March / April 2020 Alaska Fishing Reports

2020 Salmon Fishing Outlook  —  with Coronavirus concerns and associated travel and social distancing recommendations our season has more limited openings for the early portion  of our fishery and especially for the  month of May.   Take that into consideration when reading the outlook below which I started posting in late February.      Note: for the latest update scroll down.

Outlook from early March — We are planning to be  guiding king salmon fishing trips, with king salmon harvest opportunity this year at the Eklutna Tailrace /Knik River fishery.   This is a relatively small fishing area with a limited amount of good king salmon catching spots.   Catch and release king salmon fishing will occur at Deshka River and Little Susitna River during the 2020 season.   Catch and release king salmon locations provide a less crowded fishing experience  with more miles of river to fish and a better opportunity to see wildlfe along the rivers.  If you are primarily interested in experiencing a first-class trip and a more diverse fishing opportunity we would recommend fishing with us on either the Deshka River or the Little Susitna River.  If your highest priority is an opportunity to harvest king salmon, the Knik River fishery is the better option.    Our King Salmon Season runs from early May until July 13.  During early July there is also an additional opportunity to catch/ harvest other salmon species while fishing for king salmon.

Chum Salmon, Coho Salmon, Pink Salmon, Sockeye Salmon                                                                     Starting in early to mid July we are expecting significant improvements in salmon numbers and fish catching opportunities.    The Alaska Board of Fisheries adopted several changes that should put more of these chum, coho, pink, and sockeye salmon into Northern Cook Inlet streams.   The mid-July to September 15 timeframe provides salmon catching opportunities on nearly every trip.   Early morning trips provide the chance to fish the river when salmon are more active.   Afternoon trips often provide warmer temperatures with new salmon moving up in the intertidal areas on afternoon high tides.   For the 2020 season we are planning to guide salmon fishing trips from Knik River Access, Little Susitna Public Use Facility, Deshka Landing, and Susitna Landing.

March 5, 2020 — Inshore Saltwater Fishing  — My wife and I fished with Mario Castello out of Crystal River Florida and caught several redfish while casting and drifting large shrimp without any weight.   During the trip we saw porpoises playing near our boat, and also saw lots of birds working along the shoreline.  This trip was one of the highlights of our vacation.   We will be home and guiding a few additional ice fishing trips before long.

March 6, 2020 — Mat-Su Outdoorsman Show —  I signed my business up for a booth at the Mat-Su Outdoorsman Show on March 27, 28, and 29.   My booth should be located in the Northeast Corner of the Fieldhouse / turf field  — space L157  — Fishtale River Guides.    We will be taking reservations for summer guided salmon fishing trips — and displaying some of our custom fishing rods and  new Flashtrap Spinner patterns.     I also hope to provide 3 seminars during the Show — including:  

Catching Salmon by Casting / Swinging Spinners Friday March 27;  

Mat-Su Salmon 2020 — Postive Changes Adopted by Alaska Board of Fisheries Saturday March 28;  and

Clobber Salmon with Bobbers and Bait on Sunday March 29.

Feel welcome to stop by our booth at the show, or give us a call if you would like talk with us or make a reservation before the show  — 907-746-2199.

March 11, 2020 — The last two orders of rod building parts I am planning to order this winter have arrived at the post office and I’m planning to pick them up tomorrow.   It has been several years since I’ve built custom ice fishing rods, but I’m intended to get started on a couple ice rods  after picking up the parts tomorrow.  I’ll also be getting out on a lake and trying the ice fishing.  With all the snowfall this winter it is looking like we will likely have several mores weeks of decent ice fishing for rainbow trout this winter.   Check back in the next day or two for an ice fishing report.

