Looking for a place to find fish this weekend, but don't want to deal with the massive crowds expected at the mouth of the Kenai River?
Bird is the word.
Bird Creek -- a quick 20-minute drive south of Anchorage -- opened to sport fishing July 14, and anglers immediately began slamming salmon.
"It was pretty steady all day long," said Kenton Jordan of Chugiak.
The U.S. Air Force airman said he and three friends caught four pink salmon and a coho (silver) in about four hours of fishing the creek's rushing waters. Casting pink Vibrax spinners, the group said the action was well worth the short drive from Anchorage.
"We're liable to be back," said James Davis.
Although hundreds -- if not thousands -- of vehicles are likely to pack the Seward Highway over the weekend as Anchorage and Mat-Su residents flood the Kenai in search of personal use sockeye, options closer to home might be a better bet. According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game information officer Ryan Ragan, fishing should be good at Ship Creek near downtown Anchorage too.
"We're already seeing some silvers in Ship Creek," he said.
[Readers photos: Alaska fishing 2015]
Both streams are stocked with coho salmon from the department's hatchery in Anchorage.
Ship Creek is now closed to king salmon fishing, but Ragan said fishing for stocked silver salmon is already solid. Also now open in the Anchorage area is Campbell Creek, which can be hit or miss for silvers.
"It kinda depends on if it rains," he said.
When the rains hit, fish are more apt to move out of Campbell Lake and into the creek, which runs across Anchorage and can be accessed at several spots along the citywide greenbelt. Open areas stretch from approximately Dimond Boulevard in the south to Shelikof Street in the north, as well as between Lake Otis Boulevard and Piper Street. Anglers are allowed three fish per day. For more information on fishing regulations, check the department's website at adfg.alaska.gov.
On opening day at Bird Creek earlier this week, anglers had success fishing both at the river's muddy mouth and upstream, where casting spinners with the rising tide seemed to produce excellent results. Your reporter caught and released four pinks, a silver and a Dolly Varden char in about 45 minutes by following the flooding tide as it moved up. Ragan said salmon like to use the incoming water as they nose into the river.
"Those fish kind of ride the tide in," he said.
Ragan said that in addition to bright lures (like Vibrax or Pixees), bait can also work well, especially when the water gets slack on the high tide.
Bird Creek is open from its mouth to an Fish and Game marker about 500 yards upstream. Anglers should also be prepared for the stream's high tidal fluctuations and muddy shoreline, which makes hip boots or chest waders a near-necessity.
Angler Dennis Yi of Anchorage caught a silver by fishing at the mouth of Bird Creek. A regular visitor to the scenic spot -- which provides spectacular views of Turnagain Arm in addition to easy-acces fishing -- Yi said he likes the fishery's proximity to home.
"It's pretty close and for silver fishing it's only Ship Creek or Bird," in the Anchorage area, he said.
Yi said he prefers Bird Creek to its city cousin because the fishery provides a more authentic Alaska experience.
"At Ship it's a little combat fishing," he said.
Personal use dipnet fishing at the mouth of the Kenai River remains fair at best, with a trickle of sockeye moving into the system. But the run is building. On July 14, some 25,000 fish were counted by Fish and Game's sonar, which is located 19 miles upstream. That's the highest number to date, but still about half what's needed for dipping to be considered "hot." State sportfish biologist Robert Begich said he expects sockeye fishing in the river to remain fair through the weekend.
"There's reds coming into the Kenai, but not in those large numbers," he said.
Begich said it's hard to predict when the massive wave of fish will hit. The traditional peak of the run is July 17, but that's a wildly variable date. In 2014, the largest sonar count didn't come until Aug. 5.
Begich said people hoping to get easy fish via dipnet should venture 20 miles beyond the Kenai to its sister river to the south, which also supports a less-heralded personal-use fishery. "I'd say the Kasilof is where to go," he said.
Kenai kings encouraging
Begich said king salmon fishing has been decent on the Kenai, which is seeing a much better run than its past two years, when the return was abysmal. As of July 13, the department had counted 5,438 kings -- more than twice the number that entered the river by that date last year.
"It's still early in the run, but we're encouraged," he said.
Begich said anglers on did particularly well Monday, which is only open to fishing from drift boats.
"Fishing has been fair to even good at times," he said.
Anglers are limited to fishing from a marker near Slikok Creek downstream to the river mouth. They must also use single hook artificial lures. Bait is not allowed.
Mat-Su switches gears
King salmon fishing in the Mat-Su streams (except the Eklutna Tailrace) is now closed as the systems prepare to transition to sockeye and coho fishing. Try Jim Creek near Butte or Cottonwood Creek near Wasilla for sockeye. The department says the first silvers have moved into the Little Susitna and the Deshka rivers, but it's still early. Fish and Game noted that more than a hundred times more chums than silvers have passed the Little Su weir as of July 14.
Trout fishing on Parks Highway streams remains very good.
For more information on where to go and what to fish for, check the department's online fishing reports at adfg.alaska.gov.
Contact reporter Matt Tunseth at 257-4335 or firstname.lastname@example.org