Category Archives: Featured Content

To Catch? Or To Release? The Choice Is Yours

Steve Ranney releases a yelloweye rockfish back into the water. A deep-water release mechanism with weights is attached to the fish’s jaw to speed its return to the depths.

 

The following appears in the October issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY BRYCE DOLE

PHOTOS BY DENISE SILFEE  

A thick layer of fog blankets the glassy waters of Orca Bay, where Steve Ranney’s vessel bobs gently in the early-morning wake.

It’s just past 5:30 a.m., our scheduled departure time, when I clamber aboard, nearly slipping off the moist ramp that leads down to the boat. Steve, his 22-year-old son Carl and a small group of seasoned fishermen welcome me along with the smell of brewing coffee mixed with the odor of yesterday’s haul. More fishermen arrive, so I step to the front of the boat, finding a seat in a small lawn chair to Steve’s left facing the stern.

I ask him exactly where we’re headed.

“No Tell ’Em Reef,” he responds with a grin. After decades trolling the waters near his home in Cordova, Steve has amassed a deep knowledge of the prime spots to angle vast bounties of halibut, lingcod and rockfish. As any captain would, he doesn’t wish for others to know the same.

Steve has graciously invited me and photojournalist Denise Silfee aboard to document a story that he described in an email months ago as “Unamerican at best and criminal at worst.”

Catch-and-release fishing.

Steve Ranney helps bring in a yelloweye rockfish caught by Sean Newton.

Waiting for that tell-tale tug of a fish on the line.

ONCE A CONTROVERSIAL PRACTICE that many anglers called “playing with your food,” catch and release is becoming a more accepted practice in small Alaskan fishing communities such as Cordova, which rely almost entirely on the fishing industry. Overfishing in the Lower 48 has played a major role.

But when I ask Steve who aboard will be doing catch and release today, he and the others chuckle. “You’re not here to give up your catch, are you?” Steve says to Sean and Ron Newton, a father and son clad in matching red rain jackets.

Only one fisherman replies in the affirmative: Thomas Danenhower.

An endearing angler with decades of experience (the kind of salt-of-the-earth guy who includes your first name in every sentence he says to you), Danenhower worked in the commercial rockfishing industry for years off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, near the Channel Islands. But as rockfish were harvested more voraciously in the area, populations began to dwindle before his very eyes. Many of his coworkers lost their jobs.

Then, in 2002, federal officials banned commercial fishing for rockfish throughout California due to overfishing. Communities reliant on fisheries across that state were decimated as thousands of residents lost their jobs. Scientists predicted most species of California rockfish would take over a century to recover.

But nearly two decades later, rockfish have made a remarkable comeback. Catch limits on some species have now boosted over 100 percent. Officials say the regulations should bring back over 900 jobs in commercial fisheries and generate over $54 million in annual revenue across West Coast states.

Steve Ranney operates the Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, Alaska. Visitors come to lodge for world-class fishing and outdoor adventures. Ranney grew up in Alaska and wants to see good stewardship of wildlife and the environment.

Carl Ranney holds the lingcod that John Murphy reeled in and kept during a week of sport fishing in Cordova, Alaska.

AS WE SET OUT to deeper waters, I spend the first hour bragging to Danenhower, Carl and the rest of the passengers about my past experiences on commercial tuna fishing vessels off the coast of Oregon. I spend the following two hours with my head in my hands, spiraling into a dizzying seasickness on the choppy waters, which, on this warm summer morning, are relatively mild.

After swallowing three pieces of ginger and my pride, we reach our destination. Lines are immediately cast out into the dark depths of the sea.

Within minutes, a rod dips toward the water. Fish on. It’s a yelloweye rockfish, its scales glimmering with every shade of the sunset. Another one hits moments later. And then another. Some are kept, but many others are tossed back. The rapid-fire action continues for about an hour.

Things settle down. “When it gets quieter, that’s when you know the halibut are around,” Danenhower says.

Another rod dips. Fish on. This time it’s bigger than the rest. As the fish nears the boat, it suddenly bolts back down toward the sea floor – a sure sign that it’s a halibut. Eventually, the thrashing flounder is wrestled aboard. About a half-hour later, two more hit back to back, and the lines nearly become tangled. It’s a rush – almost chaotic. But Steve and the crew are calm and composed. All are keepers.

Then Danenhower hooks a big one. He struggles hard for what feels like an hour, but is only a few minutes. The fish nears the surface. A long, serpentine figure comes slowly into focus. It’s a massive lingcod. At just over 4 feet long, its dark scales of black, brown and purple make it nearly invisible in the calm, black water. With a gaping, oval-shaped mouth and 18 fanglike teeth, it couldeasily swallow my head in a single gulp – a true leviathan of the Alaskan deep.

Carl steps to the back of the boat, grabs the massive ling, removes the hook from its mouth and tosses it back into the water. “What a rodeo,” Danenhower says. “That’s why you come to Alaska.”

The swim bladder of a yelloweye rockfish swells when the fish is brought to the surface. The challenge in catch and release rockfish fishing is how to return the fish to the depths before this barotrauma kills the fish.

Tom Danenhower, far right, practiced catch and release fishing on this day in July, while his friends and fellow fishermen kept all of the halibut, lingcod and rockfish permitted under the law that they caught.

ON THIS DAY, DANENHOWER lets all his bigger fish go. He calls the larger Pacific halibut “treasures of the sea,” because, when over 60 pounds, they are almost always females. Those that reach 250 pounds can produce up to four million eggs and are essential for the balance of the Alaskan ecosystem. Danenhower dreams of a day when Steve’s Orca Adventure Lodge does only catch-and-release trips.

“The idea is to take some of these places that haven’t been impacted as much and keep them more pristine,” Steve, a catch-and-release advocate, says. For over 30 years he and the Orca Adventure Lodge have maintained fishing encampments that are among the best in the region, and it’s because they have remained solely catch and release.

“There are plenty of places around the state that have been overfished,” Steve says. “You take major ports like Sitka, Seward, Palmer – they’ve fished out all the major areas, even with pretty strict regulations.”

While Orca Bay has not shown direct signs of overfishing, Steve has watched as members of the local fishing community have started to adopt catch-and-release practices to ensure the sustainability of the fisheries.

“Coming up with more methods to release the bigger fish safely makes catch and release more of a choice rather than a regulation,” says Steve.

Detail of a hook being prepared by Tom Danenhower.

Carl Ranney offers support to Sean Newton as he battles a large halibut on his line. It took Newton close to an hour to reel in his catch.

THESE DAYS, MORE GROUPS come to Orca Lodge for catch-and-release trips than ever before. But it wasn’t always like this and many remain hesitant to accept the practice. Studies have shown that fish taken completely out of the water for periods of up to 30 or 60 seconds undergo extreme stress and pain – much like a person running as fast as they can for a half-hour and then being submerged underwater for a minute.

Others are concerned for the mortality rate of releasing fish with a swim bladder – an organ used to control buoyancy. When brought to the surface, a fish’s swim bladder inflates dramatically due to the change in pressure, which can lead to barotrauma.

In barotrauma, the eyes of a fish bulge out of its socket and the stomach out of its mouth. Rockfish that suffer from barotrauma are also much more susceptible to predation, which often proves fatal. Almost all the rockfish caught on Steve’s boat displayed signs of barotrauma.