March 17, 2020 — Mat-Su Outdoorsman Show Cancelled due to Coronavirus Concerns — I learned through an e-mail last night that the Mat-Su Outdoorsman Show has been cancelled.  Management mentioned the possibility of rescheduling, however, there was no definite time line.  Sometime later today, I hope to get an e-mail out to past Fishtale River Guides guests and let them know of the show cancellation.   With the Coronavirus concerns, we have had little interaction with fishing guests — and I have not been ice fishing as planned about a week ago.   I did get an ice fishing report from my nephew, Paul Warta, however.   Paul fished two different lakes the past couple days with considerably different results.   At the first location, he moved around and fished several spots before catching good numbers of rainbow trout.  At the second lake he fished a couple prime spots, but only managed to get one bite — and he did not catch that fish.  He mentioned ice was about 2 to 2 1/2 feet thick, and that there was a layer of overflow on the ice at one location.

Custom ice fishing rod update: I’ve completed building two new ice rods, that  I will be using on our guided ice fishing trips.  They are both about 40 inches in length with flashy colors, comfortable handles, and oversized guides and tip tops that make it easier to fish in cold weather.  I have a third ice fishing rod nearly completed — it is on the turning motor and will be done when the finish cures — perhaps 8 hours from now.   I will be building additional ice fishing rods, however, I want to fish the  rods I’ve completed to see if I want to adjust the next builds.  Of the 3 rods I’ve been working on, each has a slightly different handle system, which I will be comparing as to preference.  It is snow today — so that will make ice fishing a bit more work the next time I go.

March 18, 2020 — I was scheduled to guide an ice fishing trip today, but it was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns and the airline cancelling yesterday’s flight to Alaska.

March 20, 2020 — We shoveled snow, ran the snowblower most of the day.  With coronavirus concerns for the state of Alaska we have been staying around the house most of the time.   More snow forecast for tonight and tomorrow morning, so we will likely have a similar exercise program again tomorrow.   I talked with Ben Allen today, who was out ice fishing and catching some arctic char today.   It would have been pleasant this afternoon in the sunshine.

March 21, 2020 — Ice Fishing Report — My nephew, Paul Warta, and I went ice fishing on a nearby Mat-Su Valley lake.  Part of the reason for the trip was to check out some of the new custom ice fishing rods I had recently built.   I can report that the new rods did just fine as we caught and released about 15 rainbow trout ranging in size from about 10 – 15 inches.   All of the fish were caught on Pautzke’s Balls O’ Fire salmon eggs fished just above the bottom.   The ice seemed to be about 3o inches in depth and was good and solid.   There was quite a bit of snow on the lake we fished, and we fished on both the near and far side of the lake, so walking around through the snow gave us a good workout.

March 22, 2020 — First open-water “fishing” of 2020.          It was such a beautiful afternoon that I decided to drive over to Eklutna Tailrace and test some new custom rods I had built during the off season.   I was not the first to be drawn out by the warm temperatures and sunshine.   Driving across the Palmer Hayflats I noticed about a dozen vehicles with people out recreating near Reflections Lake and the Knik River access.   At the Tailrace there was 7 vehicles parked near the highway and people out hiking and paddle boarding (be careful that water is cold if you fall in).  I found my own place to park and waded through the snow to a spot along the tailrace no one was using.  I brought 3 different reels, 6 fishing rods, and 3 lures.   I casted each of them several times and worked the lures in the current.   As expected I did not see any fish or get any bites.   5 of the rods worked quite well, but the 6th rod broke before I made the first cast — I don’t know if there was simply a weak spot in the rod blank or what the issue was.  The rod was built on a blank I had never used before — and I had really been looking forward  to giving it a try.   Rod blanks are usually warranteed, however, it often costs about $30 in shipping /fees to get a new one, and after my first experience with this particular model I wonder if I want a new one.   It takes me several hours to put a rod together along with several more hours while glue sets up and then the finish sets up.   When a rod breaks there are several parts that simply can not be efficiently used again, so  while it is nice to have light and sensitive rod blanks, durability is also important.   If a rod is to break, how much better for it to occur while out on a simple testing trip compared to a guided fishing trip.   I always carry spare rods on a fishing trip– just in case.   During the 2019 season, however, my guests did not have any rod break during a trip.

