When I talked with Alaska Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologist Samantha Oslund on Monday of this week, she mentioned the department was hearing good reports of sport coho salmon catches from all of the clear Susitna River tributary streams between Willow and Talkeetna. She was hopeful that all sport anglers who were still looking for salmon might be able to catch some of the bounty. Staff at Susitna Landing (mile 82 Parks Highway) told me of solid catches of coho salmon reported from that location over the past weekend (77 coho reported on Saturday and over 40 reported on Sunday. Considering that more people camp than fish from Susitna Landing and also considering that many anglers leave the landing without reporting what they caught those numbers sounded pretty good to me. The Parks Highway tributary streams, however, are not the only coho hotspots.
Oslund and one of my charter guests this past week both told me that Jim Creek was providing good coho salmon catching. Deshka River was high over the weekend, but had good numbers of coho salmon available — with high water flows seemingly slowing the catch at this three coho-salmon-limit stream. Ben Allen of Miller’s Riverboat Service switched trips from Deshka to Little Susitna River on Sunday and Monday, but planned to return to guiding at Deshka on Tuesday as water flows started to drop. The final Deshka River weir coho count is 3,338 through Wednesday August 11 — when the Deshka River weir was removed because of budget cuts. Now that a Deshka River coho salmon goal (10,200 — 24,100) has been developed and used for inseason fishery management — I am hopeful that in the future, budgeting enough money to operate this weir through August will become more of a priority.
From personal experience at Little Susitna River this past weekend, I would venture to say it was one of the busiest — if not the busiest weekend of the entire season for sport fishing effort. Catches at Little Su were generally good this past weekend as well, although a fair number of the fish are starting to get a rosy blush to them. Even with higher than normal water levels, anglers were having good luck with both cured salmon roe or casting spinners. I saw and talked with some anglers who were catching coho salmon in the high murky water on flies, and lots of people were catching fish from the bank or by wading within a mile or two of the Little Susitna River Public Use Facility access site. (parking $7 per day).
Passage of coho salmon through Little Susitna River weir had risen to 6,630 through Aug. 15, and I feel confident coho passage should grow significantly before the coming weekend. The question then becomes, how many coho salmon will remain downstream of the Little Susitna River weir by the Aug. 21-22 weekend and the coming week? In the past coho numbers at Little Susitna River have sometimes dwindled significantly after August 20. In 2017 (primary parent year for the 2021 return) however, most of the coho salmon escapement past the weir did not occur until after August 20. At the last Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries Meeting, the board adopted changes that reduced August commercial drift net fishing in the area where most of Upper Cook Inlet’s coho salmon had been harvested in the past. Therefore, the likelihood of solid coho salmon numbers in lower Little Susitna River and other Knik Arm and Susitna River drainage steams after Aug. 20 has increased from what it was just a few years ago.
I mentioned last week that the fishery for hatchery coho salmon at Eklutna Tailrace should be good, however, Oslund said that reports she had heard from that location were only so — so during the past week. However, with a bit of later run timing, there is still hope for solid coho catches at the tailrace. Aug. 21 will be the Youth Fishing Day at the tailrace with the area between the pedestrian bridge and the tailrace’s confluence with the Knik River set aside for anglers less than 16 years old from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Remaining waters of the tailrace and the Knik River remain open to all anglers.
Catching more Coho with Bait and LuresSome anglers prefer fishing with bait, while other anglers prefer fishing with artificial lures. There are times when bait out fishes lures by a significant margin and at other times lures out fish bait. On guided fishing charters I sometimes cater to what approach may be best for specific fishing groups, however, it is often advantageous in terms of more coho caught to use both. After fishing a specific spot thoroughly with bait or with lures — more fish may be easily caught by simply switching approaches for a few minutes before moving on to look for more fish. When fishing from a boat anglers may choose to bring along a rod rigged for bait and another rigged for lures to save time. Bank anglers sometimes employ this same technique, however, it is more difficult to pack around and fish with two separate outfits when an angler has to physically carry everything from spot to spot.
Too Much Rain Muddying Your Favorite Salmon Spot — Fish a LakeOne final tip that Samantha Oslund suggested angler may want to try in the event of heavy August rains — the lake fisheries for stocked trout are often quite good and much less crowded during August and early September. Lake fisheries usually provide much more stable fishing conditions in the event of a deluge of rain.
For the Coming Week, Fish On! and Good Luck.
Andy Couch is a Mat-Su Valley fishing guide, member of the Matanuska Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission, and member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee.