Occupying roughly 4.7 million acres of southern Alaska, Katmai National Park is most notable for its many active volcanoes and large grizzly bear population.
Much of the park is still northern wilderness, and there are few places on the North American continent that can compare to Katmai during any season of the year.
Due to its many peaks and glacial formations, Katmai is a popular destination for backcountry skiers, hikers, and fishing enthusiasts of every variety.
The chief draw for anglers in Katmai is the annual salmon run, which sees hundreds of thousands of salmon travel up streams and rivers to inland spawning grounds.
Late June is the typical spawning season for Sockeye or red salmon, and as many as a million fish may force their way inland to breed and lay their eggs in the gravel beds of lakes and streams before dying.
However, rainbow trout and lake trout live year round in the freshwater streams, lakes, and rivers. Rainbows average 14 - 22 inches and weigh up to 5-7 lbs, but the opportunity exists to catch one pushing 30-inches!
As wonderful as the fishing in Katmai National Park can be, there are also some dangers not common to other national parks.
First and foremost among the risks to anglers is the mass population of brown bears and grizzly bears that are drawn by the annual salmon run each summer.
There are strict protocols governing fishing and interacting with the local bears, and anglers need to be aware of the potential for a bear encounter at all times and seasons of the year.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game actually recommends fishing with a partner and taking terms watching for bears while fishing.
That being said, forewarned is forearmed and there is no reason to hold off on visiting Katmai National Park and the peak wilderness fishing experiences it offers.
Katmai National Park Fishing Map
Best Places to Fish in Katmai National Park
The wild trout and salmon fishing experience is thoroughly excellent in Katmai National Park. The tricky part is getting to the best fisheries, many of which are far inland in the deep wilderness.
Seaplanes are a common means of transportation for reaching these remote places if they aren’t accessible by boat, and even transportation there is still a good deal of overland hiking in most cases.
To help you plan your trip accordingly, here are the best fisheries to visit in Katmai National Park.
Alagnak River and Tributaries
Formed from the outflow of Kukakiek and Nonvianuk Lake, the Alagnak runs about 70 miles to its confluence with the Kvichak (“kwee-jak”) where it runs through Katmai National Park.
For the freshest anadromous (ocean dwelling) fish, you’ll need to fish the tidal section of the river just above the confluence.
The upper sections of the Alagnak, Kukaklek, and Nonvianuk rivers are where the big trout make their home, and many grow fat during salmon season feeding off the salmon eggs laid in the gravel river beds and shallows of the lake beds nearby.
The full length of the Alagnak is designated as Wild and Scenic, and there are many laws, regulations, and codes enforced on the river to preserve not only the game fish population, but the beauty of the natural environment itself.
The Alagnak is probably the most accessible fishery, though you will need to hike or boat in to get to the upper reaches closer to the lake country to find the largest rainbows.
When you see pictures of the Alaskan wilderness fishing though, chances are you are looking at pictures taken along the Alagnak.
This river is everything sportsman and naturalists imagine about Alaska, and it is a true paradise in the wild for anglers and nature lovers alike.
Brooks River and Tributaries
If you have ever seen a picture of a grizzly or brown bear catching and eating fish, chances are it was taken on or around Brooks River or Brooks River Falls in Katmai National Park.
Far out in the wilderness of Katmai National Park, Brooks river runs between Naknek Lake and Lake Brooks.
In late June and early July of each year, the grizzly and brown bears of Alaska migrate in droves to Brooks River to eat their fill of the salmon fighting their way up river.
Due to the increased bear presence, fishing on certain sections of the river (in particular near Brooks River Falls) are closed to anglers and other sportsman in late June and early July to minimize bear incidents with humans.
There are several overlooks nearby for visitors who want to observe or photograph the bears in their natural habitat during the salmon run, so even if you can’t fish the falls you can catch a view of the breathtaking vistas near the falls.
The good news about the river’s popularity with bears is it offers plenty of fish ripe for the taking. The local rainbow trout tend to follow the salmon migratory patterns as they swim up river.
In the spawning grounds, the local rainbow trout and lake trout feast on salmon eggs, and it is not uncommon to land rainbows exceeding 24 inches in the upper reaches of the Brooks.
The only practical way to reach the Brooks River is by air via seaplane and hiking your way from the lakeshore of Brooks or Naknek to the river itself.
You can hike there overland from King Salmon by the park entrance, but it’s a long hike through wild country.
If flying isn’t for you, you can take a boat upriver along the Naknek to Brooks Lake, but it’s still a long trip. Plan on taking a seaplane flight to the lake if you intend to fish Brooks River during your visit to Katmai.
