That was the word I heard when I talked with Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Fisheries Biologist, Sam Ivey this week. Sam was excited that the Department was able to start up a stocking program for grayling, which provide a different catching opportunity for those fishing Mat-Su Valley Lakes. 8 Mat-Su Lakes were stocked with Arctic Grayling before the deadline for this fishing column — and just in time for Memorial Weekend fishers and campers. Average-size for catchable grayling this spring is approximately 8 inches, and they can be found at Long Lake up the Glenn Highway (which also received a stocking of catchable rainbow trout this week), Ravine, Reed, Meirs, Kepler-Bradley, Finger, and Canoe Lakes. Grayling are a favorite for fly fishermen, and I already saw an angler out fly casting on Kepler-Bradley Lake on Tuesday evening — not long after grayling were stocked at that location.
Several Arctic Char stockings also occurred to Mat-Su Lakes in the past 10 days, raising the total of Mat-Su lakes with catchable char stockings this spring to 9. Catchable char averaged about 10 inches when stocked. You may see the Mat-Su lakes stocked with char by using the fish stocking search tool on the ADF&G website. Char are often available in the shallow waters during the early part of the summer, before migrating deeper as the water warms up.
Rainbow trout stockings have taken a back seat to the grayling and char stockings recently, however, the department now lists 21 Mat-Su lakes that have been stocked with catchable rainbow trout this spring. Of note are some of the lakes further north, including, Willow, Kashwitna, Crystal Lakes. Willow Lake in particular can grow fish to larger size in a hurry.
Northern Pike fishing is heating up, literally. My friend Jason Perrego, says that pike all of a sudden turn on — when water temperatures warm into the mid-50s. He found a lake with that magic temperature range this week, and has been catching and seeing considerably more and larger pike now compared to his earlier trips. ADF&G mentioned the Nancy Lake system, Deshka River, and Big Lake as popular options for pike. Staff at 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla mentioned Red Shirt Lake in the Nancy Lake system as a particularly good option right now, although it it a bit of a hike to get to. Pike can be caught off the shore at Red Shirt Lake and there is also a business (Tippercanoe Rentals 907 — 355-6687) that may provide a significant advantage for fishing Red Shirt Lake or waters through or other Nancy Lake system waters.
Camping on the 3-day holiday weekend is also popular. Some people simply camp, while other choose to camp and fish. Some popular water-side locations include the Alaska State Parks campground at Finger Lake, the limited area at Kepler-Bradley Lakes, Willow Creek, Susitna Landing, the Nancy Lake system (Alaska State Parks), and Sam Ivey even mentioned the Little Susitna River public use facility campground and boat launch on the lower Little Susitna River. I would suggest making a few phone calls ahead of time and a good place to start is Alaska State Parks if you are interested in camping over the weekend 745 -3975 (Finger Lake Headquarters). You may also call Susitna Landing at 495-7700 they take reservations and can also let you know how much camping / parking is available currently for the coming holiday weekend or any other time. Steve at Susitna Landing told me people were still catching some rainbow trout off the bank at the landing, and he also had a group fishing the river as they floated down to the landing before taking their raft out.
Stream fishing north of Willow
Spencer Cook of Red Beard Anglers/I Fish Alaska in the Willow Area has been out fishing for trout and hoping to guide more trout fishing trips. Spencer told me that rainbow trout have been moving up the Susitna River tributary streams and are scattered throughout more water now. Contact Spencer at 357-0131. Fishing on the streams north of Willow requires the release of all rainbow trout a this time, and harvest limits on the streams are generally lower throughout the season for native fish, compared to harvest limits for the stocked lakes. Many steams south of Willow Creek are closed to all fishing at this time to protect staging and spawning rainbow trout. Check regulations, especially before fishing any streams near Palmer and Wasilla this weekend.
Hooligans: Now or next year
Both Spencer Cook and Sam Ivey with ADF&G told me that hooligans (small smelt-like fish) seem to be tapering off already. They may be a bit harder to find this weekend, and it may provide the last best opportunity for Alaskan residents to catch some before next spring. Experienced hooligan catchers (it helps to have a boat) are often quite observant of larger groups of gulls, eagles, or both along the river. Large schools of these small oily fish tends to attract large groups of birds looking for several easy meals. I check shorelines and island edges where I find the birds. Sometimes you can simply run a boat in close and see a dark stream of schooled hooligan right along the bank. If running a jet boat however, be careful not to get too close to shore when looking for hooligan as sometimes the fish are so thick you can clog your jet intakes with fish!
I’ve been out looking for the official state fish at Eklutna Tailrace/Knik River, and although I have not seen or hooked any of the big salmon, yet, I suspect some lucky angler should land a king salmon at this location either over the holiday weekend or during the following week. Note: this is the only location in the Mat-Su Valley were it is legal to fish for and harvest a king salmon at this time.
King salmon fishing was closed throughout the Susitna River drainage and Little Susitna River starting on May 1, 2019. If anglers catch a king salmon while fishing for other species of fish at these locations they are required to release it immediately. In addition, waters of the Susitna River drainage and Little Susitna River are also restricted to single hook artificial lures at this time.
Have a wonderful holiday weekend, drive safe, and fish on!
Andy Couch is owner and guide of Fishtale River Guides. You may read his fishing reports at https://www.fish4salmon.com