Brittany Blain, an Anchorage-based assistant area manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, has been studying catch-and-release practices for years. During her master’s program, Blain conducted a study on the mortality and reproductive rate of releasing rockfish with deep-water release mechanisms. Her results were surprising.

By placing a weighted hook through the lower soft jaw of a rockfish and allowing the fish to fall to the depth where it was hooked, Blain found that over 65 percent of rockfish would survive through barotrauma as opposed to the 22 percent released at the surface.

The surviving fish also proved to be highly reproductive for up to two years after being caught. One healthy fish tagged in the study was even recaught over eight years later.

“We had no idea that these tools could be so successful,” Blain said.

Because of studies like Blain’s, all Alaskan sportfishing boats must have a deep-water release mechanism on board starting in 2020. All rockfish released must be dropped either to the depth they were caught or to over 100 feet.

Blain, an ex-Cordova resident who spent years on sport and commercial fishing vessels in the Prince William Sound, has also seen the attitudes of locals change toward catch and release.

“Some people sport fish for fun while others are just looking to put fish in the freezer,” she said. “In a place like Cordova, more people want to just put it in the freezer. But they’re still mindful people. They’ve enjoyed these fish for so long and they just want to keep it that way.” ASJ

Karl Ranney carefully returns a halibut to the water overseen by his father, boat captain and Orca Lodge operator Steve Ranney.

A large lincod hooked by Tom Danenhower and released.

Carl Ranney removes the hook from the large lincod that Tom Danenhower caught and released.

 

Embracing The Wild Life In Alaska

 

The following appears in the October issue of Alaska Sporting Journal: 

Editor’s note: “I’d pined for a home like this my entire youth, visions of a life lived close to nature and wildlife,” author Tom Walker writes in his new book about living in Alaska as a photographer. Walker grew up in Los Angeles, and in his urban youth some of his best days were spent trout fishing with his dad in the eastern Sierra Nevada Range. Now having lived for more than half a century adjacent to Denali National Park, Walker shares the connection with the Last Frontier’s fauna he’s captured with a camera over years of interactions with everything from bears to salmon to moose. The following is excerpted with permission from Wild Shots: A Photographer’s Life in Alaska (Mountaineers Books, September 2019) by Tom Walker.

Photos courtesy of Tom Walker

BY TOM WALKER 

I anchored the boat in a bay at the mouth of a pristine coastal stream in Prince William Sound. Leaden clouds covered the valley, masking the serrated, glacier-clad peaks of the coastal range.

Under the lichen-draped spruce and hemlock canopy skirting the slopes lay a carpet of moss and thickets of spiny devil’s club, alder, ferns, and blueberry bushes. Rufous hummingbirds flitted through the trees while high overhead, marbled murrelets, a small seabird, nested on the mossy limbs of 400-year-old evergreens, some with a basal diameter of nine feet. Tiny birds atop forest monarchs, a scene as if envisioned by Tolkien.

Ashore, standing on limpet- and barnacle-encrusted cobbles and the shards of countless clamshells, I inhaled the scents of the forest and a vibrant spawning stream. Damp salt air mingled with the smell of dead and dying pink salmon, a rich, pungent aroma more of life than death.

Gulls feuded and fussed over fish scraps, their ubiquitous cries filling the air. Two bald eagles perched on the rocks at the stream’s edge, another soared over the tidal flat, scattering the gulls, while just down the bay two juvenile eagles waited high in their enormous nest for a parent to bring food.

Mergansers, trailed by their broods, bobbed in the swift current searching for salmon eggs. Small numbers of silver salmon mixed with large schools of pink salmon now forcing their way upstream against the ebbing tide. Just offshore silvers jumped and twisted in the light, eluding harbor seals lurking below.

Walker’s cabin lit up by the Aurora Borealis

EVERY TWO YEARS, PINK salmon return to these natal waters to spawn and die. Over the winter, their eggs, nurtured in the gravel by the nutrient-rich, icy water, mature and hatch. The young, called fry, pulse in spring downstream to continue their lifecycle far out at sea. A magnetic map and chemical clues will guide the mature fish back to this exact spot.

Abundant protein lures meat eaters of all kinds. Twice I had seen coyotes here, once a wolf, and river otters many times. Ravens and crows searched for scraps, stealing from the eagles and gulls alike. At times the stream seemed so packed with salmon that it looked as if I could have stepped across on their backs.

I’ll never forget the first time I came here, by small rented skiff, motoring the calm, gray-green waters of the sound, the distant spouts of humpback whales on the horizon. My companion and I passed a luminous waterfall where a bald eagle perched on a nearby spruce, only the second I’d ever seen. “Look! A bald eagle!” I shouted. My companion scarcely looked. He’d lived here a long time, seen plenty of eagles.

On this day, years later, I came here for the bears. Both black and brown bears lived on this stream and gorged on salmon. A few feet up from the tideline, I saw the first tracks, huge brown bear prints engraved in the sand.

Salmon heads, tails and bones littered the shore, leftovers of feasting carnivores. When I crossed the shallow stream, hordes of fish panicked and pushed ahead; some flipped right onto the bank. Each sandbar, every patch of mud, was engraved with tracks: gulls, crows, black bears, brown bears.

In the upper part of the tidal flat, colored green and gold with moss and seaweed, and near what appeared to be a favored fishing site, I sat down to wait.

Within minutes, a shadow detached from the forest and sauntered into the creek. A brief lunge, a snap of jaws, and like that, the black bear waded out, a pink salmon struggling in its jaws. In a soft, feathery rain, the bear unhurriedly carried its catch into the timber.

Another black bear, smaller and more animated, rushed from the far tree line, ran across the flats, and plunged into the river, salmon escaping in all directions. The young bear charged, left and right, back and forth, pouncing and pawing at every fish but without success. Then, on the bank, it spied a salmon hurtled ashore by the initial panic.

The bear charged forward and seized it with its teeth and front paws. Like a robber fleeing a bank, the bear raced off across the flats for the safety of the woods. I was reminded that not all bears are good fishers.

Over the next two hours, I watched the fishing techniques of a half-dozen black bears of various sizes and ages. Some wandered in, grabbed a fish and departed; others plunged in and bucked the current. All of them got fish; a few settled for spawned-out carcasses. Once, near the head of the tidal flat, where the creek emerged from the forest, a female with a small cub made a brief foray from cover but retreated when another bear appeared close by.

Not one single black bear ate its catch on the bank; they all carried their catch into the safety of the woods. It was telling behavior; something dominant and dangerous lurked there.

A LULL IN THE action descended at midday. Hours dragged by without a single bear in view. Eagles wheeled and called; crows yammered from the stream bank; increasing rain beat a steady tattoo. I watched a pair of otters slide over the rocks and panic a shoal of fish. An uneasy tension pervaded the glowering mists, and I fidgeted with anticipation. Then, there, across the flats, stalked a giant – a brown bear, one of the undisputed masters of this realm.

The bear was deep chocolate brown, almost black. No mistaking this hulk for a black bear, for it was at least three times the size of any other bear I had seen that day. The big humped shoulders, the keg-sized head, the long whitish claws identified the species and signified its status: 1,000 pounds of fur, muscle and power. A thought ran through my head: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil since I’m the biggest, baddest bear in the valley.