March 23, 2020 — State of Alaska follows the lead of other states in requiring travelers visiting the state to self quarantine for 14 days after arriving in state.    Nonessential travel to Alaska had previously been advised against.    It was a beautiful sunny spring day, and my wife and I spent a considerably amount of time chipping and shoveling ice off our drive way.   Tuesday is forecast to be sunny weather as well — but snow is forecast for Wednesday.

March 26, 2020 — Today I sent our second newsletter for 2020 to Fishtale guests.  Coronavirus concerns and when / if we will be able to resume guided fishing trips during 2020 was the topic.  Since we have NOT been guiding  ice fishing trips, there is plenty of time to build additional new fishing rods and Flashtrap Spinners.   I plan to go ice fishing again within the next week — I hope to finish a couple more custom built  ice fishing rods and want to test them before ice fishing is over for another season.  There is still about 18 inches of snow in our yard, and temperatures are forecast to remain below freezing for the next several days.

Friday March 27, 2020 — Official Shutdown for two weeks.  The State of Alaska has ordered all residents to shelter at home and close all nonessential businesses, in an effort to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.  At this point we had not been guiding any ice fishing trips for quite a while, anyway.   This government order will be re-evaluated on April 11.   Although we currently have plenty of snow and ice, by mid-April ice conditions in the Palmer – Wasilla core area of the Mat-Su Valley are often poor enough that we have suspended guiding ice fishing trips in the area.   With a cool spring like we’ve been experiencing this year, it will likely be sometime in May before any open-water fishing opportunities MAY be available.  We simply can not predict what the public health situation and state/ federal regulations will be at that time.

While at home today, I wrapped and finished a new custom trout fishing rod.   There are still several more trout rods to build — along with a few hundred salmon spinners.  

April 1, 2020 — Ice Fishing and New Fishing Rod Report–                       My nephew, Paul Warta, and I took 4 different  custom ice fishing rods to a nearby Mat-Su Valley lake and gave them a test.  All of the rods  were very sensitive for feeling bites, however, Paula and I most enjoyed fighting fish on the lighest (and most difficult to build) ice fishing rod we were testing.     Sometimes by April 1, the ice on the lakes can be melting and weakening.   Not so this year, the ice was still about 30 inches thick and solid.    Like usual we fished with Pautzke’s Balls O’Fire salmon eggs just a crank off the bottom.   The fish were biting rather slowly, but it was a beautiful spring day and quite enjoyable out on the lake.   We ended up catching 7 rainbow trout, and released each of them to fight another day.     With coronavirus concerns ongoing, I will be building a complete set of the new and lightest custom ice rod that Paul and I liked the most.   Next winter our ice fishing guest should all have the experience of fishing with and hopefully catching fish with them.    Alaska residents are still allowed to get out and recreate — however — we are still required to maintain social distancing.   I have not guided any ice fishing trips for quite a while, but quite a few local Alaskans have been getting out on the warmer days and fishing for stocked rainbow trout, arctic char, and landlocked salmon in the local Mat-Su lakes.  Good luck if you go.

April 6, 2020 — Alaska Sport Fisheries — Action Plans –and Regulations.   I will be taking part in a discussion with several individuals from Alaska this afternoon in relation to how fisheries may be conducted with Coronavirus concerns.   Interest groups that will be  represented include:  subsistence, personal use, sport, and guided sport.   This will be an organizational meeting to start, but I am hopeful we can come up with some reasonable guidelines that may allow as many people as possible to participate in these specific Alaska fisheries in a safe manner for as much of the open-water season as possible.      The key though to me — how can it be done in a safe manner?    I should be participating between 2 – 3 pm Alaska time.

April 7, 2020 — Alaska Sport Fisheries Update — State 14-day self-quarantine regulations for any travelers arriving in Alaska run through April 22, however, those regulations may be extended into May.  According to Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game, Doug Vincent Lang, the state wants to provide opportunity (especially for resident anglers) to get out and fish during the 2020  season.  Intra-state travel regulations, community travel restrictions, and social distancing regulations may all likely provide challenges for sport and personal use fisherman hoping to participate in the state’s more popular fisheries.  The group meeting I participated in yesterday, primarily served to identify some of these challenges.   The group is scheduled to meet again on Thursday afternoon, April 9, with additional information and hopefully solutions to be provided by participants.

