Eight days ago I was ice fishing on Matanuska Lake with Chuck Ashmun and my wife. We probably pushed the ice fishing season more than most people. I had to drag my sled full of gear on nothing but gravel and dirt trail while getting from the parking lot to the ice-covered lake. We were careful getting on the ice at a shadowed area where the ice was still solid up against the bank and carefully inspecting and testing the ice before venturing too far from shore. Chuck and my wife both wore jackets and winter boots, while I opted for a short sleeve t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. The temperature rose as we fished and when I checked a thermometer in the afternoon it registered 60 degrees. Fishing was steady and we each caught several fish on a Balls O’Fire salmon eggs fished with a small piece of cocktail shrimp. Ice fishing had been better at this location earlier in the winter, and I suspect most of the stocked fish and especially the larger fish had already been caught and harvested from this easily-accessed location. The largest fish we caught last week were about 12 inches in length, and we caught mainly landlocked king salmon, with a few rainbow trout and arctic char.
While fishing we heard sandhill cranes calling, saw gulls landing and walking on the ice, spotted a couple flocks of geese flying overhead, and noticed that the ice looked unsafe near the sunny bank on the far side of the lake. As soon as we got home from that ice fishing trip, I put my ice fishing gear away for the season. Catching a few pan-sized fish is not worth venturing onto thin ice and possibly breaking through.
It will not be long before open water shows up at numerous Mat-Su locations. Creeks and streams in the Palmer-Wasilla core area are already open and flowing, however, the spring closure to protect spawning rainbow trout is in effect currently and these streams do not open again until June 15. Further up the Parks Highway from Willow Creek north, streams are open to fishing, however, open water is at a premium and any rainbow trout caught must be released.
On Monday Mike Hudson at 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla told me that people had already been catching a few rainbow trout in the small bit of open water around the access point between Kepler and Bradley Lake near Palmer. The amount of open water is quite small at this location, but it will be larger by the time this article is published. This is one of the first lake locations with open water that people start fishing every spring, and although there are not fish in this small section of open water all the time, they do swim in from under the ice and can be caught by those with enough patience. Kepler-Bradley Lakes is usually one of the first locations stocked with new catchable rainbow trout each spring, although it will likely be another week or more before the first Mat-Su Valley stocking event occurs.
My friend and owner of Miller’s River Boat Service, Ben Allen has already been out to Finger Lake, and he told me there was a few feet of open water near the Alaska State Parks campground and boat launch. There was not enough open water for Ben to fish or launch a boat, but anglers will be fishing at this location before long, and it is also the most popular place in the Mat-Su Valley for boaters to get out and do a shake down cruise each spring.
I heard a rumor on Tuesday that a few rainbow trout had already been caught at the confluence of Willow Creek and the Susitna River, and looking at the Deshka Landing weather cam I can see open water leads starting to form in the Susitna River just past the boat launch, so it seems possible that someone could have already caught a few trout in open water near the Willow Creek confluence. This area is usually the first location I hear of each spring where anglers start catching rainbow trout in open water along the Susitna River. I would expect nearly all fish present along the Susitna River tributary streams to be located at or near stream mouth confluence areas with the Susitna River at this time.
I have already been out fishing the tailrace several times in April, however, this is more of a location to get out and cast lures in open water or practice drifting a fly — until the last week of May when a few king salmon may start showing up. When I was at the tailrace on Tuesday the gate to the parking lot was still locked, however, Tracy Smith, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Access Coordinator told me the projected date to open the gate is May 1. There is currently room for several vehicles to park at the upstream end of the tailrace just across the Old Glenn Highway from the Eklutna Power Plant. Expect to see other people at this location, especially on weekends — even if the chance of catching a fish is low. Many people use this location as a place to get out and recreate. It is not usual to see people simply hiking around or canoeing or kayaking up and down the tailrace. The Knik River is now mostly ice free below the tailrace, but the water is currently a bit shallow for kayaking down to the Knik River bridge over the Glenn Highway.
The fish catching will undoubtedly be slow at most Mat-Su Valley open-water locations during the first weekend of May, however, the weekend should provide an opportunity for anglers to drive around and check out new areas, test new fishing gear in small areas of open water, and check out fishing conditions. If you go, remember to purchase a 2021 Alaska fishing license before your trip — if you do not already have one.
Fish On and Good Luck!
Andy Couch is the owner of Fishtale River Guides and writes a weekly fishing column for the Frontiersman during Mat-Su Valley’s open-water fishing season. You may read his daily Mat-Su Valley fishing report updates at the Fishtale River Guides website: https://www.fish4salmon.com http://fish4salmon.com