Andy Couch

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game opened the Little Susitna River on June 26, after the king salmon escapement past the Little Susitna River weir had exceed the lower end of the king salmon escapement goal.

Just a little over 2,600 king salmon passed the weir in the week before the river opened to fishing, but with a good crowd of anglers and boaters showing up on Wednesday, king salmon fishing at the Little Susitna River was slow. The water started out at a decent level and relatively clear, but as by mid-morning the water was muddy with a considerable amount of grass and debris washed into the river by boat traffic.

When I talked with ADF&G staff at the weir late Wednesday morning, they mentioned about a dozen boaters had headed up passed the weir in search of some of those king salmon that had already passed the weir. Most boaters coming back past the weir on their downstream trip reported catching no salmon or maybe a few jack king salmon. Area Fisheries Management Biologist, Sam Ivey said he felt most of the king salmon caught on Wednesday were being taken below the weir.

We did not have a guided trip scheduled for Wednesday when the emergency order to open Little Susitna River to sport king salmon fishing was announced, so my wife called some friends to fish with us that morning. I could have fished, but ended up running the boat for my wife and a couple friends. The first couple hours we did not even seen a fish, and caught only grass and debris, but we had a little spurt of action when my wife caught the only legal-sized kings salmon we kept, Tony Russ caught a couple small king salmon in the 5 lb. range, and Gary Brell caught a small jack king salmon. We covered lots of water to get those fish, and fished from 6 am until 11:30 am. We talked with some other boaters who had a bit of success, and one of my friends mentioned seeing a couple bank anglers with fish as well. Many of the fish were small — typical of Little Susitna River late in the king salmon run.

Escapement numbers through the weir measured 2,977 king salmon through June 25 — and when my wife talked with Sam Ivey he told her the Little Susitna River escapement included about 50 to 60 percent female salmon —- so a solid number of females and larger fish were included in the escapement. Sam also mentioned that about 20 percent of the escapement were jack king salmon (early returning small male fish) which provides an indication that the 2020 Little Susitna River king return could have a big number of two ocean males (5- to 10-pound fish). As could be expected when fishing the Little Susitna River in late June many of the king salmon area already getting blushed coloration, although there were some bright ocean chrome king salmon taken and many of the smaller king salmon jacks are also bright chrome.

What should you expect if fishing the Little Susitna River this weekend?

There will likely be several times more anglers fishing for king salmon than king salmon actually caught. For those anglers who are successful, most of them will likely fish a considerably amount of time before seeing or hooking a king salmon. When we fished on Wednesday later in the trip we finally saw a few fish surface, but the salmon we saw were all relatively small. Even so, Little Susitna River provides the opportunity for a few lucky anglers to hook into some large king salmon over 30 pounds. There are also a few sockeye salmon running in Little Susitna River at this time, and the potential to catch a bonus sockeye, while fishing for king salmon, is also present.

Standard king salmon regulations — the same ones printed in the regulation book now apply at Little Susitna River — remember if you go you will need either a king salmon stamp in addition to your fishing license or if you are an: Alaska senior over 60 years of age, nonresident youth under 16 years of age or Alaska resident youth under 18 years of age — you will need a king salmon recorder card. King salmon must be recorded in ink immediately upon harvest. After harvesting a king salmon or a limit of any other salmon species anglers are required to quit fishing for the remainder of the day on Little Susitna River.

Artificial lures are required when fishing Little Susitna River before Aug. 6. The king salmon season ends at 11 p.m. on July 13. Daily legal fishing hours through July 13 are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days per week. Salmon fishing is only allowed on Little Sustina River downstream of the Parks Highway bridge.

Eklutna Tailrace/Knik River king salmon fishery

The tailrace has been producing more king salmon in the past week, as more king salmon have migrated up the Knik River and into the tailrace itself. Note: it usually takes a considerably amount of time and effort to catch king salmon at this location , although bait is allowed and the fishery is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. With the recent hot weather both the Knik and Matanuska Rivers have swollen with glacial melt making it considerably more challenging to catch a king salmon in the Knik River side-channel below the Eklutna Tailrace where king salmon fishing is legal. The usual practice to catch king salmon in the Knik River is still fishing with bait. Note: expect to fish a considerably amount of time for each bite.

While limited king salmon fishing will continue for the next couple weeks, many Mat-Su anglers are looking forward to the arrival of more abundant chum and coho salmon that may start making an appearance by mid to late July.

Good luck and fish on!

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