The brown bear ambled to the riverbank, scarcely glancing right or left, then wandered upstream, pausing to sniff at scraps and carcasses along the way. He was literally waddling fat, the beneficiary of nature’s munificence. In a pool below a fast riffle that slowed the salmon’s upstream struggle, he waded into massed fish, lowered his head, and in slow motion snapped up a big male pink salmon. He gave the humpbacked fish a slight shake, seemed to study it, and then dropped it back into the water, uninterested. He made another grab and pulled out a fresh, bright female.

Back on the bank the bear used its front paws to pin the salmon to the ground, then ripped the egg sack from the body, sending a scatter of bright red eggs across the rocks. The bear lapped up the nutritious roe, stripped off the skin, then abandoned the rest to the gulls. In early summer it would have eaten the entire fish. Now, having gained tremendous bulk, the bear was picky, stripping the eggs, skin, eyes, and brain, leaving the rest. Others ignored live fish, preferring instead the putrid remains dredged up from the bottom. It was disturbing to watch fish being torn apart, left twitching on the sand, their struggle to spawn ruined, a vivid reminder of the sometimes brutal cycle of life, a macabre dance of predator and prey.

I ENDED MY VIGIL in late afternoon and walked back to the skiff in pounding rain. Before shoving off, I turned for one last look at the mists drifting across the slopes and over the flats. I listened to the birds and watched salmon forging their way upstream, pleased that this remote stream still supported an abundance and variety of life unmatched elsewhere.

All of it harkened to a time when Alaska was wild and pure – solely the kingdom of the great bear, a place where all else gave way to its passage. ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on Tom Walker’s book Wild Shots: A Photographer’s Life in Alaska and info about how to order a copy, go to mountaineers.org/books/books/wild-shots-a-photographers-life-in-alaska. The book is also available on several retail online outlets, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

 

Tom Walker has spent over 50 years in Alaska.

Q&A with Wild Shots author Tom Walker:

Chris Cocoles Congratulations on this latest book. It’s fantastic. Was Wild Shots maybe more sentimental for you than some of your previous work?

Tom Walker I would not say sentimental at all. Maybe reflective would be a better term. At this point in my life, my goal was to record what I think were some fairly unique incidents and insights. Previous works have been how-to, biographies and natural histories, with this work in the latter category.

CC You’ve been in Alaska for 50 years now. What was your early experience like in the Last Frontier?

TW Fifty-four years now. In a word, the experience was invigorating. With so much new and so much of intense interest, I could not soak it all in. Wishing for a few years, I had a must-do list of places to see and experience. The list is longer today.

CC I’m pretty envious of you that Denali National Park is almost your backyard. What’s that been like for you?

TW Heartbreaking. To love some terrain so much and see it change so much in a negative way, it has been difficult. Climate change is very real and to watch the effects on the wildlife and plants that have evolved over millennia is difficult. Here in the Far North, the concept is not abstract but a real ongoing process that people who look to nature can readily see and experience.

CC Tell me about growing up around Los Angeles and how the outdoors shaped your life.

Wood River, Alaska, Tom Walker

TW The outdoors was salvation. I think some people are just cast into places they are not geared for or supposed to be. At heart I was a country boy and living in the city was for me the proverbial square peg. Once I could wander freely into undeveloped spaces, deserts, shores, and mountains, did I find a measure of peace.

CC You write about your dad’s love of trout fishing and the trips you took in your California days. Can you share a memory of fishing with your dad?

TW Hiking to an alpine lake with my dad, just he and I, to fish for golden trout was a memorable trip complete with a close look at two big mule deer bucks. Fishing a shoreline of a crystalline lake with no one else around was a peerless memory.

CC What’s the biggest challenge about photographing wildlife?

TW Not drowning, dying of hypothermia, falling off a cliff, or crashing in a small plane. The wildlife, if you have studied your critters, poses the least risk. Alaska – and it’s true of northern Canada as well – is difficult country with challenges of weather and remoteness.

CC Do you have a favorite species of animal that you’ve really savored interacting with and taking photos of?

TW Dall sheep. I love the high mountains where they live, the vista they savor every day, and their ability to thrive in such inhospitable (to humans) terrain. Imagine living where the wind shrieks, the thermometer drops to minus 60 or more, and the night can be 24 hours long in winter. They are tough but gorgeous creatures.

CC What has been your fishing experience like since moving to Alaska?

TW Mostly salmon in both saltwater and fresh. Silver salmon and red salmon offer great freshwater fishing. The best sportfishing has been for sheefish, the so-called “tarpon of the north,” which are great fighters and wonderful eating. It may be my weird thinking, but I never fish for king salmon. I worked on a rehab project for this species and don’t want to kill one.

CC You have a chapter about polarizing grizzly bear personality Timothy Treadwell and the relationship you had with him. Can you sum up what his legacy will be?

TW He did more harm than good. He had a true gift in reaching out to children and giving a conservation lesson. But in the end, when he died it was all undone.

CC Obviously, hunting is such a huge part of the fabric of Alaskans. What’s your take on hunting in the state and how it can be better or more effective in terms of conservation?

TW All I will say on this topic is Alaskan wildlife resources are finite and there will never be enough to meet the demand. Overharvest has been a problem in the past and as the population grows, careful management will be needed to guard against future depletions.

CC Salmon in both Alaska and your native state of California are under siege for various reasons. Do you have a hunch on what might happen to these remarkable fish in the future?

TW That’s beyond my expertise. (But) here we have a proposed Pebble Mine that will threaten the greatest wild salmon runs in the world. Imaging risking a pristine food source that feeds thousands, if not tens of thousands of people, for copper. Crazy.

CC You’ve seen a lot in the wilderness in your time exploring. Is there something you haven’t seen that you hope to accomplish someday?

TW Anything to do with wolverines. I have seen about a dozen but would like a closer, longer observation. It’s perhaps our least understood critter. ASJ

 

 

 

 

TU: Proposed repeal of Roadless Rule on Tongass National Forest harmful to salmon, wildlife

The following is courtesy of Trout Unlimited Alaska:

JUNEAU, AK – Today, the U.S. Forest Service announced it will release its draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Alaska Roadless Rule this week, with a preferred alternative to repeal long-standing protections for more than 9 million acres of Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The DEIS release will trigger a 60-day comment period where the public can weigh in on the agency’s proposal. Repealing the rule would make currently-protected lands available for expanded clear-cut logging of old-growth forest and construction of logging roads.

Photo by Brandon Hill/Trout Unlimited

In response to the preferred alternative, Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Legal and Policy Director, issued the following statement:

“The proposed repeal of the Roadless Rule caters to the outdated old-growth, clear-cut logging industry and shows blatant disregard for everyday Alaskans who rely on and enjoy salmon, wildlife, clean water, abundant subsistence resources, and beautiful natural scenery.

The Tongass is all of ours. Repealing the Roadless Rule would cast aside years of collaboration and thriving businesses that depend on healthy forests, and usher in a new era of reckless old-growth clear-cut logging that pollutes our streams, hurts our salmon and deer populations, and spoils the forest and scenery. This proposed rule is a complete about-face from the direction we should be headed and reflects the fact that special interests and not common sense are guiding this decision.

