July 2024 Fishing Reports

July 2024 Alaska Fishing Reports

Sockeye salmon, Chum salmon, pink salmon, and coho salmon all start migrating into Little Susitna River in larger groups during the month of July.  Early in the month chum salmon are incredibly strong fighters, while also spreading upstream in Little Susitna River quickly.  Pink salmon often show up in the strongest early numbers in many tributaries of the Susitna River drainage including Deshka River and Willow Creek.  Sockeye salmon followed by coho salmon can show up in greater numbers during the last half of July and throughout August on good years.   With 4 species of salmon to report on  I plan to provide an update every day during the month of July.

July 1 , 2024  — Susitna Drainage Pike —My nephew, Paul Warta took one of my guide boats out on the Susitna River looking at water conditions, and also seeing what fish we could catch.  We each caught a northern pike while fishing with single hook spinners in a slow moving weedy tributary to the Susitna.   During our trip we also saw several bald eagles and perhaps a dozen or more ducks.  

Earlier today, I noticed that the first two chum salmon and a pink salmon were counted through Little Susitna River Weir on Sunday June 30.  When we drove over Little Susitna River today the water conditions looked very fishable and inviting.

July 2, 2024 — Fish Creek & Eklutna Tailrace — I drove out to Fish Creek off of Knik Goose Bay Road early this morning and fished the high tide as it was dropping (fishing at this location is open from 5 am – 11 pm daily), but did not see any fish and did not get any bites.    The Alaska Department of Fish and Game intends to start installing their Fish Creek Weir today in order to count sockeye salmon and later on coho salmon.     After fishing and looking at Fish Creek for a while I drove over to Eklutna Tailrace to see what was going on at that fishery for king salmon.    Nothing.     There was a dozen vehicles and less people than that fishing at the lower end of the tailrace where it meets the Knik River side channel.     I casted a spinner and observed, but did not even see a single fish surface — nor did I see anyone hook a fish or even act excited (as if they may have got a bite).       These two locations were short on fish today, but will start picking up with more salmon arriving  by mid-July or earlier.

July 3, 2023 — FISH CREEK — As reported, yesterday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) started installing Fish Creek Weir — they also finished that project and counted the first 7 sockeye of the season the same day ( July 2).  ADF&G fisheries biologist Samantha Oslund  told me there were additional salmon staging below the weir for passage.   Fish Creek is open to sport fishing for salmon  between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily through July 14, in a small area near Knik Goose-Bay Road.   The fishery was liberalized from weekends only to 7-days per week through a fisheries proposal submitted by Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Stephanie Nowers that was adopted by the Alaska Board of Fisheries in March.  Looking through ADF&G Fish Creek Weir count data, I noticed July 2 is the earliest date that ADF&G has counted sockeye passing the Fish Creek Weir location  in 28 years of records.

July 4, 2024 — Paul Warta and I took my guide boat on an exploratory fishing trip this morning.  We caught some whitefish, hooked and lost a large rainbow trout, and caught some small king salmon, but did not hook any other species of salmon.  Most of the fish were hooked on #4 spinners with small single hooks, but the whitefish and rainbow trout were hooked on a salmon-egg-colored plastic bead.   All the fish were released.  We saw a sandhill crane and a spruce grouse while driving to the boat launch area, and a few bald eagles, ducks, and other birds while out on the water. 

July 5, 2024 — First Guided Sockeye, Coho, Chum trip of 2024.  I guided a group of 3 anglers trying to catch coho, chum, or sockeye salmon.  We started the trip in tidewater as the tide was coming in, but did not see any salmon surface.  We fished about an hour in the tide, before working our way back toward the landing. My guests caught 1 rainbow trout and 2 jack king salmon on #4 spinners presented slowly near the bottom.  My guests also hooked, but lost what appeared to be 2 additional salmon  — but the fish never surfaced before coming unhooked so we could not identify what they were.  It was a very active trip, with my guests casting the entire trip as we worked more than a dozen prime stretches along the river.  During the trip we saw bald eagles, waterfowl, arctic terns, and shorebirds along the river.  We also saw moose tracks in several locations leading down to the river, but unfortunately we did not see any of the track makers.

It is early in the season, with only a few chum and pink salmon, along with over 400 sockeye salmon counted through Little Susitna River Weir.  If people would like to experience a guided salmon fishing tour covering several miles along an uncrowded Little Susitna River, there is availability in my guide boat on July 6, 7, 9, 10.  

July 6, 2024 — We had significant rain on and off during the day, and since I did not have a guided trip scheduled I did not fish today.  I attempted to check the Little Susitna water level on the U.S. G.S. website, but for some reason it did not have data for today.  I would expect water levels to rise at several local streams from today’s rain and a bit more forecasted for tomorrow– but it has been dry for so long that streams may not rise too much.   I worked on rebuilding some spinners with single hooks with gaps of 1/2 inch or less between the point and the shank to be sure I have enough lures to fish on the Little Susitna River or Deshka River during the coming week.

