Note: This story comes to us through a content sharing agreement between KTNA and Wick Communications. Wick owns the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Anchorage Press, and Talkeetna Press, and additional local papers in Southcentral Alaska.
by: Andy Couch – Frontiersman.com
Where Have Mat-Su’s Salmon Gone?
More than 30 years ago, when I worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), department sportfish biologists would say the last week of July was the peak week for the coho salmon sport fishery on the Little Susitna River downstream from the lower river public access site. The only thing remarkable about the fishing on Tuesday July 25 was how salmon – empty the lower Little Susitna River appeared. When I arrived at the Little Susitna River Public Use Facility to run an afternoon charter the fee booth attendant commented that few boaters had returned from morning fishing and few people had been reporting catching coho salmon.
My charter guests were interested in harvesting salmon, so we headed downriver and fished for coho (silver) salmon. As we worked our way from spot to spot down the river, we encountered other boat groups fishing their way back toward the landing. During the trip I communicated with 5 other boaters that I know. 2 raised their hands and shrugged to say, “Where are the fish?” 2 groups (including another guide boat) had caught 1 coho salmon, and another boat with 4 people reported catching 2. I suppose my guests were fortunate to land 3 small coho salmon and a small pink salmon, although it was extremely discouraging for peak of the season fishing. Especially considering that during the trip we saw hardly any salmon surfacing.
Further upstream for 5 days in a row more than 1,000 chum salmon have been migrating through the Little Susitna River weir, however, the chum salmon are migrating so quickly through most of the river below the natural gas pipeline as to seem almost nonexistent in that portion of the river. Fortunately for bank anglers decent numbers of chum salmon have been holding in an area above the gas pipeline and within a mile of the Public Use Facility. These holding chum salmon have been providing some catching and harvest opportunity, mostly for those fishing off the bank near the access point.
There is Still Time — Wait and See
Looking at the past 5 years of coho salmon weir counts on the Little Susitna River — when the weir was at it’s present location — an average of 732 coho salmon had passed the weir through July 24 — with a high of 1,265 passing in 2015 and a low of 84 passing this year (2017). Following a season with emergency restriction to the sport fishery, many sport anglers are already wondering if Little Susitna River coho numbers will be any better this year? When I discussed the issue with ADF&G Area Sportfish Management Biologist, Sam Ivey, on Tuesday, the only answer he could provide is, “ We’ll have to wait and see.” Sam also mentioned that the Central District Eastside set gill net fishery and drift gill net fishery and been closed by emergency order on Monday July 24 (because of low Kenai sockeye escapements) and that restriction should provide some additional coho for Mat-Su Valley streams currently experiencing low abundance numbers. In addition, because of low projected Kenai River sockeye abundance the Central District commercial fishing opportunities were reduced and lower numbers of coho salmon harvested throughout July.
Mat-Su Weir Counts
Coho salmon counts through July 24 were 84 at Little Susitna River, 14 at Deshka River, 9 at FIsh Creek, and 0 at Jim Creek. Sockeye salmon passage at the same locations were 893 at Little Susitna River since May 9, 25 at Deshka since May 17, 17,000 at Fish Creek since July 7, and 0 at Jim Creek since July 18.
Parks Highway Tributary Streams
The past few weeks I’ve mentioned the Parks Highway tributary streams to the Susitna River as possible locations to catch salmon. This past week I’ve heard reports from Ben Allen, Mike Hudson, and Marilynn Rouswell of pink and chum salmon available at Willow Creek and Little Willow Creek with low numbers of silver salmon as well. Further upstream at Susitna Landing, Joe and Marilynn Rouswell report that while people have been catching some rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and grayling, no one has reported catching a salmon since the sport fishery reopened (with the use of bait) on July 14. Joe and Marilynn intended to post on Facebook and the Susitna Landing website: http://www.susitnalanding.net when guests report the first salmon caught form the landing.
Fish Creek Personal Use Dip Net Fishery Opens
With a projection of over 35,000 sockeye to Fish Creek, ADF&G opened the Fish Creek personal use dip net fishery on July 26 by emergency order. This fishery is restricted to Alaska residents only and a permit is required. In addition dip netting is only allowed between the hours of 6 am and 11 pm daily. The fishery will only be open for 6 days through July 31. Those interested in participating may read the emergency order at this URL: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/
Fish Creek Youth Fishery — Coming Soon
While sport fishing for salmon is still closed at this location, this is a reminder that the youth only fishery will open on August 6 and 7 from 5am until 10 pm each day. Salmon fishing is only allowed on a small portion of the creek near Knik-Goose Bay Road / Joe Redington Sr Memorial Trail.
Kenai River Personal Use
Although dip netting was slow at this location for the first week of the season, sockeye salmon abundances have picked up since July 17. For those who have not yet harvested personal use sockeye salmon, the fishery only remains open through July 31. If current upticks in Kenai River sockeye abundances continue, this weekend and Monday could provide some of the best dip netting of the season. A sportfishing license and dip net permit is required. Alaska Residents only. See the link above for information about obtaining a personal use dip net permit online.
Good Luck and Fish On!
Andy Couch is the owner of Fishtale River Guides and guides Mat-Su Valley salmon fishing trips. You may read his daily fishing reports at http://www.fish4salmon.com