People throughout Alaska and the rest of the country depend on the productive rivers and wild fish of the Tongass for food, jobs, and recreation. We urge anyone who shares these values to comment to the Forest Service and urge them to uphold the Roadless Rule and conserve key areas of the Tongass, including the highest quality salmon-producing watersheds within the Tongass 77.”

The Tongass produces more salmon than all other national forests combined, and the fishing and tourism industry supported by the intact forest account for more than 25 percent of local jobs in the region. A statewide 2019 poll commissioned by Trout Unlimited found a majority of likely voters in Alaska opposed efforts to repeal the Roadless Rule and strongly supported efforts to protect salmon, the salmon industry, and high-value salmon streams in the Tongass such as those included in the Tongass 77.

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Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization. In Alaska, we work with sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy far into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau. Follow TU’s Tongass efforts on Facebook and visit us online at tu.org. Learn more about our work to conserve key areas of the Tongass National Forest at americansalmonforest.org.

Southcentral Alaska Fishing Recap

The following is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

(Anchorage) – The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Division of Sport Fish has published the 2019 Southcentral Season Summary reports for the eight Southcentral management areas. The reports cover the AnchorageBristol BayKodiakLower Cook InletNorthern Cook InletNorth Gulf CoastNorthern Kenai Peninsula, and Prince William Sound management areas and provide a comprehensive review of the sport fishing management actions ADF&G implemented preseason and throughout the 2019 sport fishery season. The reports also include a table of the Southcentral escapement goals and actual escapements from 2010-2019.

Anglers can review the individual 2019 Southcentral Season Summary reports by area on the ADF&G Southcentral Sport Fish Reports webpage.

For additional information about management actions, please contact the local ADF&G management area office.

Some recaps for Southcentral management areas:

ANCHORAGE

Ship Creek

King salmon fishing in Ship Creek was good this season. 891 king salmon were collected in the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery raceway. An estimated 497 king salmon were counted in the creek below the hatchery. The hatchery was able to meet the broodstock goal of 460 king salmon.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Sockeye Salmon
Resurrection Bay

Anglers reported good sockeye salmon fishing in Resurrection Bay. On June 11, 2019, over 11,538 sockeye salmon had passed through the Bear Creek weir, with large numbers of sockeye salmon still entering the river. Bear Lake sockeye salmon have a Sustainable Escapement Goal (SEG) of 700-8,300 fish and is managed to escape 5,152–12,752 sockeye salmon, which meets both the SEG and the Trail Lakes Hatchery broodstock requirements. The final escapement was approximately 12,779 sockeye salmon.

Management Actions

On June 14, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to twelve fish per day and in possession in the marine waters of Resurrection Bay north of a line from Caines Head to the north point of Thumb Cove. The sockeye salmon limits were increased to six fish per day and in possession in the freshwaters open to sockeye salmon. In addition, a section of the Resurrection River freshwaters opened early.

Prince William Sound

Salmon fishing in the Coghill River was reported as fair this season. On July 26, 2019, over 29,382 sockeye salmon had passed through the Coghill River weir. The sockeye salmon escapement goal range for the Coghill River is 20,000-60,000 fish.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Coho Salmon
Ship Creek

Coho salmon fishing in Ship Creek this season was reported as good. The William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery collected 508 coho salmon for broodstock. Additionally, 363 coho salmon were counted by foot survey immediately in the creek below the hatchery.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Resurrection Bay

Coho salmon fishing in Resurrection Bay was hit or miss this season. Anglers fishing from a boat were having better success then shore based anglers. The Bear Creek coho salmon stock is currently on track to provide adequate broodstock. Coho salmon egg takes, and escapement surveys will be conducted in early October.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Prince William Sound

Coho salmon fishing has been fair in Whittier. Fleming Spit did not have fish returning this year because stocking did not take place due to a low broodstock year in 2016. Coho salmon fishing in Valdez has been reported by anglers as fair to good. It is too early to determine if broodstock goals have been met by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association and Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation hatcheries (PWSAC). Both locations are stocked by PWSAC and are terminal harvest areas. No formal surveys are conducted for coho salmon in Prince William Sound.

Management Actions

To date, no management actions have been implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Copper River Delta

Salmon fishing on the Copper River Delta has been poor. This season the water levels have been low, and the Delta has been experiencing unusually dry conditions. Ibeck Creek had a fish stranding where 1,500-2,000 fish died or were harvested by federal subsistence anglers. Based on aerial surveys, as of September 29, 2019, the Copper River Delta coho salmon return is anticipated to be below the SEG of 32,000-67,000 fish. The coho salmon return is still being assessed.

Management Actions

On September 18, 2019, the use of bait was prohibited in all Cooper River Highway streams.

On September 25, 2019, coho salmon limits were reduced to one fish per day and two in possession in the Copper River Highway streams.

Shrimp
Prince William Sound

The Total Allowable Harvest (TAH= 170,189 pounds) was established from the results of the fall 2018 Prince William Sound shrimp survey. The Guideline Harvest Level (GHL) for the noncommercial (sport and subsistence) shrimp fishery harvest was established to be 102,100 pounds. This was very similar to the TAH and GHL established for the 2018 season. Approximately 4,274 noncommercial permits were issued in 2019. Effort and harvest is assessed post-season after harvest reports are received. Anecdotal reports from anglers indicate that shrimping was good this season.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective April 15, 2019, reduced the number of allowable noncommercial shrimp pots per person and per vessel to three pots.

See the printable PDF version, which includes a table of Region II Escapement Goals and Escapements (2010-2019).

BRISTOL BAY

Naknek River

Based on inseason information from anglers and guides, the inriver king salmon abundance seemed to be good despite the run appearing to be late and fishing generally below average. Angler effort appeared to be near average; however, higher than average water temperatures negatively impacted the success rate of anglers.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season

Alagnak River

During the 2018 Bristol Bay Board of Fish meeting, the Sustainable Escapement Goal (SEG) of 2,700 king salmon was dropped and aerial surveys were discontinued. Inseason reports from anglers and guides indicated a fair inriver abundance of king salmon despite the run appearing to be late. Angler effort appeared to be near average and reports on the river indicated a range of success from poor to good by various operators. An onsite angler survey for the 2019 season yielded a high count of 41 anglers on July 9, 2019.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Nushagak-Mulchatna River

The preliminary estimate of king salmon passing the Portage Creek sonar was 47,882 salmon. King salmon are managed to achieve an inriver return of 95,000 fish to provide for 55,000-120,000 spawning salmon.

Commercial, sport, and subsistence catch information indicated a late return that was likely below the historical average. Unprecedented high water temperatures and low water levels were likely key factors affecting fish movement this season. Approximately 20,783 king salmon were harvested during the sockeye salmon commercial fishery. Harvest estimates for the sport and subsistence fisheries are not currently available. Reports from anglers, guides, and subsistence users suggest a below average harvest in the sport fishery and an average harvest in the subsistence fishery. The higher than average water temperatures noticeably affected the success rate of anglers; however, effort appeared to be near average.

Management Actions

On July 3, 2019, the limits for king salmon, 20 inches or greater in length, were reduced to one fish per day with an annual limit of two fish in the Nushagak-Mulchatna River drainage.

On July 10, 2019, the retention of king salmon of any size and the use of bait were prohibited on the Nushagak-Mulchatna River drainage.

Togiak River

Based on inseason reports from anglers, guides, and subsistence users, inriver king salmon abundance was good for the duration of the run from late June through late July, and angler effort appeared to be average.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Sockeye Salmon

Naknek River

The sockeye salmon escapement exceeded the SEG range of 800,000-2.0 million fish for the Naknek River with an estimate of 2.9 million salmon.

Management Actions

On July 10, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to ten fish per day and in possession in all waters of the Naknek River drainage.

Kvichak River

The sockeye salmon escapement was within the SEG range of 2.0-10.0 million fish for the Kvichak River with an estimate of 2.3 million salmon.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Alagnak River

The sockeye salmon escapement exceeded the lower bound SEG of 210,000 fish with an estimate of 820,458 salmon.

Management Actions

On July 16, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to ten fish per day and in possession in all waters of the Alagnak River drainage.

Nushagak-Mulchatna River

The sockeye salmon escapement was within the SEG range of 370,000-900,000 fish with an estimate of 709,349 salmon.

Management Actions

On July 5, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to ten fish per day and in possession in all waters of the Nushagak-Mulchatna River drainage, excluding the Wood River drainage.

Wood River

The sockeye salmon escapement exceeded the SEG range of 700,000-1.8 million fish with an estimate of 2.1 million salmon.

Management Actions

On July 5, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to ten fish per day and in possession in all waters of the Wood River drainage.

Togiak River

The sockeye salmon escapement exceeded the SEG range of 120,000-270,000 fish with an estimate of 351,846 salmon.

Management Actions

On July 27, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to ten fish per day and in possession in all waters of the Togiak River drainage.

Coho Salmon

Naknek River

Based on reports from anglers and guides, inriver abundance of coho salmon was good for the duration of the run from late July through early September despite the run appearing to be slightly late. Higher than average water temperatures noticeably affected the success rate of anglers; however, angler effort appeared to be near average.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Nushagak-Mulchatna River

The preliminary estimate of coho salmon passing the Portage Creek sonar was 51,852 salmon. Coho salmon are managed to achieve an inriver return of 70,000-130,000 fish to provide for 60,000-120,000 spawning salmon.

Sport and subsistence catch information indicated an average to slightly below average return during 2019 despite the lower indication given by the sonar. Approximately 28,195 coho salmon were harvested in the commercial fishery. Commercial fishing in the Nushagak Section of the Nushagak District was closed on July 31, 2019. Harvest estimates for the sport and subsistence fisheries are not available; however, angler, guide, and subsistence user reports suggest an average to below average harvest in the sport and subsistence fisheries. Higher than average water temperatures noticeably affected the success rate of anglers; however, effort appeared to be near average.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Togiak River

Based on reports from anglers and guides, inriver abundance was good to very good for the duration of the run from early August through early September. Angler effort appeared to be near average

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

See the printable PDF version, which includes a table of Region II Escapement Goals and Escapements (2010-2019).

NORTHERN KENAI

Kenai River Early Run

The outlook for the early-run of Kenai River king salmon in 2019 was below average, with a large fish (>75 cm mid eye to tail fork length or approximately >34 inches in total length) forecast of 3,168 fish. The 2019 forecasted total run of large king salmon was less than the Optimal Escapement Goal (OEG) of 3,900-6,600 fish which prevented the fishery from opening without restrictions. The run-timing to the river mile 14 sonar for large king salmon was on time at the quarter point of June 4, 2019, and one day early on June 10 at the average mid-point of June 11. The estimated preliminary total in-river run of 4,188 fish was larger than the forecast but remained well below the historical average.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2019, prohibited the retention of early-run king salmon in the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to an ADF&G marker at the outlet of Skilak Lake through June 30. The retention of king salmon continued to be prohibited from July 1 through July 31, from an ADF&G regulatory marker located approximately 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek upstream to the outlet of Skilak lake. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed in waters restricted to catch-and-release.

On July 4, 2019, king salmon fishing reopened in the Kenai River from an ADF&G regulatory marker located approximately 300 yards downstream of the mouth of Slikok Creek upstream to an ADF&G regulatory marker located at the outlet of Skilak Lake to the retention of king salmon under general regulations.

Inseason Sampling

Netting

Approximately 59% were ?750 mm in total length.

Sex ratio all-sized king salmon was 33% male and 67% female.

About 91% of king salmon sampled were two to five ocean fish (14% 700mm – 899 mm, 65% 500 mm – 699 mm, 12% 900 mm – 1,099 mm, and 1% >1100 mm).

Harvest

Zero king salmon were harvested in the early-run sport fishery.

Table 1. Summary of preliminary catch, harvest, and escapement, Kenai River early-run king salmon (?750 mm) fishery, 2019
Escapement Goal Range 3,900 to 6,600 large king salmon (?750 mm)
Total Catcha 79
Total Harvesta Below sonar = 0; Above sonar = 0; Total = 0
Sonar Estimate In-River 4,186
Preliminary Escapement Approximately 4,173
aLower river (below Soldotna Bridge).
Kenai River Late Run

The outlook for the late-run of Kenai River king salmon in 2019 was well below average, with a large king salmon (>75 cm mid eye to tail fork length) forecast of approximately 21,746 fish. Although the forecasted total run of large fish approximated the mid-point of the large fish Sustainable Escapement Goal (SEG) of 13,500-27,000 fish, historical harvest data indicated the SEG would not be met without restricting fisheries. Based on the estimated mean of the mid-point for 2013-2018 runs of July 26, the 2019 run was four days early. The preliminary inseason estimate of the total run of large king salmon is 14,020 fish. The preliminary escapement estimate is 11,671 large king salmon.

Management Actions

On July 1, 2019, bait was prohibited on the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to an ADF&G regulatory marker located approximately 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek. Anglers were allowed to harvest king salmon on the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to an ADF&G marker located approximately 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek. This restriction was in conjunction with the Kenai River early-run king salmon sport fishing restrictions prohibiting the retention of king salmon of any size from ADF&G regulatory marker located approximately 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek, upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake.

Inseason Sampling

Netting

Approximately 60% were ?750 mm in total length.

Sex ratios for fish ?500 mm was 35% female and 65% male.

About 94% of king salmon sampled were two to five ocean fish (22% 500 mm – 699 mm, 44% 700 mm – 899 mm, 27% 900 mm – 1,099 mm, and 1% >1,100 mm).

Harvest

47% of the harvest was comprised of large (?750 mm) king salmon.

49% of the king salmon ?750 mm harvested were female.

Table 1. Summary of preliminary catch, harvest, and escapement, Kenai River late-run king salmon (? 750 mm) fishery, 2019
Escapement Goal Range 13,700 to 27,000 large king salmon (?750 mm)
Total Catcha 890
Total Harvesta Below sonar = 265; Above sonar = 507; Total = 772
Sonar Estimate In-River 11,868
Preliminary Escapement Approximately 11,671
aLower river (below Soldotna Bridge).
Kasilof River

This spring, approximately 126,600 king salmon smolt were successfully stocked into Crooked Creek to augment natural production and enhance recreational fishing opportunity in the Kasilof River. The natural component of the Crooked Creek early-run king salmon return is managed to achieve SEG of 650-1,700 king salmon. The estimated escapement of wild (naturally-produced) king salmon was 1,444 fish. The egg take goal for future stocking of Crooked Creek was 32 pairs of naturally-produced king salmon of which 45 pairs were spawned in 2019.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2019, restricted the early-run king salmon limits to one hatchery fish, 20 inches or greater in length, in the Kasilof River drainage. The retention of naturally-produced king salmon was prohibited. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed.

