People have been asking me where they can harvest ocean-run salmon this year, and in the Mat-Su Valley for the next week options are extremely limited. Although I have mentioned the Eklutna Tailrace/Knik River king salmon fishery, it is a very limited fishery by the small area open.
A person can easily walk from one end of the tailrace to the other in a few minutes, just as boaters can run the entire section of Knik River open to king salmon fishing in a few minutes. If you don’t like fishing close to other people or other boats this may not be the fishery for you.
King salmon harvest is also allowed at Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage, however that fishery can be even more crowded in the two hours before and after a high tide when most Ship Creek king salmon are harvested.
Over many years time I’ve also harvested or had guests harvest a few sockeye salmon from Little Susitna River and the Susitna River drainage, however, currently early June sockeye numbers are so low in both of these drainages as to make catching one of them while sport fishery an impractical exercise. Therefore Mat-Su Valley anglers hoping to catch ocean-run salmon in the next week may want to consider taking a road trip away from the valley.
Chitina personal use fishery
I mentioned my wife and I were headed out on a camping trip to Chitina last week. The subsistence fishery upstream of the Copper River bridge near Chitina had started at that time, however, because of low numbers of salmon both effort and harvest of salmon was considerably down. Both sockeye salmon and up to five king salmon salmon could be harvested by participants in the dip net subsistence fishery, but the numbers of salmon to harvest were quite low last weekend. Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Copper River sonar counts are now indicating thousands more salmon will likely be available over the coming weekend and early next week. Some of these salmon will be harvested by Alaskan residents in both the subsistence and personal use fisheries.
This fishery occurs below the bridge and because of low sockeye salmon numbers the personal use fishery has a shortened/delayed first opening of June 10 to 13. The delayed opening should focus effort during a time when more sockeye salmon are available. People access this fishery from the banks for the river near Chitina, or by charter boat, private boat, or 4-wheeler access using the old railroad bed. The Copper River is extremely fast with many steep cliff-like banks.
People should be extra careful when participating in this fishery. Personal flotation devices (life vests) are a wise choice for participants from both the banks and boats. Nearly every year it seems an Alaska life is lost by a participant in this fishery.
A sport fishing license and household permit is required to participate.
Russian River sport fishery
South of the Mat-Su Valley on the Kenai Peninsula the popular Russian River sockeye salmon fishery is scheduled to open on June 11. The Russian River Sanctuary remains closed.
This is a fly fishing only fishery, although many anglers often present their salmon flies with a spinning or casting rod. Anglers wearing polaroid sunglasses often sight-fish and see the sockeye they are attempting to catch take their fly.
Seward Hatcher Salmon sport fishery
Anglers often make the trek to Seward at this time in June to participate in a snag fishery for hatchery produced sockeye salmon. One of my nephews went and caught four sockeye salmon over Memorial Day Weekend. I have a friend who has caught considerably more sockeye salmon from this location in the past.
When will other Mat-Su fisheries open to king salmon harvest?
Last year Deshka River was only open to king salmon harvest during a portion of the second week of July. Little Susitna River was only open for king salmon harvest from July 11 to 13 last year.
Don’t expect a king salmon harvest opportunity at Deshka River until ADF&G can conservatively project a king salmon spawning escapement past Deshka River weir in excess of 9,000 fish. Through June 6, a total of 970 king salmon had passed Deshka River weir.
Don’t expect a king salmon harvest opportunity at Little Susitna River unless ADF&G can conservatively project a king salmon spawning escapement past the weir in excess of 2,000 fish. Through June 6, a total of 35 king salmon had swum past Little Susitna River weir. These escapement counts could rise rapidly in the next couple weeks or king salmon migration timing could be similar to what occurred last year. For anglers who want to harvest some prime-eating Alaska salmon it may be best to take advantage of one of the salmon harvest opportunities that are currently available rather than waiting for harvest opportunity to open in a specific fishery.
Good Luck and Fish On!
Andy Couch is a Mat-Su Valley fishing guide who is also a member of the Matanuska -Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee.