Alaska sockeye fishing is synonymous with Bristol Bay because nearly 75% of the world’s sockeye (red salmon) harvest comes from the region. 2022 was a record year for Alaska sockeye fishing with a run that totaled nearly 74 million sockeye, which, in turn, lead to a record harvest by commercial gillnetters as well. The area that saw the majority of that uptick in sockeye presence is the Nushagak-Mulchatna drainage. Our excited guests definitely felt the benefits of that here on the Nushagak River in 2022, especially when the daily limit went from 5 to 10 for sport anglers.
On the Nushagak, as in most places, one key to successful sockeye fishing is finding a good beach for anglers to line up along and wait for a push of sockeye to pass by. Sockeye fishing is a numbers game, a veritable “sweep sweeps” if you will. The more fish present and the more casts you make to the fish, the more your catch rates improve.
Alaska sockeye fishing is fun. We use a different technique for sockeye fishing than we do for any other kind of salmon. Your guide will arm you with a sturdy, medium-action fishing rod paired with a spinning reel that is likely lined with braid for durability. You’ll be surprised at how hard sockeye fight. Some local Alaskan fishermen prefer to use a fly reel for this style of fishing, but most of our guests are coming up from the Lower 48 and are more comfortable with our spinning setup. At the business end of the rod you’ll find an appropriate amount of weight, a bead to mimic a salmon egg and a bare hook.
Your guide will give you instructions in real time on the river, but the general idea of Alaska sockeye fishing is to cast just slightly upstream from you, then let your line sink until you feel bottom and then let your hook bounce gently on the bottom as you make a sweeping motion with your rod. You don’t want to get too aggressive with the sweep which often results in snagging many salmon, but steady, fluid pressure is needed. The idea is to line them in the mouth for a legal catch. While there is evidence that anglers can get sockeye to eat the right bait, the majority of Alaska sockeye fishing done across the state is completed in this style known as flossing or lining salmon.
As stated, sockeye, or red salmon, put up a good fight. They can be a little tricky to land as they thrash and roll, and fly in the air to elude the hook that’s embedded in t