On July 1, 2019, bait and multiple hooks were prohibited in the Kasilof River drainage.

Sockeye Salmon
Kenai River

The Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon forecast projected a total run of 6.0 million fish: 3.8 million fish in the Kenai River, 873,000 fish in the Kasilof River, with the remaining 1.3 million fish comprised of Susitna River and unmonitored systems. Based on the preseason forecast, the sockeye salmon run was managed on the middle tier for runs of 2.3-4.6 million Kenai River sockeye salmon, with an inriver goal of 1.0-1.3 million sockeye salmon. On July 26, 2019, ADF&G projected the total Kenai River sockeye salmon run would be between 2.3-4.6 million fish. The preliminary inriver Kenai River sonar passage estimate was 1,849,054 sockeye salmon.

Management Actions

On July 28, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to six fish per day and twelve fish in possession from the mouth of the Kenai River to Skilak Lake.

Russian River – Early Run

The escapement goal for Russian River early-run sockeye salmon is a Biological Escapement Goal (BEG) of 22,000-44,000 fish. The weir count on July 14, 2019, was 125,942 sockeye salmon, significantly exceeding the upper end of the BEG.

Management Actions

On June 12, 2019, the Russian River Sanctuary area opened early for sport fishing.

On June 14, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to six fish per day and twelve fish in possession for the Russian River and a section of the mainstem Upper Kenai River. The section of the mainstem Upper Kenai River includes the area that extends from Skilak Lake upstream to ADF&G regulatory markers located approximately 300 yards upstream of the public boat launch at Sportsman’s Landing (this includes the Russian River Sanctuary Area) and the Russian River from its mouth upstream to an ADF&G marker located approximately 600 yards downstream from the Russian River Falls.

On June 19, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to nine fish per day and eighteen fish in possession for the Russian River and a section of the mainstem Upper Kenai River. The section of the mainstem Upper Kenai River includes the area that extends from Skilak Lake upstream to ADF&G regulatory markers located approximately 300 yards upstream of the public boat launch at Sportsman’s Landing (this includes the Russian River Sanctuary Area) and the Russian River from its mouth upstream to an ADF&G marker located approximately 600 yards downstream from the Russian River Falls.

Russian River – Late Run

The escapement goal for Russian River late-run sockeye salmon is a SEG of 30,000-110,000 fish. Due to the Swan Lake Fire, the Russian River field camp and weir was evacuated and subsequently pulled on August 18, 2019. The weir count on August 18 at approximately 12:00 p.m. was 64,585 sockeye salmon.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery.

Kasilof River

The forecast for Kasilof River sockeye salmon was 873,000 fish. Kasilof sockeye salmon are managed for a BEG of 160,000-340,000 salmon, and an OEG of 160,000-390,000 fish. The sockeye salmon sonar quit enumerating salmon passage on August 12, 2019, with a preliminary estimate of 378,416 fish.

Management Actions

On July 24, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to six fish per day and twelve fish in possession; however, no more than two fish per day and in possession could be coho salmon, in all portions of the Kasilof River open to salmon fishing.

Coho Salmon
Kenai River

Freshwater guide logbook reports were discontinued in 2019. These guide logbook reports were used in the past to gauge Kenai River coho salmon sport catch, harvest, and angler effort. Angler reports indicate that coho salmon were showing up in the harvest during the last week of July and catches were reported as good through August and slowed in September.

Management Actions

On August 6, 2019, bait and multiple hooks were prohibited in the in the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to Skilak Lake to minimize incidental catch of late-run king salmon.

Personal Use Dip Net Fisheries
Kasilof River and Kenai River

Final results from the 2019 season have not been compiled, but preliminary information indicates 21,180 Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use permits were issued electronically. The number of paper permits and total permits issued is not yet known. Typically, about 80% of the Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use permits have some Kenai River harvest reported on them. The Kasilof River dipnet fishery was open by regulation June 25-August 7 with expanded fishing area allowed on July 24, 2019. The Kenai River dipnet fishery opened by regulation on July 10 and personal use fisherman were allowed to fish 24 hours a day beginning on July 27, 2019.

Harvest Reports

The total number of Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use permits issued for the 2019 season is not yet known. Nonetheless, 8,241 Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use permits have been returned to date via online reporting, an initial return rate of 39%. A reminder letter will be mailed to permit holders who have not yet returned their harvest record. Typically, permit returns from the reminder letters brings the total permit returns to approximately 83%. Harvest data will be keypunched by the end of October and estimates of total harvest will be available in January 2020.

Management Actions

On July 10, 2019, the retention of king salmon in the Kenai River personal use fishery was prohibited.

On July 24, 2019, the Kasilof River dipnetting area was expanded. Dipnetting from the shore was allowed from ADF&G markers on Cook Inlet beaches upstream to the Sterling Highway Bridge and boat dipnetting was allowed from ADF&G markers located on Cook Inlet beaches upstream to ADF&G markers at approximately river mile 3 of the Kasilof River.

On July 27, 2019, the Kenai River personal use fishery was opened 24 hours per day.

See the printable PDF version, which includes a table of Region II Escapement Goals and Escapements (2008-2018).

KODIAK

Ayakulik River

The king salmon run fell below the Biological Escapement Goal (BEG) of 4,800-8,400 fish with a weir count of 1,948 king salmon. The mid-point of the run occurred on June 17, 2019, which is similar to historical run-timing. The Ayakulik River king salmon run has seen declines since 2006. The escapement objectives have been met some years; however, in the most recent years the escapement objectives have not been meet. In many years, a significant portion of the estimated daily fish passage numbers occurs during the king salmon run when the weir is flooding.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective June 1, 2019, prohibited the retention of king salmon in the Ayakulik River drainage and only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed.

On June 26, 2019, king salmon fishing closed on the Ayakulik River drainage and only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed.

Table 1. Summary of preliminary catch, harvest and escapement, Ayakulik River king salmon fishery, 2019.
Escapement Goal Range BEG = 4,800-8,400
Total Catch TBD
Total Harvest 0
Weir Count 1,948
Preliminary Escapement 1,948
Karluk River

The king salmon run was within the BEG of 3,000-7,000 fish with a weir count of 3,898 king salmon. This is the second consecutive year and the fifth time in the last ten years the run has been within the BEG. The mid-point of the run occurred on June 23, 2019, which is similar to historical run-timing and the same day as 2018. The Karluk River has been not been open to the harvest of king salmon since 2007 and sport fishing for king salmon has been entirely closed since 2008.

Management Actions

” A preseason emergency order effective June 1, 2019, closed the Karluk River drainage to fishing for king salmon and only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed.

