Get someone going on fishing in Alaska  and you won’t be able to shut him or her up or get a word in edgewise for the whole afternoon, guaranteed. The fisheries program in Alaska is extensive because commercial, sport, and recreational fishing are important to almost every state resident.
Commercial fishing is Alaska’s second-largest industry, and Alaska accounts for more than half of the nation’s total seafood production. Sportfishing has always been popular but is playing a more important role in Alaska’s economy as tourism increases. Below is a brief survey of the most popular fish in Alaska’s 3 million lakes, 3,000 rivers, and 45,000 miles of coastline.
Five kinds of salmon—king, red, pink, silver, and chum—all return to the same bend in the same little creek where they hatched to spawn and die, ending one of the most remarkable life cycles and feats of migration and single-minded endurance of any living creature. You’ll be steeped in salmon lore if only by osmosis by the end of your trip, and you’ll get more than your fill of this most delicious and pretty fish.
The kings (also known as chinooks) are the world’s largest salmon, and the world’s largest kings spawn in Alaskan waters. The average size for a king is 40–50 pounds. The world sport fish record is 97 pounds, and a few 100-pounders have been caught in commercial nets. Kings generally spend 5–6 years in saltwater before returning to freshwater to spawn: the more years spent in the ocean, the larger the fish. They run mostly mid-May–mid-July.
Reds (sockeye) are the best-tasting salmon and the mainstay of the commercial fishing industry. They average 6–10 pounds and run in June–July.
Pinks (humpback) are the most plentiful, with massive runs of more than 150 million fish late June–early September. They’re smallish, 3–4 pounds, with soft flesh and a mild taste; they’re mostly canned (or caught by tourists).
Silvers (coho) seem to be the most legendary of the salmon for their speed, agility, and sixth sense. Their spawning growth rate is no less than fantastic, more than doubling their weight in the last 90 days of their lives. Silvers grow 7–10 pounds and run late, from late July all the way to November.
Chum (dog) are the least valued of the five Pacific salmon, even though they average 10–20 pounds, are extremely feisty, and are the most far-ranging, running way above the Arctic Circle. They’re known as dog salmon because they’ve traditionally sustained working huskies, but chums remain popular with a hard-core group of sport anglers, who consider them terribly underrated. Surprisingly, they make some of the finest smoked fish.
Halibut are Alaska ’s favorite monster fish and can grow so huge and strong that many anglers have an unsurpassed religious experience while catching one. “Chicken halibut” are the common 25–40 pounders, but 100- and 200-pounders are frequent sights in some ports; even 300-pounders are occasionally reeled in. The state-record halibut was a 464-pounder, more than 8 feet long, caught near Dutch Harbor in 1996.
Even though halibut are huge and require 80-pound test line with 20-ounce lead sinkers, they’re not the fiercest fighting fish, and just about anyone can catch one on a good day’s charter from Homer , Seward , Kodiak, Whittier , Sitka , or Dutch Harbor. It has a very white flesh with a fine texture—many Alaskans regard it as the most flavorful (and least fishy-tasting) fish.
The fattiest fish in northern waters is the Pacific Coast eulachon, also known as smelt, hooligans, and candlefish (legend claims that the dried fish are so fatty they can be wicked and lit like candles). These silver and white fish are roughly as long and slender as pencils, and they run in monumental numbers for three weeks in early summer from Northern California to the Pribilofs.
A traditional source of oil, the females are dumped into pits or vats by the ton and left to rot for two weeks. Then freshwater is added, and the whole mess is boiled, during which the oil rises to the surface. After skimming, straining, filtering, and sterilizing, roughly 20 gallons of oil (reminiscent of cod-liver oil) can be processed from a ton of female smelt. The early males, in addition, are good tasting whether cooked, smoked, dried, or salted.