On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday this week guests on my guided salmon fishing trips started catching the first few salmon other than king salmon of the season. On Sunday while fishing for king salmon at Deshka River I had a guest catch the first pink salmon on my boat this season. I had also heard of other anglers catching a few pink salmon at the Deshka even a few days earlier.
On Monday and Tuesday at Little Susitna River I had guests catch the first three chum salmon from my boat this year. Talking with Mike Hudson with Three Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla on Monday, he told me anglers had been catching pink salmon at the Willow Creek confluence with the Susitna River. On Tuesday July 14 he mentioned one of their customers had taken a silver salmon from the same location. That is the first silver or coho salmon that I have heard of anyone harvesting from a Mat-Su Valley stream in 2020, however, I would not be surprised if a few silvers may have been taken even earlier.
Some sockeye salmon have already been harvested from Mat-Su Streams as well, but in general the salmon catching of species other than king salmon is just getting started for Mat-Su anglers.
Water levels and clarity
High water levels at some Mat-Su locations like Deshka and Little Susitna River created challenging fishing conditions last weekend and at the start of this week, but may likely improve substantially by the coming weekend. Farley Dean of Willow Creek Resort told me that Willow Creek and other Parks Highway tributaries to the Susitna River were running nice and clear on Tuesday, and another unnamed source told me the same thing. Farley mentioned that rainbow trout and grayling fishing had been good lately and he expected that to continue. Still it might be a good idea to consider water levels and clarity before heading out to specific destinations, especially considering more rain had been forecasted to occur before the weekend. Below are some thought of specific Mat-Su salmon fisheries:
Personal use dip net: Susitna River and Fish Creek
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist, Samantha Oslund told me the first day of dip netting in the new lower Susitna River fishery (Saturday July 11) was a bust with several boats participating but not much being caught. Mike Hudson had a report of about 15 boats participating with one individual reporting not seeing a single salmon caught by any of the participants. Still the area open to dip netting is large enough that a person simply could not watch everyone all the time. Point taken, however, the first day produced very few if any salmon. One of my nephews was planning to participate during the 2nd day of the fishery on Wednesday July 15, however, that is past the deadline for this fishing column so I can not report the results this week. Something else to consider, commercial catches near the mouth of the Susitna River were reporting approximately 100 sockeye and 65 silvers per permit for their Monday July 13 fishing period, so some of those salmon should be making it up into the dip netting area before long. Mike Hudson told me he is planning on going Wednesday July 22. Remember the lower Susitna River fishery is only open on Saturdays and Wednesdays through the end of July.
At the time this column was written not enough sockeye salmon had passed Fish Creek weir for the Department of Fish and Game to project adequate sockeye salmon escapement to open this personal use fishery. By regulation the fishery could open by July 15, however, it will likely take at least 9,000 sockeye to have passed the weir before July 21 before the Department would consider opening the fishery. Look for an emergency announcement from the Department opening this fishery. Only Alaska residents may participate in personal use fisheries and a permit is required. On Monday July 13, a total of 4,948 sockeye salmon had already swum past the Fish Creek weir compared to 1 fish a year ago on the same date. Considering also that the Department’s preseason projection was calling for a very large sockeye salmon return to Fish Creek, I am expecting this fishery to open before July 21.
Cottonwood Creek, Eklutna Tailrace, and Jim Creek may all have catchable numbers of sockeye salmon by this weekend, however, it is still early in the season so do not expect peak numbers of sockeye. Like all Mat-Su Salmon fisheries for the coming weekend and into next week salmon fishing opportunities provide a chance to fish popular streams with likely less competition for prime spots than during the peak of the season which will come later.
Fishing the tributary stream confluences with the Susitna River north of Willow for pink salmon will likely provide one of the most consistent opportunities to catch salmon this weekend. Once again remember that salmon numbers are building at this time. Most pink salmon available are in prime condition this early in the season. I talked with Jennifer from Susitna Landing on Tuesday and she had noticed more people out fishing that day, but did not know if they had caught any salmon. Susitna Landing, not only provide a fishing location at the landing, but also provides the only developed public boat launch on the Susitna River and is the primary boat access point for several miles of river. Jennifer mentioned they have had good campsite availability lately and even some of the electric campsites are still available for the coming weekend.
As I mentioned earlier in this column some chum salmon are currently available in the lower Little Susitna River, but high water conditions or possibly low abundance levels have made them more difficult to catch than usual. I have not heard of chum salmon showing up yet along the Parks Highway tributaries of the Susitna River, but would think there should be some by this weekend. mThe early part of the chum salmon is my favorite time to fish for chums as they are great fighters early in the season, and they are also near their peak as table fare as well.
It is early in the season, but I would think a few silvers must be available. Little Susitna River, Deshka River, and Alexander Creek are some of the earlier Mat-Su Valley locations that will likely produce a few silver salmon this coming weekend with numbers of fish continuing to build during the following week. As mentioned in last week’s column several locations along the Susitna River drainage opened to the use of multiple hooks and bait on July 14. These changes are already increasing fishing participation in some of the popular silver salmon fisheries, although fishing pressure remains significantly lower than normal with less out of state visitors due to Covid-19 travel restrictions and regulations.
Legal king salmon fishing and harvest is still allowed at the Eklutna Tailrace/Knik River fishery. The Knik River is now high and turbid enough that nearly all of the remaining king salmon are being harvested in the tailrace or at the confluence of the tailrace with the Knik River. All other Mat-Su Valley freshwater locations are now closed to fishing for ocean-run king salmon for the remainder of 2020. If an angler catches a king salmon at one of the other Mat-Su locations they must be released immediately.
Lakes stocked by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game continue to see a lot of use, and especially during the weekends. Early morning, late evening and fishing during other periods of low light levels often increases catches and especially of larger fish.
Good luck and fish on!
Andy Couch is a local salmon fishing guide who provides Mat-Su Valley fishing reports throughout the season on his Fishtale River Guides website. See Fishing Reports at https.//www.fish4salmon.com