Commercial Fishing  — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) issued an Emergency Order (E. O.) to allow an extra 12-hour commercial drift gillnet fishing period Areawide in the Central District of Upper Cook Inlet today.   In the past this E.O. might have been issued to harvest sockeye salmon returning to the Kasilof River in great abundance during the first week of July (Kasilof River sockeye escapement 229,866 fish through July 4).   The problem with area-wide drift gillnet openings is — they Do Not target just one species or particular stock of salmon (like Kasilof sockeye) — but rather indiscriminately harvest all salmon traveling through many miles of the Central District.

While  escapement numbers may justify an expanded opportunity to commercially harvest Kasilof sockeye — salmon escapements  at Fish Creek ( 35 sockeye), Deshka River (2,765 chinook, 0 pink, 0 coho) and Little Susitna River (527 chinook, 457 sockeye, 6 pink, 4 chum, 0 coho) in Northern Cook Inlet demonstrate a clear lack of any salmon abundance during the same time period (through July 4).   Therefore, allowing an extra 12-hour areawide salmon harvest throughout all state waters of the Central District on July 6 will likely over harvest Northern bound salmon stocks, and further retard any significant abundance of salmon measured in Northern Cook Inlet streams.  Furthermore, the extra commercial harvest opportunity on July 6 has great potential of causing escapement shortages in Northern Cook Inlet drainages, that may likely need to be made up  by restrictions and/or closures of Northern Cook Inlet salmon harvest opportunities later in the season.   A much better management strategy would be, for the ADF&G manager, to provide additional commercial salmon harvest opportunity (in a more restricted portion of the inlet) considerably closer to the Kasilof River, that could discretely harvest abundant Kasilof sockeye salmon, while allowing better migration passage of all other Upper Cook Inlet salmon stocks (currently showing lower abundance levels).

July 7, 2024 — In the evening I drove over to Eklutna Tailrace and casted a couple different spinners in hopes of catching a salmon, or at least seeing what was happening at the tailrace.   There were probably 25 vehicles or more when I arrive with a fair crowd of people fishing — especially for a Sunday evening.  People were well spread out, and I saw one angler with a jack king salmon he had caught earlier, but in the 90 minutes I was watching and fishing, I did not see anyone hook a fish.  I briefly felt one salmon on my line as my spinner was nearly back to the bank — it was so close I thought I was hitting bottom and did not set the hook until I felt a head shake and the fish pulling –too late — the fish shook the hook and swam away.   While at the tailrace I saw some smaller salmon surface (about the size of jack king salmon with a few bigger fish looking to be about the size of a sockeye or coho salmon.   For bank anglers it looked to me like there might be a considerable better chance of catching a salmon on an early weekday morning.

ADF&G had another Emergency Areawide commercial drift gillnet opening in the Central District of Upper Cook Inlet today.  Through July 5th 247,656 sockeye have  migrated past ADF&G’s Kasilof River sonar, While up in the Northern District only 464 sockeye have migrated past Little Susitna River Weir since May 20th and only  35 sockeye have migrated past the Fish Creek Weir.  Areawide drift gillnet openings tend to harvest all  salmon stocks indiscriminately, while a more terminal fishery opening (Expanded Kasilof Section)  could better focus harvest  specifically on more abundant Kasilof River fish..

Little Susitna River — I noticed the water shot up in the Upper river as a result of yesterday’s and last nights rain, however the water was already starting to drop in the upper river later today.  I would suspect the lower river will likely be high and at least somewhat off- colored tomorrow.

Susitna River — looking at the water gauge near the Parks highway bridge — the Susitna River had risen more than a foot as a result of yesterday’s and today’s rain.   Unlike the Little Susitna River, the larger and longer Susitna River did not appeared to have crested yet, when I look at the water gauge data this evening.   I suspect the lower Deshka River will likely have high and darker colored water for the next two or three days.

Monday July 8, 2024 — I guided a family group of 5, visiting from Arizona, and their 6-year-old girl caught the first salmon at the first spot we tried.  She caught a chrome chum salmon of about 8 or 9 pounds.  After that we fished quite a while before Dad caught a chrome male chum salmon of about 10 or 11 pounds.  The wife and son each caught a king salmon, which were released without removing them from the water.  The middle daughter fought another large male chum salmon nearly to the net, but it pulled loose before I had an opportunity to net it.  At the end of the trip I anchored the boat to fillet the two chum salmon, and while I was busy filleting,  the son caught and released a jack king salmon.   The water was high and dark the entire trip — but my guests only caught a limited amount of grass floating down the current.  It was very enjoyable and pleasant day on the water — with 4 family members catching their first salmon. 

Little Susitna River — as reported yesterday the upper river water level had already crested and started to drop — however — the water gauge data indicates the upper river is once again rising.  I would therefore expect about three days of higher water in the lower river — unless we get additional rain which could cause an extended period of higher water in the lower river.   