Best Time to Fish in Katmai National Park
Provided you follow local fish and game guidelines, the best time of year for trout or salmon is definitely late June until mid-July.
The rainbow trout follow the salmon upstream, and the lake trout come out in droves to feed on the salmon eggs just like the rainbows.
Before salmon season, much of the area is still frozen over, and accessing Katmai National Park is even more challenging than usual due to the still thawing ice and muddied currents.
Since the season for fishing in Katmai runs April 30-August 15, you have a somewhat limited window for fishing in the area.
Fly hatches are inconsistent and sparse even during the warmer months of the year.
Fishing season dates are set for when conditions and availability of access will be best, so you may find that unlike more southerly fisheries in the US, you may have to restrict your visit to the Alaskan fishing season to reach the wild fisheries themselves.
Katmai National Park Fishing Tips
Pack a 9-foot, 7-weight fly rod and matching fly reel with floating line (a sink-tip line is also useful). The trout and salmon grow large here, and are plentiful. Be sure to get in shape before you go. It can be tiring reeling in big fish all day!
Insulated waders are a must since the water in this region stays frigid all year long. High oxygenation from cold temperatures may make for happy fish, but if you don’t wear appropriate layers it can make the experience pretty miserable.
You also need to pack a pair of line clippers and extra line while you are fishing in this part of the world. Splashing fish attract bears, and you may find that you have company soon after hooking up.
Should a bear show up, Fish and Wildlife protocols dictate you are to cut your line immediately and get at least 50 or more yards away from the bear. Maintain that distance at all costs. No trophy trout or fish is worth your life.
Additionally, you should never throw or feed a fish you’ve caught to the bears under any circumstances. If bears start to associate anglers with a food source, they will a danger to people fishing more frequently.
Best Flies for Katmai National Park
As far as flies are concerned, stick to salmon egg patterns and streamers. These patterns are likely to yield success with the local fish populations in an environment that yields few large fly hatches each year.
Most of the trout in the region prefer salmon eggs if they can get them, but they also strike at mice patterns and other vermin fairly readily if the salmon aren’t running.
If you like to swing flies, RiverBum offers a great selection of classic steelhead flies that will catch fish anywhere. Set includes 30 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and durable fly box.
If you prefer to dead drift flies, BASSDASH offers a great selection of some of the most effective egg flies and attractor patterns. Set includes 57 flies (see list below) and high-grade double-sided fly box.
Katmai National Park Fishing Reports
There are a number of area fly shops and guide services that can provide an update on current fishing conditions in and around Katmai National Park. A few to check out are listed below.
Katmai National Park Fishing Regulations
Alaska or Katmai National Park regulations apply throughout Katmai National Park. A license is required to fish anywhere in the state, whether it is a one-day or one year pass.
Special regulations that apply to fishing in and near Katmai National Park include:
- Anglers 16 and older must possess a valid fishing license from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
- All catches must be recorded and submitted to the ADF&G via a recording sheet printable from their website.
- The heads of tagged fish must be submitted with tags intact to local peace officers at the earliest opportunity.
- (June-October) 2 rainbow trout per day per angler only 1 of which may be 20” or longer, (November-June) 5 rainbow trout per day per angler only 1 of which may be 20” or longer
- Lake trout limit is 4 per day per angler year round
- 5 fish per day per angler for salmon of any species, see special regulations for King Salmon during May 31-July 31st season by region.
- All waters closed to Sport Fishing from April 10-June 7 for freshwater spawning season to preserve local populations.
Trip Planning Tips
Anglers looking to make the long trek to Katmai National Park will be flying to Anchorage before setting out to one of the regional airports in Homer or Kodiak. From both towns, you will need to take a water or air taxi into the park to reach accommodations there.
If you are interested in lodging in the park itself, you will need to stay at one of the Katmailand, Inc. owned and operated lodges. Reservations are required for stays, and at the Brooks Lodge (Katmai’s most popular destination) the only dates available range from June 1st-September 17th.
Visit the Katmailand, Inc. website for details. The site also has a complete list of available lodges within the various regions of the park available for reservations and stays in the area.
There is lodging in Homer and on Kodiak Island, but you will need to fly to King Salmon if you want to secure accommodations closest to the park entrance.
Anglers visiting the area should be prepared to book an air taxi to Brooks Lake the Kukakiek Lake to reach the prime wild fishing streams and rivers deep in the Katmai Wilderness.
You can check to see if there are any local vacation rentals in the area, but since Katmai National Park is mostly mountainous wildlands you probably won’t find much.
Feature image by Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps