With the late ice breakup experienced in the Mat-Su this year, I have full confidence the best fish catching opportunity for local anglers over the Memorial Day weekend with be landing stocked rainbow trout from stocked lakes, many of which are within or close to the Palmer-Wasilla Core Area.
This week I talked with Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists Sam Ivey and Samantha Oslund about the prospects. Both Ivey and Oslund mentioned that two of the very first lake locations scheduled to be stocked with catchable-sized rainbow trout are the popular Kepler-Bradley Lakes and Finger Lake. These are both road accessible locations where anglers can catch fish from either the bank or a boat. Most, if not all, ice cover will be gone from these lakes by the weekend.
Last year, Mat-Su anglers saw the first larger-sized catchable rainbow trout produced from the state’s new William Jack Hernandez Hatchery in Anchorage released into Valley lakes. From everything I heard, Mat-Su anglers greatly appreciated the opportunity to catch this prime shaped fish released at sizes between 8 and 14 inches in some of the more popular stocked lake fishery locations. Lakes with lower participation levels of angler effort typically receive either smaller-sized stocked fish or less number of stockers. Additional popular locations Oslund mentioned that ADF&G plans to stock this year include Echo, Canoe, Irene and Meirs lakes near Palmer, Lucille Lake in Wasilla and South Rolly Lake in the Nancy Lake Recreation Area. Lakes near Willow and further north are a bit slower to lose their ice cover and may be delayed a bit in getting stocked.
Returning to the stocking mix a bit later in the season (likely early June) will be good-sized catchable Arctic grayling, hopefully in the 8- to 12-inch range. The department plans to stock grayling in Canoe, Finger, Meirs and Kepler-Bradley Lakes, and Ida Lake near Sutton, Long Lake further up the Glenn Highway, Knik Lake down Knik-Goose Bay Road, Lorraine Lake near Point Mackenzie, Florence Lake near Willow and Reed Lake.
While the newly arrived stockers should provide most of the action in the popular lakes already mentioned, larger holdover trout and Arctic char from last year’s or earlier stockings should provide the bonus of some larger fish over 20 inches in length. Oslund mentioned some larger earlier-released fish that had been caught recently from both Kepler-Bradley Lakes and Matanuska Lake. The ice is only now starting to recede from Matanuska Lake — but everyone should avoid venturing out onto any remaining ice on Matanuska Lake at this time for great risk of falling through. If you’ve fished all the open water — simply move on to another lake.
On Tuesday, I took my primary riverboat out for a shakedown cruise on Finger Lake. At that time the lake was entirely open on the end near the Alaska State Parks campground and boat launch. While launching the boat I saw perhaps half a dozen people standing around fly-fishing off the dock and right over the boat launch. In the short time it took me to launch the boat and park my truck and also on my return from running the boat. I saw several fish surface right in front of where the people were fishing. I did not see anyone hook a fish, but have no doubt that fish were being caught. I suspect people fishing on Finger Lake may have better success very late in the evening of early in the morning when there is less activity around the primary dock and boat launch.
Small spinners, flatfish type plugs and flies are popular artificial lures for catching stocked rainbow trout, Arctic char and grayling. Two of the most popular baits include single salmon eggs like Pautzke’s Balls O’ Fire and small cocktail shrimp. Baits can be productive still fished near the bottom, suspended up from the bottom by a small marshmallow or under a bobber. Another very productive natural bait that can sometimes be found on the underside of branches and woody debris along the lake shores is a dragon fly larvae. These active 2- to 3-inch monster “bugs” are extremely difficult for even a non-feeding fish to resist.
While stocked fish are managed on a put and take basis, it is always a good idea to only take what you plan to eat. Better yet, only keep what you plan to eat for the next meal. It will only be more fun taking another opportunity to catch the remaining fish or fish you released on a future trip. When care is taken to limit what we harvest, additional anglers will also benefit from that action and we get more bang from our limited hatchery fishery dollars.
I’ve been keeping close tabs on Deshka Landing, but at the time I am writing this column, the large ice chunks still clog the boat launch and I’ve heard of no one who has used the landing to launch yet this year. Many of us are hoping the launch will be open in time for Memorial weekend, but as time continues to march on and as ice remains unmelted, I’m getting a bit nervous wondering if there will be much opportunity to boat down the Susitna River to Deshka River this coming weekend. Not just for king salmon, but also because Memorial weekend is often the most productive weekend for those who want to dipnet hooligan on the Susitna River system upstream of the Deshka River confluence.
At this rate, unless the hooligan run is late, by the time people can get a boat in the river the best hooligan dipnetting may be over. An effective way to find the hooligan is look for the birds along the river — specifically large numbers of gulls and eagles standing in the shallows or perched in trees above shallow gravelly areas.
Expect some king salmon fishing to be available at Little Susinta River over the weekend and possibly along the Parks Highway tributaries of the Susitna River, but because of the late spring thaw, expect king salmon numbers to be somewhat limited in these locations until a bit later in the season.
I wish everyone a safe and memorable weekend.
Andy Couch owns and operates Fishtale River Guides (fish4salmon.com) and is a member of the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission.