As I’ve mentioned in the past silver or coho salmon are the most harvested salmon by sport anglers of all five species present in the Mat-Su Valley. More Mat-Su Valley coho salmon are harvested during the month of August than during all other months of the year combined. Coho salmon abundance will continue to build at most Valley streams as the month progresses, however, silver salmon limits have already been reported from as far north as the Talkeetna River drainage. When I talked with Leslie at Phantom Tri River Charters (733-2400) on Tuesday of this week she reported that two of their boats had limited on coho salmon that morning. From the Talkeetna River drainage north, the daily bag limit is 3 per day (all of which may be coho). There is a public boat launch located on the Talkeetna River in Talkeetna — however — the Talkeetna River is a fast-flowing glacial river that can be hazardous for beginning boaters.
In the Susitna River drainage Unit 2 (below the Talkeetna River but upstream of Deshka River) the limit is also 3 salmon daily, however, only two may be coho salmon. Coho salmon are now available in catchable numbers at all of the Unit 2 stream confluences with the Susitna River. A. J. Hoffman of 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle told me customers with the tackle shop had been catching limits of coho salmon from the bank at the mouth of Willow Creek. A. J. did mention that catching limits of coho, earlier this week at Willow Creek, was accomplished by catching and releasing other salmon first. Pink salmon have been the most abundant other salmon being caught along the Parks Highway between Willow and the Susitna River bridge on the Parks Highway. Using salmon roe (where legal) for bait, may help anglers catch more coho salmon but avoid some of the pink salmon. For those that like to catch all species of salmon, fishing small spinners, spoons, or flies may catch all species of salmon — and in particular larger numbers of pink salmon.
For those wanting to fish multiple days or camp closer to Parks Highway fishing areas there are several campgrounds in this area — including Willow Creek Resort, the Willow Creek Recreation Area, Susitna Landing, Mat-Su RV Park, Montana Creek Campground, and Talkeetna RV and Boat Launch.
Deshka River and Little Susitna River
This past week both of the rivers have been producing good numbers of coho salmon. In addition to silver salmon, there has been a large abundance of pink salmon migrating up the Deshka River. On Deshka River the daily bag limit of three salmon may all be coho salmon. Deshka River is primarily a boat accessible fishery from Deshka Landing in Willow, although some anglers may also access this fishery by small airplane. Our recent rains raised water levels and cooled water temperatures, creating ideal coho catching on Deshka, that will continue as long as water temperatures remain cool enough to keep the coho salmon swimming upstream and active. Bait fishing opened at this location on July 14, and salmon roe is the most popular bait, although spinners have been producing well near the Susitna River confluence. Even with slightly elevated stream flows from our recent rains, upstream boat travel on Deshka River requires navigation through very shallow water — so proceed with caution.
On Little Susitna River the daily bag limit of three salmon may only include two coho salmon. In addition after harvesting a limit of any salmon (including two coho) from Little Susitna River, regulations require anglers to quit fishing for the remainder of that day. Anglers have been catching a variety of pink salmon, chum salmon, and coho salmon every day this past week from Little Susitna River — although many anglers prefer to only harvest the coho. At this time anglers are required to use artificial lures while fishing Little Susitna River. Spinners are by far the most popular lure in this fishery, although there are also a good number of fly anglers fishing the Little Susitna River. Similar to Deshka River, most Little Su anglers access the fishery with a boat, however, some bank anglers are also catching a few limits of salmon out of the Little Susitna River Public Use Facility on the lower end of the river. The largest abundance of salmon is located on the lower river at this time, but some chum salmon, pink salmon, and sockeye salmon are available downstream of the Parks Highway at Houston (which is the upper limit of this salmon fishery). NOTE: Little Susitna River (downstream of the Parks Highway only) does not open to bait fishing until August 6. In order to safely project adequate coho salmon to open the Little Susitna River sport fishery to bait, ADFG would like to see some daily escapements of 200 or more coho salmon before August 6. Through Monday July 29, the largest single-day coho salmon escapement past Little Susitna River weir has been 152 coho.
Aug. 6 is usually both the busiest sport fishing day of the entire year and the largest sport salmon harvest day of the entire year at Little Susitna River. On a good year, hundreds of anglers will participate and 400 or more coho salmon may be sport harvested on August 6 from the Little Susitna River sport fishery. In comparison, this Monday July 29, 2019 — while allowed to fish only one net per permit, four commercial deliveries reported harvesting 671 coho salmon from Susitna Flats (the commercial stat area where Little Susitna River enters Knik Arm). Will there be enough silver salmon escapement for this sport fishery to open to bait fishing on August 6 as specified in regulation?
Youth weekend at Fish Creek
The Fish Creek personal use dip net fishery ended on Wednesday July 31, but the lower end of Fish Creek near Knik Goose Bay Road opens to sport salmon fishing for youths under 16 years of age only on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4 from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. This is a great opportunity for youth to fish in a less competitive manner. Best times for catching salmon at Fish Creek are usually when the creek opens in the morning, and within an hour or two of high tides. Note: fishing area is small and is quite muddy just a little ways downstream of Knik Road. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist, Sam Ivey told me he expected good numbers of both sockeye salmon and coho salmon to be available for youth to target this Saturday and Sunday. Fish Creek opens to all anglers on the following Aug. 10-11 weekend.
Cottonwood Creek and Rabbit Slough
These are the other two weekend-only salmon fisheries located near the Mat-Su Valley core area. Ivey told me that good numbers of sockeye salmon were available at Cottonwood Creek last weekend, and my nephew, Paul Warta, told me he and a couple other anglers caught limits of coho salmon from Rabbit Slough last weekend. So these places obviously have salmon available — and there are coho at both locations.
Northern Pike caught at Eklutna Tailrace salmon fishery
A.J. Hoffman told me that an angler caught a northern pike while fishing for salmon at Eklutna Tailrace on Tuesday of this week. There is obviously a concern with a non-native northern pike being found in the Knik River drainage salmon fishery, as northern pike have greatly reduced salmon numbers is some of the shallow lakes of the Susitna River drainage. Aside from the Eklutna Tailrace hatchery created fishery, the largest producer of salmon from the Knik River drainage is the Jim Creek system and its shallow lakes. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) encourages the harvest of all sport caught northern pike in the Mat-Su Valley and there is no limit on the size or number of pike that can be kept. While a rare catch in the Knik River drainage, anglers may want to do their part to harvest any pike caught and help protect Knik River salmon populations. Sockeye salmon and coho salmon are both being caught at the Tailrace at this time.
Upstream on the Knik River at Jim Creek, coho and sockeye salmon are both passing through the ADF&G salmon counting weir and are therefore available for harvest in Jim Creek.and near its confluence with the Knik River. Salmon numbers and catches should start building quickly in August.
While lake fishing for both wild and hatchery-stocked trout was the headline fishery for most of May and June, fishing effort has now significantly dropped on some of the more popular lake locations with the interest in ocean-run salmon stocks. Good fish catching and harvest opportunities will remain available on the lakes throughout the open-water season, and some lakes have very little fishing pressure at this time.
Good luck this week and fish on!
Andy Couch is the owner of Fishtale River Guides and a member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee. You may read his daily fishing reports on the Fishtale River Guides website at fish4salmon.com