Table 2. Summary of preliminary catch, harvest and escapement, Karluk River king salmon fishery, 2019.
Escapement Goal Range BEG = 3,000 to 6,000
Total Catch TBD
Total Harvest 0
Weir Count 3,898
Preliminary Escapement 3,898
Chignik River

The king salmon run was within the BEG of 1,300-2,700 fish with a weir count of 1,517 king salmon and was slightly lower than the recent 10-year average. The mid-point of the run occurred on July 12, 2019, which is similar to historical run-timing.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Table 3. Summary of preliminary catch, harvest and escapement, Chignik River king salmon fishery, 2019.
Escapement Goal Range BEG = 1,300-2,700
Total Catch TBD
Total Harvest TBD
Weir Count 1,517
Preliminary Escapement 1,417
Nelson River

The 2019 weir count for king salmon was 11,653 fish. This was well above the BEG of 2,400-4,400 salmon and nearly an all-time record count. There is no retention in this fishery throughout the season based on regulations enacted in 2011. The weir count does not include a post-season estimate of fish observed below the weir when it was pulled. The mid-point of the run occurred on July 16, 2019, which is similar to historical run-timing.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery.

Table 4. Summary of preliminary catch, harvest and escapement, Nelson River king salmon fishery, 2019.
Escapement Goal Range BEG = 2,400 to 4,400
Total Catch TBD
Total Harvest 0
Weir Count 11,653
Preliminary Escapement 11,653
Stocked Kodiak Road System Streams

Each year the Olds River, American River, and Salonie Creek are stocked with up to 80,000 king salmon smolt. The stocked Kodiak road system streams had low returns this year and there was little harvest in this fishery for the third year in a row. Returns to the Olds River produced some early king salmon that were caught in Kalsin Bay and the lower Olds River, but much fewer than expected. Returns to the American River were also lower than expected though anglers did catch some fish, primarily 1- and 2-year ocean king salmon jacks. Salonie Creek had a few more fish return and was the primary collection point for broodstock for the project this season. Persistent dry conditions prevailed through the king salmon runs this season and may have also contributed to a lack of king salmon escapement in these rivers. Egg take goals were not met this year. To compensate for this shortfall, extra coho salmon will be stocked to supplement king salmon production. The 2019 king salmon egg take spawned 10 pairs which should produce at least 40,000 smolt, though this is far short of the goal to release 200,000 king salmon smolt. Coho salmon will be taken again from Pillar Creek in early November to supplement this shortfall.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Sockeye Salmon
Karluk River

The early sockeye salmon run fell within the BEG of 150,000-250,000 fish with a weir count of 186,510 sockeye salmon. Little harvest occurs upstream of the weir and escapement is likely equal to the weir count. Harvest of sockeye salmon by anglers on the Karluk River is minimal compared to the size of the run but it remains one of the larger sockeye salmon sport fisheries on Kodiak.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery.

Ayakulik River

The early sockeye salmon run fell within the BEG of 140,000-280,000 fish with a weir count of 162,430 sockeye salmon. Harvest of sockeye salmon by anglers on the Ayakulik River is minimal compared to the size of the run but it is one of the larger sockeye salmon sport fisheries on Kodiak.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery.

Dog Salmon (Frazer) River

The sockeye salmon run fell within the BEG of 75,000-170,000 fish with a count of 169,627 sockeye salmon at the Frazer Lake fish pass where escapement estimates are derived. Harvest of sockeye salmon by anglers on the Dog Salmon River downstream of the fish pass is minimal compared to the size of the run but it is also one of the larger sockeye salmon sport fisheries on Kodiak.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Buskin River

The sockeye salmon run was above the BEG of 5,000-8,000 fish with a weir count of 12,296 sockeye salmon. No harvest occurs upstream of the weir which is located just downstream from Buskin Lake and escapement is equal to the weir count. The mid-point of the run occurred on June 25, 2019, which is about 10 days later than historical run-timing.

Management Actions

On June 28, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were increased to five fish per day and in possession in the Buskin River drainage.

Saltery Cove

The sockeye salmon run was within the BEG of 15,000-35,000 fish with a weir count of 22,183 sockeye salmon though this was the lowest count on record for this run. No harvest occurs upstream of the weir and escapement is equal to the weir count. The mid-point of the run occurred on July 28, 2019, which is later than historical run-timing. This is the largest freshwater sport fishery on Kodiak by angler effort and harvest for a single stock. The 2019 run was similar to the 2018 and was small in comparison to most years; however, the run was well within the escapement goal range.

Management Actions

On July 24, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were reduced to two fish per day and in possession in the Saltery River drainage.

On August 9, 2019, the sockeye salmon limits were restored to five fish per day and in possession in the Saltery River drainage.

Pasagshak River

The sockeye salmon run was above the lower bound Sustainable Escapement Goal (SEG) of 3,000 fish with a weir count of 4,537 sockeye salmon. No harvest occurs upstream of the weir and escapement is equal to the weir count. The mid-point of the run occurred on July 21, 2019, which is similar to historical run-timing. The weir has only been in operation since 2011.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Afognak (Litnik) River

The sockeye salmon run was within the BEG of 20,000-50,000 fish with a weir count of 26,817 sockeye salmon. The mid-point of the run occurred on June 15, 2019 and was similar to historical run-timing.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Coho Salmon
Buskin River

The BEG for Buskin River coho salmon is 4,700-9,600 fish and the 2019 weir count was 5,537 salmon, though escapement estimates subtract sport harvest above the weir and will be lower than the weir count. The run was very late and almost all fish were counted in the last few days of September and first few days of October. Coho salmon are still entering the Buskin River though the weir has been pulled for the season.

Management Actions

On September 18, 2019, coho salmon fishing closed on the Buskin River drainage.

On October 4, 2019, the Buskin River drainage reopened to coho salmon fishing with the regular bag limit of 1 fish per day and in possession.

Olds River

The lower bound SEG for Olds River coho salmon is 1,000 fish and the 2019 run is ongoing. The 2019 run is expected to be above the range and the run appears to be normal, though the Olds River was also affected by low water conditions for much of August and September. The latest drone survey showed that there were significant schools of fish in many of the pools in the lower river. The Olds River coho salmon run is assessed via in season drone surveys and post season foot surveys. Final escapement estimates will be documented via post season foot surveys in October or November.

Management Actions

To date, no management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

American River

The lower bound SEG for American River coho salmon is 400 fish and the 2019 run is ongoing. The 2019 run is expected to be above the range and the run appears average to strong so far. The latest drone survey was not able to detect coho salmon due to a large number of pink salmon in the river but on the ground observations show significant numbers of coho salmon mixed in with pink salmon. The American River coho salmon run is assessed via in season drone surveys and post season foot surveys. Final escapement estimates will be documented via post season foot surveys in October or November.

Management Actions

To date, no management actions have been implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

Pasagshak River – Preliminary Summary

The lower bound SEG for Pasagshak River coho salmon is 1,200 fish and the 2019 run is ongoing. The 2019 run is expected to be above the range and recent observations indicate a strong run. The latest drone survey showed several large schools of coho salmon in Lake Rose Tead. The Pasagshak River coho salmon run is assessed via in season drone surveys and post season foot surveys. Final escapement estimates will be documented via post season foot surveys in November.

Management Actions

To date, no management actions have been implemented during the 2019 sport fishery season.

See the printable PDF version, which includes a table of Region II Escapement Goals and Escapements (2010-2019).

