Mat-Su King Salmon Fishing Faces Early Closures
With king salmon spawning escapement numbers lagging behind historic run timing for both Little Sustina River and Deshka River, despite a 5-day closure on Little Susitna River and a 6-day bait restriction on Deshka River, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) may close king salmon fishing for the remainder of the season on both Little Susitna River and Deshka River. When I talked with ADF&G fisheries management biologist, Sam Ivey on Wednesday June 28, he was considering recommending both of these changes.
Little Susitna River
While emergency orders had not yet been issued when this column was written, they could likely be finalized and released before the column is published. Although Little Susitna River may see a bump in weir-measured king salmon escapement this week, king salmon passage numbers were so low beforehand, that achieving the spawning escapement range minimum number could still be in jeopardy — even with a season ending closure. The Little Susitna River weir count was 821 fish through Tuesday June 27, with the department’s Sustainable Escapement Goal (SEG) range set at 2,100 — 4,300 fish. In my opinion, maintaining the productivity of this highly-valued public resource should certainly take precedence over continued sportfishing through July 13. If considering a fishing trip to Little Susitna River any time before July 13 — be sure to check the Department’s latest emergency regulations before going.
From discussions I’ve had with Ben Allen of Miller’s Riverboat Service, Greg Acord of Acord Guide Service, and Chad Lipse of Lipservice Fishing Charters, king salmon harvesting success has been quite limited on the Deshka River since the Department issued an inseason emergency order restricting the fishery to artificial lures only. Low water makes upstream boat travel difficult and possibly expensive, while the resulting warmer water temperatures have made it extremely difficult getting king salmon to bite at this location. Even so, Deshka River king salmon escapement numbers are lagging behind achievement of the SEG minimum. The department’s Sustainable Escapement Goal for Deshka River king salmon (Chinook) is 13,000 — 28,000 fish, and as of Tuesday June 27 only 9,678 king salmon had swum past he weir. Ivey is considering closing the Deshka River king salmon fishery for the remainder of the season starting at 11 pm on Monday July 3, 2017.
Susitna River Drainage
Some of the Susitna River king salmon fisheries are already scheduled to close to king salmon fishing for the remainder of 2017 by standard regulation at 11 pm on July 3, 2017, but in addition, if Deshka River king salmon escapement numbers made it necessary to close the Deshka River king salmon fishery — Ivey expects to close all the remaining Susitna River drainage king salmon fisheries at the same time. This would even close catch and release fishing for king salmon. Once again, at this point a closure is expected, so check for sport fishing emergency regulations before fishing the Susitna River drainage for king salmon. Emergency regulation changes can be found on the department’s webpage: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/ EONR/index.cfm?ADFG=main.home This weekend will likely be the last opportunity to fish for Susitna River drainage king salmon fishing — including the Yentna River drainage / Lake Creek area.
While the Eklutna Tailrace enhanced king salmon fishery has been late getting started, available fish numbers have improved and since none of these fish are need for spawning purposes king salmon regulations will remain unchanged at this location. For those still looking to catch and /or harvest Mat-Su king salmon during the 2017 season this could soon be the only opportunity in the Mat-Su Valley that remains open.
Mike Hudson at 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle has been recommending trout fishing on Parks Highway streams upstream of the areas open to king salmon fishing. Ben Allen and his wife reported catching both rainbow trout and grayling on a Willow Creek Float, but also mentioned the water was low and more difficult floating than in the past. Contact Farley Dean of Willow Island Resort for more information about Willow Creek rafting trips or shuttles: 748-1570. You may also want to consider hiking or floating other Parks Highway tributary streams this coming weekend.
Mat-Su Valley stocked lakes continue to produce many uncrowded opportunities to catch rainbow trout and arctic char — contact ADF&G at 746-6300 or 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle at 373-5434 for suggestions of better lake fishing opportunities.
Other Salmon Opportunities
Very few other salmon are available in the Mat-Su Valley at this time, but in the coming weeks chum salmon, sockeye salmon, pink salmon, and coho salmon will all start to show up. In the meantime Mat-Su anglers looking for salmon may want to travel north to the Copper River drainage to sport, personal use, or subsistence fish for sockeye salmon or king salmon (check emergency regulations before going). Good king salmon fishing is also available at the Kenai River and with expanded sockeye salmon harvest opportunities on the Russian River — once again check the emergency regulations — in the case of Kenai River king salmon and Russian River sockeye salmon the department has issued liberalizations allowing more harvest!
Have a wonderful Independence Day Weekend and Fish On!
Andy Couch is the owner of Fishtale River Guides, member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee, and member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough FIsh and Wildlife Commission.