Coho salmon

Mike Sims displays a coho salmon during a recent season.

Most years coho salmon support a big portion of the annual sport fishing effort in the Mat-Su Valley. Even more so in 2021 with Alaska residents and out-of-state visitors clamoring to get out and fish a year after Covid — 19 restrictions and cancellations slowed sport fisheries statewide in 2020. Both Deshka River and Little Susitna River saw larger pushes of coho (silver) salmon swimming past Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) counting weirs at two of the Mat-Su Valley’s most popular sport coho salmon fisheries. Both of these locations saw a corresponding increase in angler catch rates in the past week as well.

During the past week I’ve participated in the final day of the Lower Susitna River Personal Use Fishery, the Deshka River and Little Susitna River coho salmon fisheries, and 2 coho salmon fisheries along the Parks Highway between Willow and Talkeetna. At each location guests in my boat have caught at least one coho salmon, but coho salmon numbers have been a bit later than what I would normally expect. I would also comment that fish harvested from Little Susitna River, Deshka River, and the lower Susitna River seemed to be large or larger than what I’ve seen on many past years. Catch numbers of coho salmon along the Parks Highway were low enough that I would not want to speculate on the average fish size. I would expect considerably more abundant silver salmon at each of these location by the August 7 /8 weekend.

Larson Creek Salmon Fishing Closure

Low salmon passage through salmon counting weirs in the Mat-Su Valley, however, are causing concern for popular sport fisheries, and have already resulted in the first sportfishing emergency closure. Earlier this week the ADF&G announced that the Larson Creek drainage and all waters within 1/4 mile of its confluence with the Talkeetna River would close to all salmon fishing and remain closed for the remainder of the season (August 4 — December 31). The caveat was given that if the escapement goal was achieved, restrictions to the sport fishery may be rescinded. Through Monday August 2 only 2,508 sockeye salmon had passed the Larson Lake Weir — a number far short of the spawning escapement goal of 15,000 — 35,000 fish at a time when nearly 50% of the run should have past the weir under normal run timing.

Will Bait Fishing Be Closed at Little Susitna River?

Only 620 coho salmon had passed ADF&G’s Little Susitna River weir through Monday August 2, raising concern amongst sport anglers that one of the Mat-Su Valley’s most popular coho salmon fisheries could once again be closed to bait fishing even before it is scheduled to open on Friday August 6. No ADF&G announcement has been made at the time this article was written, but it would be wise for sport anglers to check for a possible emergency order before venturing to Little Susitna River to fish with bait this weekend. There is some hope that sufficient numbers of coho salmon may migrate upstream to or past the weir in time to allow bait fishing as written in regulation — but it will obviously be a close call time wise.

Deshka River Weir — August 15 Removal

ADF&G’s website showed coho passage through Deshka River weir on Sunday August 1 at 613 fish with an annual goal of 10,200 — 24,100 fish. When I talked with Dan Suprak of Alaska Chinook Charters on Monday, he told me that Deshka River water level had dropped and water temperatures had been rising — slowing sport coho salmon catch rates since last weekend. Because of budget cuts last year, Deshka River weir was only operated through August 15 —- and is scheduled for the same removal time again in 2021. There was concern last season as to whether the coho salmon escapement goal was actually achieved —- although ADF&G said that at the time of weir removal the 2020 goal Deshka River coho salmon spawning escapement goal was projected to be reach the low end of the escapement range.

Fish Creek Weir — July 29 Removal

ADF&G operated the Fish Creek Weir long enough to attain the minimum level of the sockeye salmon spawning escapement goal range of 15,000 — 45,000 fish and long enough to open the Fish Creek personal use dip net fishery for 8 days. The Fish Creek weir was removed on July 29, however, with a final incomplete sockeye escapement count of 22,271 fish. Zero coho salmon had been counted through the weir before removal. Sockeye salmon and coho salmon sport fisheries at this fishery should therefore proceed following regulations in the 2021 Southcentral Alaska Sportfishing Regulations Summary booklet with fishing limited to weekends only.

Fish Creek Youth — Only Fishery August 7 & 8

The fishery is located off of Knik Goose Bay Road from the stream mouth to a marker 1/4 mile upstream of the road. FIshing hours are 5 am — 10 pm. This is an excellent opportunity for youth 15 years old and younger to fish for and possible catch some coho or sockeye salmon this weekend. Adults may assist the youth, but may not fish themselves. This popular salmon fishery will be open each following weekend for participants of all ages.

Good luck and Fish On!

Andy Couch is a 35-year Mat-Su Valley salmon fishing guide. You may read daily fishing reports on his Fishtale River Guides website at https://www.fish4salmon.com/alaska-fishing-reports/

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