As the first few feet of open water has appeared at Kepler-Bradley Park along the Glenn Highway near Palmer, multiple anglers have already appeared to fish near the bridge at the west end of Bradley Lake. There is not even enough water to make a long cast, however, I’ve already hear of anglers catching a few rainbow trout form the shallows in front of the bridge. I even saw a picture of a very nice-sized rainbow that was caught there.

Licenses and regulations

More small patches of water, open to fishing, will likely be appearing by this weekend, however, a lot of those areas of open water will likely be quite small. Many flowing waters in the Palmer-Wasilla zone are currently closed to fishing in order to protect spawning rainbow trout. There is at least one exception to this rule, so it is always a good idea to review fishing regulations for specific waters you intend to fish , before heading out for the first trip at that location.

Another part of the regulation equation is remembering to purchase a new fishing license. Alaska residents over the age of 17, and nonresidents over the age of 15 are required to obtain a fishing license before fishing. I’ve already heard of an instance this week, where people fishing at Bradley Lake were caught by troopers while fishing without licenses. Since there is only a few locations with open water at this time, those are also the locations most likely to be patrolled by Fish and Wildlife troopers. Concerning waters that are still iced over — my recommendation is to wait for the ice to melt.

Parks Highway streams

I inquired about fishing conditions up the Parks Highway on Wednesday from Mike Hudson, owner of 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla. He has had not heard any reports of fish being caught, yet at any of the tributaries to the Susitna River. These confluence areas are often the first locations where native trout grayling and char are caught from streams. These streams are generally open to fishing from Willow Creek north along the Parks Highway, although regulations call for single-hook artificial lures only and all rainbow trout must be released at this time. Again, check regulations for any specific waters you intend to fish before heading out. It is likely a few eager anglers will try their luck along the Parks Highway this weekend, and perhaps a few fish may be caught. When I asked about fishing conditions at Susitna Landing this week, I learned that several people had stopped by the landing to inquire about or check on fishing conditions, but that no one had attempted to fish at this time. The snow is deep along the river, and the water is running over still intact ice. Definitely not good conditions for fishing, and potentially dangerous as well. I’ve attempted to fish under such conditions in the past, and will wait a bit longer this time. The folks at Susitna Landing told me people had been coming out and camping the past couple, so they were plowing snow at working at opening additional campsites. People looking for some different activity this weekend may want to give them a call at 495-7700. Covid-19 regulations require those wanting to camp make advance reservation — this can be done over the phone.

3 early season stocked lake opportunities in the Palmer-Wasilla core

I checked for open water fishing areas on a select few Mat-Su Valley lakes that have provided early open-water fishing opportunities in the past. Kepler-Bradley Lakes had a very small patch of open water that could be significantly larger by this weekend. Finger Lake had a very small area open along the shore, but the popular boat dock area in the Finger Lake campground was still locked up with ice on Wednesday afternoon. Lucille Lake in downtown Wasilla had the most open water, and even enough open water at the city boat launch to launch a boat. On Wednesday afternoon there was not much water to boat in once launched, but definitely enough water to fish, and more water will be open by this weekend.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocking

When I talked with Samantha (Sam) Oslund at the Palmer Fish and Game office, she said stocking would happen soon, but no Mat-Su open water stockings had occurred yet. The key ingredient the Department was lacking at this point — open water. Samantha could not suggest any good places to catch fish this early in the spring, but emphasized that anglers should check regulations before fishing — and especially before fishing any flowing waters. With Covid virus concerns, this year, the department has also been recommending purchasing fishing licenses online at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website. This can be done by credit card and then the license printed ton a home computer. The new 2020 regulation booklets became available at local stores this week, or can also be picked up at the Palmer Fish and Game office. Sam’s assessment of fishing this weekend is it is mainly about finding some open water, where it is legal to fish, and then a person would mainly be practicing casting, while enjoying the wonderful spring weather.

Author’s top Mat-Su Valley fishing choice for the first weekend of May

Eklutna Tailrace. The department is planning to have the gate open to the parking lot starting May 1. The snow has melted and there is lots of water to cast and present a lure. One does not need to worry much about regulations, because bait and multiple hooks are allowed year-round. I’ve been over to the tailrace several times already this spring, casting and checking out gear in preparation for the coming fish catching season.

Note: Do not expect to catch a fish at the tailrace this time of year. The first adult king salmon will likely not be caught from the Tailrace until the last week of May, maybe even later. This is the only Mat-Su Valley location currently open to king salmon harvest during the 2020 season. If you go remember to practice social distancing. There is no reason to crowd together, and especially this early in the season.

Additional 2020 king salmon opportunities

Little Susitna River, Deshka River, and select Susitna River waters are open to catch and release king salmon fishing. Be sure to get and review Emergency King Salmon Regulations from ADF&G or the ADF&G website before you go. I would not expect any king salmon to be caught at these locations until later in May as well. I would not suggest even attempting to get to these locations this weekend. but simply mention them for future trip planning purposes.

The statewide burn ban started May 1, so I hope yard work is wrapped up enough that you may get the opportunity to fish this weekend.

In addition to reading about actual fish-catching opportunities next week, check back for a preview of 2020 Mat-Su salmon catching opportunities.

Fish On!

Andy Couch is a member of the Mat-Su Borough FIsh and Wildlife Commission, owner of Fishtale River Guides, and guides salmon fishing trips at several Mat-Su Valley locations.

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