April 8, 2020 — Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee Meeting — This was the first time this group has held an entire meeting by teleconference.   We were mainly working on game and hunting issues — some caused by Coronavirus concerns.

April 9, 2020 — The Alaska sport fisheries, guided sport fisheries, and personal use fisheries met again by teleconference today.   The group is developing some action plans and best practices that businesses, individuals, and groups might want to use while sport fishing in order to participate in a safe manner that helps all involved maintain their health.       I also wrapped and finished a salmon / trout fishing rod today.

April 14, 2020 — Another meeting of the Alaska sport fisheries, guided sport fisheries, and personal use fisheries group occurred this afternoon.   Draft action plans are being developed by this group and will be sent in for approval in the next few days.   If approved “boiler point plans” could be used by others as a means to provide “safe” trips and be approved by the State of Alaska.   The big issue with Alaska and Coronavirus issues is that no one knows for sure where regulations are going nor the timeline for getting there.

April 15, 2020 — Lower Matanuska and Susitna Valley Forecast calling for  1/2 inch of Rain Today — the melt is on at this point, with a warm wind blowing as well.   Our front yard is currently flooded with snowmelt, rain water, and run off.  If temperatures remain warm, as predicted, most of the snow will likely disappear from lower levels of the Palmer – Wasilla core area in the Mat-Su Valley — and also in lower elevation levels within the Anchorage bowl.    We are still far behind 2019 snow and ice melt timing, however, conditions can change in a hurry. At this point I am thinking May 10 – 15 is the most likely time for me to get my guide boat out on a river looking for ocean-run salmon.  Weather and river conditions may dictate otherwise, but that is my best estimate at this time.   Note:  last year I caught my first 3 open-water fish from a Mat-Su Valley Lake on April 10 — This year I’m thinking open fishable water on the same Mat-Su Valley lakes may be available sometime in the first week of May.   Stay tuned.

April 16, 2020 — Snow melted all day today at a good rate, and we had a good melt yesterday.  We still have a fair amount of snow in our back yard, but with more warm temperatures forecast again for tomorrow, snow should continue to go away at a quick rate.  With all the melting going on, I decided to drive to Eklutna Tailrace this evening and cast a Flashtrap Spinner for a while.   I took only one custom fishing rod, and was well pleased with how it worked the entire time I was at the tailrace.    There is still considerably snow along the tailrace banks, and there is also lots of ice along the side of the Knik River both above and below the tailrace.   There are lots of large chunks of ice out in Knik Arm.  

I was hoping the melting and rising water would have cleaned out more of the ice on the lower Knik River and out in Knik Arm, but no such luck.    I did not see or hook any fish — the usual experience this time of year.   The lakes along the highway on the drive over to the tailrace were still iced over — so the tailrace provides one of the better stretches of open water to do a bit of casting this time of year.  It was still wintery enough that I did not see much wildlife over near the tailrace, however, on the drive back across the Palmer Hay Flats I spotted two single moose, and also saw a small flock of ducks paddling in some open water on lower Spring Creek.   In addition to the weather forecast calling for snow-melting temperatures for several days, rain is also being forecast for Sunday and Monday, which helps speed up the melting process as well.   Of course this time of year forecasted rain can sometimes turn into snow, and that slows the melt down again.

April 17, 2020 — Warm Temperatures — 10-day forecasts for Mat-Su Valley Communities of Wasilla, Willow, and Talkeetna are currently predicting ALL daily temperatures ABOVE freezing for the entire time.  In addition, a significant rain is being forecast for Sunday April 19.   Just  a few days ago I was thinking  the ice break up on Mat-Su Rivers would likely be later in May for 2020.   Uninterrupted temperatures above the melting point for 10 days and a significant rain would put considerably more melt water and run off water into the rivers than normal for the month of April.   If the warm temperatures and rain both occur as forecasted I’m now thinking Mat-Su Valley rivers could be breaking up and nearly ice-free by the end of April.

