, we greatly look forward to 2024 and another spectacular fishing season.  We sincerely hope you can join us!