Andy Couch

Some king salmon have been getting caught at Eklutna Tailrace and in the side channel of the Knik River below the Tailrace. Fish and wildlife protection has now posted markers near the lower end of the side channel above which it is legal to fish for and harvest king salmon. The water has cleared slightly since some of the rain has decreased the past few days. I’ve participated in this fishery several times this year, and I’ve yet to see a nice-sized king salmon break the surface except when hooked. From that observation and also from the fact that fishing seems to be slow every time I’ve participated or guided trips to this location I’ve come to the conclusion only low numbers of king salmon have likely been available up to this point.

The Eklutna Tailrace/Knik River fishery remains, however, the only Mat-Su Valley freshwater location where king salmon fishing for ocean-run fish is legal. In the Knik River most king salmon are being caught on diving plugs or salmon roe. Most boaters are fishing the salmon roe behind a jet diver and often with a Spin-N-Glo type winged bobber in front of the bait. While plugs are more frequently flatlined (fished without a planer or sinker) straight behind a boat. Bank anglers are casting heavy sinkers to anchor Spin- N-Glos and salmon roe near the bottom.

A friend of mine mentioned catching a king salmon at the Tailrace on Tuesday at about 10 a.m., and also seeing a couple other king salmon caught while he was there. He caught his king salmon by casting a spinner, but with low water visibility levels most tailrace anglers switch to bait. In addition to salmon roe, shrimp, and herring can be popular at the tailrace, although the vast majority of bait users fish roe.

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King salmon counts past Deskha River weir (2,648) and Little Susitna River weir (155) through June 11 don’t show much promise of meeting king salmon spawning escapement goals. The Deshka River goal is 13,000 to 28,000, while Little Susitna River goal is 2,100 to 4,300 king salmon passing each respective weir. The average quarter point of the Deshka River king salmon return is around June 13, however run timing can vary from year to year. On the other hand, conditions so far during 2019 would seem to have been perfect for drawing king salmon into both rivers earlier than average. 2019 had a warm early spring with Deshka River and Little Susitna River having had high water levels and cool water temperatures, both of which should encourage king salmon migration. I expect both of these fisheries to remain closed to king salmon fishing unless much larger numbers of king salmon show up soon. On Deshka River some days with over 1,000 fish passing the weir would be encouraging, on Little Susitna River several days with king salmon counts of 100 to 500 fish would be encouraging.

Copper River dip net fisheries

For the most part June salmon fishing in the Mat-Su Valley has been very slow, contrast that to the Cooper River dip net fisheries, about five hours drive from the Palmer-Wasilla core area. Sockeye salmon escapement past the Miles Lake sonar is already over 400,000 fish as of June 12.

I participated in this fishery five different days, driving my boat ,while my wife and friends did the netting. We came home with plenty of tasty sockeye (red) salmon, although there were slow periods of fishing nearly every day we participated. For those interested in this fishery, remember it is for Alaska residents only, and permits are required. Personal use permits are available at some stores, online, and at several Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) offices. Subsistence permits are only available at certain ADF&G offices. Some other things to keep in mind about this fishery: the Copper River is very fast and dip netters should make conscious efforts to be safe. Personal Floatation Devises (life jackets) are a good idea even when participating from the bank, but even more so when wading or boating and fishing. Be careful when wading or boating at all times. If participating from a boat, I would recommend having a person doing nothing other than operating the boat at all times. If you are an inexperienced boater, develop some proficiency on other rivers before attempting this one. Weekends are busy in this fishery as many Alaskans travel a considerably distance to participate and multiple day trips are the norm at this fishery. Four-wheel drive vehicles are useful for driving to the river, and almost a necessity if you want to launch a boat. There are no developed boat launches, in other words boats are launched directly into the river off of gravel bar(s) depending upon river level. My best recommendation would be to go with an experienced Alaskan Copper River personal use or subsistence fisher if at all possible when learning this fishery. You may also find more information at this page on the ADF&G website: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=PersonalUsebyAreaInteriorChitina.main

Happy Father’s Day weekend, good luck, and fish on!

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