Mat-Su Anglers FIshing Corner By Andy Couch for July 1, 2016 Frontiersman
Little Susitna River King Salmon Fishery —Time to Allow Bait Fishing?
For those who may have missed the announcement the Alaska Department of FIsh and Game issued emergency orders 2-Ks-2-22-16 and 2-KS-23-16 effective starting 6 a.m. Tuesday June 28, 2016 that restored normal king salmon fishing regulations to the Little Susitna River fishery. These emergency orders were based on 2,463 king salmon passing the Little Susitna River salmon counting weir through June 23. In light of 58 days of emergency restrictions placed on the Little Susitna River sport king salmon fishery this was a good move restoring standard opportunity to harvest Little Susinta River king salmon surplus of spawning escapement needs.
According to the Department’s website, “A conservative weir count range of 2,300 - 4,000 Chinook salmon will be used to guide inseason management of the sport fishery during the 2016 season.”
In the time since the emergency orders were issued and before they became effective, the count of king salmon past the Little Susinta River Weir jumped to 3,137 king salmon through June 27. The significance of this number is that it is only 13 king salmon less than the 3,150 fish midpoint of the conservative count range used to guide inseason management. At this point there is relatively zero risk of falling below the weir measured goal range, and the far greater risk is of unnecessarily restricting the sport fishery and thereby passing extra harvestable king salmon. Standard regulations at this point are more conservative than necessary to achieve king salmon spawning needs for Little Susitna River. If the Department is truly managing to achieve the escapement range — and if emergency sport regulations for 58 days are justified to achieve that range — then once the midpoint of the range has been achieved there should be little or no argument the fishery could now be liberalized to allow additional king salmon harvest. If bait use above the weir could jeopardize attainment of the escapement range, the Department could limit bait use to waters downstream of Little Susitna River Weir. This is the area where most of the sport fishing effort already occurs. To manage for maximum benefit, as specified in the State Constitution, some additional action allowing additional harvest should to be taken.
Parks Highway King Salmon Fisheries Remain Catch and Release
Talking with ADF&G fisheries biologist, Sam Ivey, on Tuesday I learned the Parks Highway streams between Willow and Talkeetna would continue to be managed on a catch and release basis for king salmon. This is final 3-day weekend for these popular king salmon fisheries. Talking with Ben Allen, owner of Miller’s Riverboat Service, I learned that several of the streams fished well over the past weekend with good number of king salmon present in the lower sections and light angling effort. For those most interested in catching a king salmon, but not so worried about keeping it, these streams could likely provide one of the best catching opportunities over the holiday weekend. The dilemma for the Department in allowing harvest from these streams is there is no assurance king salmon escapement goals will be attained. Even after flying and assessing king salmon numbers in these stream for the past couple weeks, Ivey mentioned that most of the fish remained located in the lower portions of the streams where they would be susceptible to harvest. King salmon escapements will be assessed after the season ends, and perhaps some amount of king salmon harvest may be allowed in the future if escapement numbers show an increase over previous years.
Talkeetna River / Clear Creek King Salmon
Margo Nellis with Phantom Tri River Charters in Talkeetna told me they have been catching good numbers of king salmon with a few exceptionally large fish in the 50 - 60 pound class. Expect good and improving king salmon fishing at this location over the weekend. This is also a catch and release king salmon fishery at this time, however the fishery remains open 7-days per week and king salmon fishing is allowed through July 13.
Eklutna Tailrace King Salmon
Larry Engel told me of camping out at the tailrace and seeing enough anglers catching very little fish that he did not even fish during the evening. Getting up early the next morning, he fished but did not catch anything, and saw very few fish being caught by other anglers. Lots of people have been participating in this opportunity to harvest king salmon directly off the road system.
Deshka River King Salmon
King salmon passage numbers through the weir have been strong and steady with passage in excess of 100 king salmon per day for 30 days straight, however, passage numbers have been declining for a while now, and catches have been dropping off as well. Still the Deshka River fishery has the most liberal king salmon fishery regulations of any Mat-Su Valley location where wild king salmon are targeted.
FIsh on! and have a great holiday weekend.
Andy Couch is a member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee and the Matanuska Susitna Borough FIsh and Wildlife Commission. Management questions posed in this article are his own.