April 18, 2020 — Our thermometer on the outside of our house was measuring above 60 degrees this afternoon — which is the warmest temperatures we have had in 2020.  Most of the snow has now melted from our yard, but I am certain snow will remain in our backyard at the end of the day and likely for tomorrow as well.    I am no longer trusting any lake ice in the Mat-Su Valley core area.   Even with the warm temperatures in the afternoon, however, the melt slows down considerably or even stops overnight as temperatures drop down close to the freezing point.    Light rain is still forecast for tomorrow afternoon, so that should promote additional melting Sunday night and on into Monday.

It is nearly time to do prep work on my guide boats and trailers — I’m thinking at least one boat could use a bit of welding, and tires on the trailers all need to be checked for pressure / aired up.  Boat batteries need to be charged.   I also have multiple pairs of oars that need maintenance, as well as business paperwork to get caught up on.   Should keep me busy for the coming week.

April 18, 19 — Melting Slows — the forecasted amount of rain I mentioned in earlier reports did not appear.  Likewise temperatures are also now forecasted lower than they had previously been.   Even so, melting continues, but at a less dramatic pace.

April 22, 2020 — Eklutna Tailrace — I drove to the tailrace to cast with 8 different spinning rods this morning.   There was still a considerably amount of ice as I drove over the lower Knik River.  Nearly all of the snow has now melted off of the tailrace parking lot, although the gate to the parking lot remains closed and locked.   I hiked past the gate to the tailrace and found the water to be beautifully clear with just a hint of green color.   There remained a considerably amount of snow and ice in the Knik River side channel upstream of the tailrace, but the most of the snow and ice has melted in the side channel downstream of the tailrace.  

I casted a couple different sizes of silver / black Flashtrap Spinners, while testing out some new fishing rods and comparing to some of my older models.    I did not see any birds or wildlife while fishing or driving to and from the tailrace.   After a long winter, I simply enjoy the chance to get out on the water to cast and work a spinner — even if there are no fish available at the tailrace, yet.

I talked with 3 Rivers Fly & Tackle owner, Mike Hudson, on the phone this afternoon and he had not had any reports of anyone catching fish from the few open water spots that are legal to fish at this time in the Mat-Su Valley.  Note:  most flowing waters in the Palmer-Wasilla Core Area are now closed to fishing to protect rainbow trout during their spawning season.   Streams along the Parks Highway north of Willow remain open to fishing, but rainbow trout must be released if caught from those streams.  As one travels north on the Parks Highway toward Willow and beyond there is considerably more snow and ice.

The State of Alaska announced that certain businesses closed because of Coronavirus Concerns would be allowed to re-open, although safety measures and limits on these business would be in effect.  Self-quaranteen (14-days after arriving)  for anyone traveling to Alaska remains in effect through May 19 (at which time it will be re-evealuated).  Social distancing (6 feet) remains in effect until re-evaluation on May 19 as well.

April 23 — I spotted a flock of Canadian geese today for the first time in 2020.   April 15 is about as early as I’ve seen them during some past years, so they seem to be about a week later this spring.  I’ve yet to see any sandhill cranes, but think of them as one of the last wetland birds to return to the Mat-Su Valley.   Spring keeps progressing.   I’ve also been watching the Deshka Landing weather cam, and there is quite a bit of water flowing over and around the ice in the Susitna River just off of Deshka Landing.   There is also plenty of ice and snow in the pictures, so the landing will remain closed to boat launching for several more days.   My point is –spring is progressing and there will be open water to boat and fish in several Mat-Su Valley locations before long!!!    In the meantime I am staying off of any remaining ice in the Palmer — Wasilla core area.

