Finally — Some Good Coho Salmon News for the Mat-Su Valley
On Wednesday August 10, 2016 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) issued emergency order 2 -SS-2-39-16 increasing the allowable daily harvest of coho salmon in Fish Creek, Wasilla Creek (Rabbit Slough) and Cottonwood Creek to 3 per day. In addition the same emergency order increased fishing time to 7 days per week for the Fish Creek salmon fishery and increased fishing time to Saturday, Sunday, and Monday each week at Wasilla Creek and Cottonwood Creek. NOTE: All 3 of these small Knik Arm area fisheries only allow salmon fishing in small areas near the stream mouths and 6 am to 6 pm allowable fishing hours remain in effect at each of these locations. From what I’ve heard from several other fisheries this week, these could offer some of the best coho salmon harvest opportunities for the entire Mat-Su area during the coming weekend. At the same time, these small areas can only take so much angler participation before a decline in harvest and catch rates occurs. Better times for catching fish at these locations include the time right after the 6 am start and an hour or two on both sides of the high tide.
Chum Salmon — top topic in Department Fishing Report — Reason for Concern
It is telling that at the peak of the Mat-Su coho salmon season — the ADF&G weekly fishing report (again) prioritizes the mention of good chum salmon fishing along the Parks Highway streams. This is because for the most part coho salmon fishing remains slow throughout the Mat-Su Area. I would also add that in my experience and the experience of some other long-time Mat-Su fishing guides, the chum salmon fishing has been falling off as well. Slower chum salmon fishing is to be expected, however, as it is getting late in the season for chum salmon at many Mat-Su locations.
Deshka River Coho
While a surge of coho salmon has swam past the Deshka River weir following our recent rains and higher water levels on that river, Deshka River fishing guide, Pat Donelson told me it seems to him that most of the fish holding near the Sustina River / Deshka River confluence area seem to have migrated upstream — with very little newly arriving coho salmon filling in the lower river areas. Pat described the Deshka River fishery (his primary fishery) as disappointing.
Little Susitna River Coho
While angler effort has fallen off dramatically on the lower Little Susitna River since peak fishing effort last Saturday, coho salmon harvests remain extremely low compared to an average year. Note: ADF&G emergency closed the river sport fishery to bait fishing effective August 6, in an effort to attain adequate coho salmon escapement numbers. Most sport anglers are willing to take a cutback in fishing methods and means inorder to maintain salmon numbers, however, the Department has done nothing to reduce the harvest of coho salmon in the Northern District commercial set net fishery, and continues to allow commercial set netting within one mile of the mouth of the Little Susitna River. Why is it only an emergency situation to reduce Little Susitna River coho harvests within the sport fishery — especially considering that the commercials are allowed to harvest coho salmon without limit, while most sport anglers can not even manage to catch their two fish daily coho limit?
Jim Creek Coho Salmon
As of August 9, 2016 coho salmon passage of 166 fish past the Jim Creek weir continues to lag behind last year’s count of 268 fish on the same date. Mention should be made that ADF&G failed to attain the McRobert’s Creek (Jim Creek) coho salmon spawning escapement goal in 2016. How much longer do low Jim Creek coho counts have to continue before ADF&G action is taken to address the situation. Recent rain, cooler water temperatures, and higher water levels than last year should all work to increase, not decrease, coho salmon migration at this important Mat-Su sport fishery location.
Larson Creek Sockeye Salmon
ADF&G closed sport sockeye salmon harvest within one quarter mile of the Larson Creek confluence with the Talkeetna River through emergency order 2-RS-2-38-16 in an effort to attain adequate sockeye salmon spawning escapement numbers for this system. The emergency order went into effect on August 11, 2016. Previous ADF&G commercial emergency orders in the Central District of Upper Cook inlet for early August liberalized harvests of Northern Cook Inlet bound sockeye and coho salmon. Who could have possibly foreseen that this might contribute to low sockeye and coho salmon abundances in the Mat-Su Area? Why did the Department not manage in such a manner appropriate for achieving Northern Bound salmon escapement goals? Has not the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Department both gone on record stating that achieving an escapement range minimum number takes priority over staying under the maximum range level of another goal?
With sport fishing emergency restrictions / closures to all Mat-Su salmon species with ADF&G established spawning escapement goals during the 2016 season, a better job of Upper Cook Inlet commercial management obviously needs to be done.
Good Luck and FIsh On!
Andy Couch is a member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee and the Matanuska Susitna Borough FIsh and Wildlife Commission, and is a Mat-Su Valley salmon fishing guide