Susitna River — At the Parks Highway bridge the water level does appear to have crested last night after coming up more than a foot.  At very least I would expect higher water levels in the Susitna River for the next three days. Expect additional debris to be washed off the banks and floating down the Susitna River for the next couple days.  The lower Deshka River often lags a bit behind the Susitna in rising water after a larger rain event.  I would therefore expect rising/ higher water at the lower Deshka River for the next 2 – 3 days.  Since Deshka was so low and warm before the rain, I would expect the rain will only encourage salmon (kings) to migrate upriver past the weir — or to enter the mouth area and mill about in the case of possible early arrivaling pink and coho salmon.

Tuesday July 9, 2024 —  I guided a single guest who caught a chum salmon, a small king salmon, two jack king salmon, and a rainbow trout while fishing with a #4 spinner and a small plug.   During the trip we saw a bald eagle, ravens, shorebirds, and ducks along the river.  My guest also briefly hooked a couple more salmon which did not stay on the line long enough for me to identify.  The water was dropping and clearing with visibility of about 18 inches to 2 feet.

Deshka River — I noticed the water had already crested and started dropping at Deshka River Weir today. The water level continues to slowly drop in the Susitna River as well.  King salmon remain the only salmon to have migrated through Deshka River Weir , but early pink salmon or coho salmon could already be scrolling and milling around the Deshka / Susitna River confluence.  The recent shot of cool rain water raising the river level could boost fishing success at this location for a few days.    

In the evening I wrote my Friday fishing column for the Frontiersman Newspaper.

Wednesday July 10, 2024 — I talked with ADF&G biologist, Samantha Oslund today and she told me that sockeye salmon were pouring through Fish Creek Weir.  She said today would be the first big passage of sockeye salmon through the weir this season, and that it is possible 600 fish may migrate through the weir before midnight.  Fish Creek is now open to salmon fishing near Knik Goose-Bay Road, but will close to sportfishing for salmon on Sunday July 14 at 10 p.m. in preparation for the Fish Creek Personal Use Fishery — that may open later in July after an adequate number of sockeye have swum past the weir.

The Lower Susitna River Personal Use Dipnet Fishery did open today, although in the first 4 seasons of the fishery very few salmon have been  caught this early in the season.  This fishery is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays only from July 10 – 31.  The fishing area is marked by ADF&G signage and located about a mile below the Susitna / Yentna River confluence and then downriver to more signage near the upper end of Bell Island.  Access is primarily by boat with a lower number of participants accessing the fishery by airplane landing on gravel /sandbars when the Susitna River is low enough to provide landing locations.  The fishery is for Alaska residents only, and a household Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use Permit is required to participate.

I spent most of my day working on fishing gear — including a new custom rod that has finish curing right now.

July 11, 2024 — I guided three women from California who enjoyed a wonderful morning on the river, back trolling small plugs, and catching 4 chum salmon, 3 rainbow trout, and 6 small king salmon (some of which were jacks– all were released without removing them from the water).  During the trip we saw bald eagles, ravens, ducks, and heard a common loon calling in the distance.

Fish Creek Update — ADF&G biologist, Samantha Oslund said that most of the large school of sockeye salmon she expected to pass through Fish Creek Weir is still staging below the weir and will likely migrate through the weir before long, along with additional salmon that are continually swimming up the creek.  

Lower Susitna River Personal Use Update — Oslund also said that 2 ADF&G staff members went to this location on July 10 (the opening day), and only saw about 5 boats of participants.  Fishing was very slow, and the 2 ADF&G personnel only caught 2 pink salmon.

July 12, 2024 — We had a guided trip today run by one of our trusted associates.  4 guests went on the trip, with  2 of them fishing. During the trip on of them caught a hard fighting chum, which they were excited to photograph before releasing.    The chum salmon was caught while casting with a #4 spinner equipped with the required small single hook.  There were a few additional boats on the river today.  A few additional salmon were spotted surfacing today, with no additional fish hooked.

Saturday July 13, 2024 — Lower Susitna River Personal Use Fishery — In an effort too see if changes in salmon management adopted this past year had allowed any significant number of early arriving salmon to migrate into the Susitna River I went on a dip net trip with two of my capable nephews and a friend.  We made an 8-hour round trip from Deshka Landing (including our boating and fishing time) but did not catch a single salmon.   We pulled two chum salmon up to the surface, but both got away — one by my removing the fish from the net over the river, rather than over the boat.  In search of finding salmon we fished 5 productive spots, but only ended up losing a net to a log on the bottom for our efforts — we also tore top the netting on two additional nets while working to free them from underwater snags.  During the time we were dip netting we saw one additional boat fishing and moving all over (as if they were searching for fish as well), and just before we started our trip back upriver we saw 3 additional boat loads of people looking like they were preparing to start dipping.   We did not see any fish surface.  On the way back upriver I pulled into the Deshka River confluence up past Mike and Merts old place, but as expected we did not see any salmon surfacing or milling at that popular sport fifing location.   We also did not see anyone fishing or out in a boat at that location.  According to the Susitna River water gauge near the Parks Highway bridge the water level was about 18.5 feet during our time on the water, however,  it was raining the entire time we were on the water so I would expect that water level may rise a foot or two before long.     During the trip we spotted several bald eagles along the river, a beaver, and a seal.