April 24, 2020 — Amy Davis, Manager at Deshka Landing, told me  that it will be quite a while before the landing is open to boat traffic.   She said the parking area is currently closed off and there is lots of snow that needs to melt on the road going down the hill to the boat launch.   When the landing does open for boat launches, Amy believes there will be plenty of activity from the many people who own cabins / homes along the Susitna and Yentna River drainages.  She mentioned Deshka Landing Association has been selling season passes at about the same rate as previous years.   That was good for me to hear, since many businesses have been having trouble generating enough income to pay bills, during this time of social distancing.

April 26, 2020 — Eklutna Tailrace — I drove over to the tailrace and casted a #5 silver / black Flashtrap Spinner between the walking bridge and the tailrace confluence with the Knik River.   I tried out 3 different rods, but did not see any fish  or get any bites.   There were a couple other groups there with fishing rods as well.   When I first arrived I was the 2nd vehicle parked in front of the gate that leads down to the parking lot.   When I left, there was 7 vehicles parked in the same small area.   All the snow has melted off of the parking lot and the access road, so it should be about time for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game / Alaska State Parks to open the gate for the season.    While traveling to and from the tailrace today I saw moose, geese, ducks, and for the first time this spring a large flock of sandhill cranes.  Spring keeps progressing.

Open water fishing at Bradley Lake — Today and Saturday I drove past the Kepler – Bradley Lake park and saw about 3 people fishing the small amount of open water at the west end of Bradley Lake.   There looked to be hardly enough open water to cast — however it was good to see people out and excited about trying their luck.  Fish catching opportunities looked to be extremely limited at this location — although I am sure they are much better than at Eklutna Tailrace at present.  We had a beautiful sunny day on Saturday, but overnight temperatures dropped well below freezing in many parts of the Mat-su Valley.   This morning, as a result, some of the slow moving, previously open, water had a new layer of ice.  Another beautiful day today — with more freezing temperatures forecast for overnight into Monday and then overnight on Monday into Tuesday.

April 29, 2020 — Deshka Landing — I’ve been checking the weather cam at Deshka Landing on a daily basis.   This morning there is still  considerably amounts of snow around the boat launch, and although there are some open channels out in the river, lots of ice remains anchored in place.  Freezing temperatures at night continue to slow river breakup, but increasing temperatures during the afternoons keep it moving along as well.   I’m thinking most of the anchored ice in the main river should start moving by this coming weekend May 2 and May 3.

Eklutna Tailrace — I casted my #5 Silver / Black Flashtrap Spinner and fished from the walking bridge to the tailrace confluence with the Knik River.   It was cold enough that ice was forming in my fishing rod guides from reeling the wet line through them.   I did not see any fish or get any bites, but wanted to get out and look things over.  Nearly all of the ice is now gone from the lower Knik and Matanuska Rivers, however there remains only a small open patch of water near the bridge at Kepler / Bradley Lake Park.  While driving and fishing  this morning I saw a flock of Canadian geese, a flock of sandhill cranes, several ducks, a single bald eagle (the first I’ve seen along the Knik River this spring), and 7 moose.    

From what I’ve seen of the spring break up and ice / water conditions,  I am hopeful to have my first guide boat out and fishing open water by May 10, 2020.

I took a pre-employment drug screening today.  

Time to work in the yard a bit — as burn ban goes into effect on May 1.

April 30, 2020 — Eklutna Tailrace — I drove to the tailrace in the evening in an attempt to catch a Mat-Su Valley king salmon on the last day of April.   Yes, it was a long shot, and I did not see any fish or get any bites.   I spent my time casting a #5  Silver / Black Flashtrap Spinner as I fished from just above the pedestrian bridge down the the tailrace’s confluence with the Knik River channel.   I saw a bald eagle while fishing at the tailrace, and during my drive to and from the tailrace I saw 2 pairs of Canadian geese,  1 pari of Swans, 1 sandhill crane.   It was warmer fishing in the evening so ice was not forming my guide, however, I got buzzed by a few mosquitos.  The gate was unlocked leading down to the parking lot near the tailrace and Knik River confluence for the first time this year, so I drove down to park.

For the next fishing report update Go to our May 2020 Alaska Fishing Reports page.