​Early June king salmon caught on Fire Cured roe from Eklutna Tailrace

2017 Expanded King Salmon Opportunities for Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley   by Andy Couch

Green leaves emerging in spring signals that Alaska’s state fish, the king (chinook) salmon, will soon be pushing into Mat-Su Valley rivers and streams.   The first few king salmon will likely be taken from Valley locations during the week of May 8 - 14.   Kings are the largest and first salmon to show up in the Mat-Su’s freshwater fisheries, but they are also the least abundant, and therefore king salmon harvest  and bait fishing opportunities are limited.  The Alaska Department of FIsh and Game (ADF&G)) acknowledges three Mat-Su Valley freshwaters where sport fishing king salmon harvest opportunities will be expanded during the 2017 season.

Eklutna Tailrace

The slightly warmer waters drawn from Eklutna Lake and diverted through the Eklutna Hydroelectric Plant, located along the Old Glenn Highway, provide an open-water opportunity for anglers to fish year-round.  With warmer spring-time temperatures a number of eager local anglers have been spending time casting at the tailrace for the past couple weeks.   All the low lying snow and ice near the tailrace is nearly melted, and leaves are emerging in sunnier valley locations, the gate to the tailrace parking lot has been opened for the season, and the riverside fish cleaning table has been installed.  The only question remaining to be answered is,  When will a season-pushing angler land the first Eklutna Tailrace king salmon in 2017?

Expanded Tailrace Harvest Opportunity

With regulations that allow year-round king salmon harvest, use of bait and treble hooks, and 24 hour per day fishing all year, expanded harvest opportunity should come at the tailrace fishery primarily as a result of increased stockings of hatchery raised smolts for the past 3 - 4 years. During the 2017 season, a larger percentage of the returning kings should be the older and larger fish.  The tailrace yields king salmon in a wide range of sizes with strong numbers of fish in the 10 - 15 pound range, decent numbers of fish in the 15 - 25 pound class, and lower numbers of 25 - 40 pound lunkers.   While only one king salmon 20 inches or larger may be kept per day (5 fish seasonal limit), jack king salmon (those less than 20 inches in length) provide a bonus harvest opportunity with a 10 fish per day / no seasonal limit.

Eklutna Tailrace Youth Only Fishery

On June 17, 2017 that portion of the tailrace fishery from the footbridge downstream to the tailrace confluence with the Knik River is designated as a youth only zone, providing youth an enhanced opportunity  to fish for and catch a king salmon.   Anglers over 15 years of age may still fish on June 17 — in waters upstream or downstream from the youth only zone.  ADF&G may provide loaner fishing rod and reel combinations for those who don’t have one.   Contact ADF&G’s Samantha Oslund at (907) 746-6332 for more information.

​Lillian and Larry Lewis with Deshka River king salmon taken as the leaves were starting to emerge.  Often the first Mat-Su Valley king salmon of the season is taken at the Deshka River.

Deshka River King Salmon

For the first time in the past 5 years ADF&G is expecting to allow king salmon fishing, harvest, and bait fishing at this location as listed in the Southcentral Alaska fisheries regulation booklet.  With boat launch repair and gate replacement currently ongoing at Deshka Landing and with ice flows still coming down the Susitna River, Deshka Landing is scheduled to open at 8 am on Friday May 12 in 2017.    For the past several years Deshka River has provided the largest harvest of wild king salmon in the Mat-Su Valley, and this year bait fishing will start on June 1, fishing hours are from 6 am — 11 pm, daily limit is one king salmon 20 inches or larger, and anglers will be allowed to harvest their full 5 fish seasonal limit of these larger king salmon.  Jack king salmon limits are 10 daily / no seasonal.

While Deshka River frequently produces the first king salmon harvested in the Mat-Su Valley, this fishery is incredibly more productive when the bait fishery opens on June 1.  Drifting Fire Cured salmon roe under bobbers, still fishing roe near the Deshka River / Susitna River confluence, or bouncing roe or spawn sacks in the areas with faster currents all produce good numbers of king salmon during a normal season.  While the Deshka River has large numbers of king salmon, 15 - 20 pound kings are usually considered good-sized “keepers” on this river.  Last year’s return past the Deshka River salmon counting weir was  22,774 king salmon.

​Paul Warta -- all smiles about an average-sized Little Susitna River king salmon.

Little Susitna River King Salmon

Earlier this spring ADF&G announced Little Susitna River king salmon harvest and the use of multiple hooks will be allowed 7 days per week in 2017 (compared to 4 days per week and single hooks only at the start of the season in 2016).   This will provide additional harvest opportunity for Little Susitna River king salmon during May and the earlier part of June.   For the past two years, after adequate numbers of king salmon had swum past the Little Susitna River salmon counting weir, the department provided a brief bait opening targeting surplus Little Susitna River king salmon.   If bait opens at all in 2017 expect it to occur sometime later in the season after sufficient king salmon have migrated past the salmon counting weir.   If the bait fishery opens:  Fire Cured salmon roe drifted under bobbers, bounced along the bottom, or back trolled behind a diver can produce quick king salmon catches.   In early July bonus numbers of chum salmon and / or early arriving silver salmon may also be caught at the same time, when / if bait use is allowed.  The 2016 king salmon migration past Little Susitna River salmon counting weir was 4,964 fish.   The road and boat launch at the Little Susitna River Public Use Facility are already open -- a few king salmon may already be nosing into the tidal stretches of this stream.   Although fewer in number Little Susitna River king salmon can average 25 - 30 pounds on a good year.

​ Krill-scented Fire Cured roe can turn reluctant / pressured salmon into game-changing bait chompers.

King Salmon Attention Grabbing Pautzke Bait Products

Salmon roe cured in Fire Brine, Fire Cure, or Borx O’Fire all become enhanced with krill scent that may provide the extra incentive turning reluctant or pressured salmon into roe chomping game changers.   Cures and brines are available in attention - grabbing colors or in subtle non-colored versions ideal for lower water / more natural presentations. Fire Power krill powder and Pautzke’s Nectar can bring older — or unintentionally freeze-dried baits back to life.   Look for these and other Pautzke products at Sportsman’s Warehouse, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer grocery stores, and 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in the Mat-Su Valley or Anchorage. 

Andy Couch guides Alaska salmon fishing trips on the Deshka and Little Susitna Rivers.  Visit his website where you’ll find free daily fishing reports at http://www.fish4salmon.com/  


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