Several sport fishing related businesses that depend upon Mat-Su Valley coho salmon fishing are experiencing big impacts from the emergency closures of coho (silver) salmon fishing at Deshka River and Little Susitna River compounded by wildfires that have restricted traffic and fishing north of Willow along the Parks Highway.
Susitna Landing at mile 82.5 of the Parks Highway was included in the wildfire evacuation order and will be closed with no definite timeline for reopening. At Talkeetna, fishing related businesses are being impacted by restricted travel and smokey conditions along the highway.
I reported last week how Ben Allen of Miller’s Riverboat Service had been fishing all over the Mat-Su Valley in order to find opportunities for his guests to catch silver salmon. With Little Susitna River closed, Deshka River closed, the water dropping to extreme low levels at Little Willow Creek and Willow Creek stream mouths, and with highway travel restricted to Talkeetna, Ben has run out of guidable silver salmon fishing options. Although he still has a couple trips booked he is thinking his coho salmon season is over at this point. The next week or two may provide some opportunities to check out other fisheries or do some fall hunting.
On Little Susitna River, with bait fishing closed starting on Aug. 14 and much slower than normal coho salmon fishing, my business had already been giving previously booked guests the option of fishing Little Susitna River, going to another location, or cancelling and receiving a refund. With low water conditions and smokey travel conditions this week, there were no good options. On Aug. 21 I had several calls of people interested in guided trips for the next few days, but we did not have any good options for them to fish for coho salmon from one of our guide boats. We still have a few reservation on the books, some as late as early September, but it looks like we may have to cancel those reservations or provide a much more limited trip than usual. One guest specifically requested that we hold his reservation — as his trip to Alaska was set entirely on fishing and he did not know if he could find any other options at the last minute.
When I talked with Jim Tilton of Deshka Landing Charters and Lodge 495-5873 on Wednesday he had guests who were happy to continue fishing, but the water available to them was much more limited with the closure at Deshka RIver. Jim also mentioned the dropping water levels with cooler August temperatures and the lack of rain we’ve had all summer. Jim was grateful that additional groups of visitors he had booked later in the season agreed to continue fishing as well. Since most of the other guide service were stopping coho salmon charters, Jim felt there was still opportunity to catch coho at a few small spots along the Susitna River and fish for other species at the same time.
A.J. Hoffman at 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla told me the wildfires and smokey conditions along with the Little Susitna River and Deshka River closures were affecting their business, however, anglers were looking for other places to fish. He mentioned some people were still fishing at some locations along the Parks Highway, and that people had stopped in the store that morning after catching limits of salmon at Fish Creek out Knik Goose Bay Road. He had not heard from anyone fishing Mat-Su Lakes lately, but thought the lake action should be picking up before long with cooling weather and water conditions.
On Tuesday morning I fished the tailrace from 6 am until 7:40 p.m. along with 20 to 30 other anglers. During that time I saw several salmon surface and saw four coho salmon caught. Three of the salmon were caught on salmon roe and one salmon was caught on a spinner. Most anglers (including myself) did not hook a fish, but this is one location were anglers can fish, and there are decent numbers of fish present.
Coho salmon escapements
There is no doubt that coho salmon escapement levels past Little Susitna River Weir and Deshka River Weir are way behind normal timing. Through Aug. 20 only 3,844 coho salmon were above Little Susitna River Weir compared to a spawning escapement goal of 10,100 to 17,700 fish. Deshka had an even lower coho salmon number past the weir with 3,188 fish compared to an escapement goal range of 10,200 to 24,100. All of the business owners I talked with understood the importance of achieving escapement goals and several of them were wondering if it would even be possible considering how late it was in the season. Jim Tilton mentioned that there were still some pods of chrome silver salmon moving upstream when they fished the river on Aug. 20 — the last day open to sport silver salmon fishing.
There are only two other coho salmon escapement goals in all of Upper Cook Inlet and the low end of one goal has already been achieved at Fish Creek. The Fish Creek goal is 1,200 to 4,400 fish and 1,412 coho salmon had already passed the weir at that location as of Aug. 20. The Fish Creek season was earlier liberalized to seven-day per week of fishing from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
The Jim Creek Weir had passed 1,512 coho salmon through Aug. 20, but the escapement goal for this system is measured by a post season index count on the McRoberts Creek tributary. The McRoberts Creek index area goal range is 450 to1,400 coho salmon. If I remember correctly, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game usually considers a weir count in the range of 5,000 coho healthy for Jim Creek.
In response to low coho salmon escapements and sport coho salmon fishing closures through Sept. 30 on Deshka River and Little Susitna River the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order closing commercial set netting in the General Subdistrict of the Northern District east of the Susitna River and including Fire Island on Aug. 22.
Weekend coho salmon suggestions
Bank anglers may want to try Eklutna Tailrace, Fish Creek, Cottonwood Creek, Wasilla Creek/Rabbit Slough, Jim Creek, and Willow Creek. Depending upon highway / fire conditions some of the stream further north along the Parks Highway may also provide a good option. For experienced boaters or guided trips, depending upon highway conditions, the Talkeetna River drainage should be good.
Good luck and fish on!