As mentioned in last week’s fishing column, August is the peak month of sport fishing catches of coho (silver salmon) in Mat-Su Valley Streams. Some of the best catching opportunities may still be ahead — and especially for upstream fisheries along the Parks Highway, Talkeetna River, Yentna River tributary streams and Jim Creek (part of the Knik River drainage. Also as mentioned last week, coho salmon from Little Susitna River and Deshka River may be a bit larger or fatter than average. Along the Parks Highway tributary streams to the Susitna River the silver salmon I’ve seen have been decent-sized, but perhaps not as large as last year — a bank angler I talked with at one of the Parks Highway streams mentioned he was experiencing the same trend with his coho catches.
The past week saw some decent sport coho salmon catches from Little Susitna River, Deshka River, and Parks Highway tributary streams, but coho salmon escapement counts through Aug. 9 at Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) weirs at Deshka River (2,471) and Little Susitna River (3,682) remain low. Good rainfall over the weekend and early this week has raised and cooled water temperatures in streams that had been low or warm. This has already spurred coho salmon migrations as can be seen from Deshka River and Little Susitna River weir counts, but weir passage numbers need to increase significantly from where they were on Aug. 9.
While wet weather may make fishing a bit less comfortable, it often increases coho salmon catch rates and particularly following periods of low and warm water. With increasing salmon migrations and better fish catching conditions this week should provide some of the best sport coho salmon harvesting opportunities of the season, however, with hunting seasons, the Alaska State Fair starting soon, and school starting, sport fishing effort is likely already be on the decline. For those anglers that do go out — less competition at the better fish catching spots should increase their chances as well.
Significance of Little Susitna River and Deshka River Weir CountsLast week I mentioned my concern that the bait fishery at Little Susitna River could be closed by emergency order. Since then, coho salmon counts at Little Susitna River and sport catches have both increased, however, as we progress later into August if the weir counts do not improve to the point that ADF&G can project meeting the Little Susitna River coho salmon spawning escapement goal there remains a distinct possibility this fishery could be restricted once again. As mentioned in last week’s column ADF&G only intends to operate Deshka River weir through Aug. 15, 2021. The Deshka River coho salmon count is the department’s main coho salmon measurement for the entire Susitna River drainage. If recent increases in water level do not spur enough Deshka River coho salmon migration before August 15 — conservation measures (emergency restrictions) will obviously need to be considered for the massive Susitna River drainage.
Lack of FIsh Creek Coho Salmon CountsOn the other hand, ADF&G has long considered Little Susitna River weir counts a tool for managing Little Susitna River and other Knik Arm drainage streams. If weir counts at Little Susitna River were to rise to the point of ADF&G projecting a coho salmon escapement surpassing the Little Susitna River goal (9,200 — 17,700 coho) anglers could logically expect to see some liberalizations at Little Susitna River and possibly other Knik Arm coho salmon fisheries. In recent years coho salmon abundances at FIsh Creek had warranted extra Fish Creek sport fishing opportunities before any expansion of the Little Susitna River coho salmon fishery, but with the Fish Creek weir removed in July 2021 (before any coho salmon passage had occurred) Little Susitna River should likely become the fall back for Fish Creek coho salmon abundances.
Specific Mat-Su Coho Salmon Hot Spots for the Next Week: Eklutna TailraceThis fishery targeting returning hatchery coho salmon has a three salmon bag limit (all of which may be coho salmon). In addition, the fishery is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and bait and multiple hooks are allowed. Some of the fish in this hatchery run seem to arrive a bit later than other Mat-Su salmon, so expect catch rates to good at this location. This is a bank fishery with free parking and easy access. Most people fish near the confluence of the tailrace and the Knik River, however, anglers have success and less crowded fishing conditions further up the tailrace as well. Many regulars like to fish the early morning hours. Salmon roe, spinners, and flies seem to be the preferred bait / lures.
Jim CreekMost people fish Jim Creek near its confluence with the Knik River — which is accessed off of Plumley Road near Bodenburg Butte (if you don’t know the driving route ADF&G may be able to provide directions). Fishing is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Salmon roe fished on the bottom or under floats and spinners are good producers at this location. Our recent rainy weather and timing of the coho migration to this location should provide good harvest rates at Jim Creek.
Fish Creek, Wasilla Creek (Rabbit Slough), CottonwoodThese streams are all open to salmon fishing only in the lower sections closer to Knik Arm. Salmon fIshing is open on Saturdays and Sundays only from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. The daily bag limit is three salmon only two of which may be coho salmon. Salmon roe, small spinners, and flies are preferred baits. Early morning fishing or fishing a couple hours before or after high tide often produces best results at these locations.
Little Susitna River, Deshka River, Kashwitna River, Talkeetna RiverThese four locations have improved boat launches with access fees (parking / boat launching). Deshka River is primarily accessed through the Deshka Landing Outdoor Association boat launch in Willow, and requires boat or airplane access. There is also some drive up bank angling at each of the other locations — although bank anglers fishing these areas should expect to see boat traffic along the rivers. Little Susitna River and Deshka River fishing conditions have improved with the recent rain. Fishing conditions along the glacial Kashwitna and Talkeetna River are negatively impacted by higher rainfall events — although fishing in tributary stream areas had remained good. Coho salmon in catchable numbers are available at each of these locations.
Parks Highway Tributary StreamsAll of the clear streams between Willow and Talkeetna should have some of the best abundance of coho salmon of the entire year during the coming week. Check specific regulations for each location — general Susitna River drainage Unit 2 regulations apply if you can not find specific regulations for a stream in this area. Some of the rivers may only allow salmon fishing downstream of the Parks Highway or some specific landmark. Willow Creek, Montana Creek and Kashwitna River (Susitna Landing Campground and Boat Launch) all have some sort of improved access — with parking / launching fees associated with improvements.
ADF&G Licensing ProblemDuring a portion of the past week the ADF&G website licensing page was out of order and people could not purchase fishing licenses. In addition, stores like Fred Meyer, Wal Mart, and Sportsman’s Warehouse that used the department’s online licensing could not sell licenses either. This resulted in lost fishing license sales. lost charter reservations, and likely lost tackle sales throughout the Mat-Su Valley and the rest of Alaska. Hopefully this problem can be addressed so it will not happen again — or so there is a back up measure in place.
Good Luck and Fish On!
Andy Couch is a Mat-Su Valley fishing guide, member of the Matanuska Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission, and member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee.