The Seasonal Surge: Salmon Runs in Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan, Alaska, renowned as a prime fishing destination, offers a spectacular phenomenon that draws nature enthusiasts and anglers alike: the salmon run.

This annual migration is not a single event but a series of runs, as different salmon species make their journey at various times throughout the year.

The Timing of the Runs

The salmon runs in Ketchikan are a testament to nature’s clockwork, each species adhering to its seasonal schedule.

Here’s a general timeline:

  • King Salmon (Chinook): The first to herald the start of the salmon run season are the king salmon, usually beginning in May and continuing through early July. These are the largest and often the most coveted by sport fishermen.
  • Sockeye Salmon (Red): Following the kings, sockeye starts to appear in late June, with runs peaking in July. They are known for their vigorous fight and are a favorite among fly fishermen.
  • Pink Salmon (Humpy): The most abundant, pink salmon, flood the streams every other year, with the most significant runs in mid-July to August during even-numbered years.
  • Chum Salmon (Dog): Chum runs overlap with pinks and sockeyes in July but can extend into September, known for their size and distinctive markings.
  • Coho Salmon (Silver): Last to run are the coho, beginning in August and peaking in September. They offer a robust challenge with their acrobatic antics and are highly sought after by anglers looking for a thrilling experience.

The Migration Pathways

In Ketchikan, also known as the salmon capital of the world, the salmon migration can be observed in various locales. The fish first gather in the oceanic approaches to the Inside Passage, then head towards their natal freshwater streams and rivers.

The best ports, prime viewing and fishing spots include:

  • Ketchikan Creek: An easily accessible spot right in downtown Ketchikan where salmon, especially kings and pinks, can be seen leaping up the creek’s ladder.
  • Ward Creek and Talbot’s Cove: Ideal for those seeking sockeye and coho, these areas provide a quiet fishing environment with promising catches.
  • Neets Bay: Accessible by boat or floatplane, this is a hotspot for large king salmon and offers an authentic Alaskan fishing experience.

Fishing The Runs

To fish these runs, you can either join a guided charter, which is plentiful in Ketchikan, or venture independently.

Each method has its advantages:

  • Guided Charters: Offering local knowledge, gear, and often a guarantee of finding fish, charters are perfect for those unfamiliar with the region or looking to optimize their time on the water.
  • Independent Fishing: For the experienced or those seeking solitude, renting a boat or finding a secluded spot along the riverbanks can be rewarding. It requires a bit more knowledge about salmon behavior and local conditions.

Regardless of the approach, all anglers must comply with Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations, which include obtaining the appropriate fishing license and adhering to catch limits.

Optimizing The Experience

Whether you’re viewing or fishing the salmon runs, preparation is key. The right gear, clothing for unpredictable weather, and familiarity with local conditions will enhance your experience.

Additionally, aligning your visit with the run of your preferred salmon species is crucial for a successful adventure.


In summary, the salmon runs in Ketchikan offer a dynamic and rich experience that varies month by month. From the mighty king salmon to the feisty coho, each species provides a unique opportunity to engage with one of nature’s most incredible migrations.

Whether it’s casting a line in the hopes of a bountiful catch or simply observing the determined journey of these fish, Ketchikan is a theater where the drama of the salmon runs unfolds annually, offering a remarkable blend of natural wonder and fishing excellence.