SOUTHERN KENAI

 

Anchor River

The 2019 preseason inriver forecast of 5,356 king salmon fell within the Sustainable Escapement Goal (SEG) of 3,800-7,600 fish; however, the second-poorest escapement ever recorded in 2018 prompted preseason restrictions to the sport fishery. King salmon escapement was monitored on the South and North forks of Anchor River beginning in early-May and continued through early-August. The SEG was met with a preliminary escapement estimate of 5,691 fish. The cumulative run-timing to both forks (June 23) was 11 days late compared to the average mid-point of June 14. The sport fishery occurred on three three-day weekends but was closed on Wednesdays and gear was restricted to one unbaited single-hook, artificial lure throughout the season.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective April 1, 2019, prohibited fishing for king salmon in the Anchor River on the first and fifth opening weekend and the five Wednesday openings in May and June 2019.

Closure dates were: May 18-20, May 22, May 29, June 5, June 12, June 15-17, and June 19.

Open dates were: May 25-27, June 1-3, and June 8-10.

A preseason emergency order effective April 1, 2019, restricted fishing gear to one, unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure in the Anchor River, Deep Creek, and Ninilchik River drainages.

A preseason emergency order effective Aril 1, 2019, combined the annual limit of two king salmon between the Anchor River, Deep Creek, Ninilchik River, and all saltwaters between Bluff Point and the Ninilchik River.

Ninilchik River

No preseason forecast was estimated for the 2019 wild Ninilchik River king salmon run. Hatchery king salmon are stocked in the Ninilchik River to support the inriver sport fishery. The fishery occurred with preseason restrictions that limited gear to one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure and prohibited the retention of wild king salmon. The harvest of hatchery king salmon was allowed during both the three 3-day weekends and the hatchery only season.

King salmon escapement was fully enumerated just above the fishery for the first time at approximately two miles. An instream video weir operated from mid-May to early-August at this location, and the count was 1,664 wild king salmon and 1,719 hatchery-reared king salmon. The mid-point of the wild and hatchery-reared runs to the lower weir were within one week of each other, on June 18, 2019, and June 23, respectively.

The broodstock collection weir, located approximately five miles upstream from the mouth, was still used to monitor escapement in regards to meeting the current SEG of 750-1,300 wild king salmon. The broodstock collection weir location also used instream video and was operated from mid-May through mid-August. The wild weir count was 1,296 king salmon and the hatchery-reared weir count was 1,171 king salmon. After accounting for the removal of broodstock, the escapement was 1,185 wild king salmon, which met the SEG. Based on weir counts at both locations, 78% of the wild king salmon and 68% of the hatchery-reared king salmon counted through the lower weir also reached the broodstock collection weir.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective April 1, 2019, reduced the king salmon limits to one hatchery king salmon, 20 inches or greater in length, in the Ninilchik River drainage

A preseason emergency order effective April 1, 2019, restricted fishing gear to one, unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure in the Anchor River, Deep Creek, and Ninilchik River drainages.

A preseason emergency order effective Aril 1, 2019, combined the annual limit of two king salmon between the Anchor River, Deep Creek, Ninilchik River, and all saltwaters between Bluff Point and the Ninilchik River.

Deep Creek

No preseason forecast was estimated for the 2019 Deep Creek king salmon run. The fishery began with preseason restrictions based on management actions for the Anchor River and forecasted poor runs throughout Cook Inlet. Deep Creek has a Sustainable Escapement Goal (SEG) of 350 king salmon and was assessed post-season via a single aerial survey. The 2019 survey occurred on July 22, and 751 king salmon were counted, which achieved the SEG. The 2019 king salmon escapement was also fully enumerated using an ARIS sonar and underwater video weir located approximately 2.5 miles upstream from the mouth. The preliminary escapement estimate is 3,495 king salmon with the mid-point of the run on June 27.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective April 1, 2019, restricted fishing gear to one, unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure in the Anchor River, Deep Creek, and Ninilchik River drainages.

A preseason emergency order effective Aril 1, 2019, combined the annual limit of two king salmon between the Anchor River, Deep Creek, Ninilchik River, and all saltwaters between Bluff Point and the Ninilchik River.

Marine Fisheries

Sport fishing for king salmon in Cook Inlet was popular in both the Winter (September 1-March 31) and the Summer (April 1-August 31) fisheries. The summer fishery in north of Bluff Point began with preseason restrictions to protect king salmon returning to Cook Inlet drainages. Statewide Harvest Survey harvest estimates for these fisheries and will not be available until 2020. In general, fishing was good and angler effort was high in the fall months of the winter fishery. Effort was low in Upper Cook Inlet during the summer fishery.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective Aril 1, 2019, combined the annual limit of two king salmon between the Anchor River, Deep Creek, Ninilchik River, and all saltwaters between Bluff Point and the Ninilchik River.

Razor Clams
Eastside

All Eastside Cook Inlet beaches remained closed to sport and personal use clamming in 2019 due to the continued historical low abundances of mature-sized razor clams at Clam Gulch and Ninilchik. The affected area runs from the mouth of the Kenai River to the southernmost tip of the Homer Spit. Little recruitment of new juvenile clams was detected at the Ninilchik and Clam Gulch beaches during the spring abundance surveys. Abundance of juvenile clams is still well above historical average and are expected to start recruiting to the adult size in 2020.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective January 1, 2019, closed all Eastside Cook Inlet beaches to clamming for all species from the mouth of the Kenai River to the southernmost tip of the Homer Spit for 2019.

Westside

The Westside Cook Inlets beaches remained open to commercial, sport, and personal use clamming in 2019. Harvest estimates for the sport fishery are not available yet.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery.

Terminal Stocked
Salmon Fisheries
Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon

In 2019, the stocking goals were met for Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon (NDFL) on the Homer Spit with approximately 315,000 king salmon smolt and 120,000 coho salmon smolt. This year’s king salmon stocking was a 30% increase over recent annual stockings. Statewide Harvest Survey estimates harvest for these fisheries and will not be available until 2020. Overall, the king salmon fishery was likely below-average harvest and the coho salmon fishery was likely average.

Management Actions

On July 4, 2019, snagging was allowed in the NDFL from July 4-7 to harvest the remainder of the king salmon milling in the lagoon prior to coho salmon returning..

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 coho salmon sport fishery season.

Personal Use Fisheries
China Poot Creek

The China Poot Creek personal use dip net fishery does not require a permit for participation so there is no harvest and effort data available for 2019. Participants reported consistently fair to good sockeye salmon harvest opportunity.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 personal use fishery.

Tanner Crab
Cook Inlet Tanner Crab

The 2018-2019 season occurred from October 1, 2018, through February 28, 2019. The preliminary combined harvest was 8,319 based on permit-reported harvest. The Kachemak Bay Tanner crab trawl survey was conducted in late-May 2019. The survey estimated an abundance of 273,511 legal male Tanner crab which is a 23% increase from 2018. The 2018-2019 sport and subsistence fisheries are scheduled to open on October 1, 2019. Permits are only available through ADF&Gs online store.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2018-2019 tanner crab fishery season

See the printable PDF version, which includes a table of Region II Escapement Goals and Escapements (2010-2019).

MAT-SU

Greater Susitna River/Knik Arm Area

Emergency orders released preseason targeted a 100% reduction in king salmon harvest in the Susitna and Little Susitna rivers drainages through closure of fisheries. Typically, 5-year old fish constitute about half a given year’s run and on the Deshka River for the second year in a row, sibling models suggested a potential weak run of 5-year old fish in 2019. There was also uncertainty in the forecast of 4-year old fish in 2019. The low forecast of 5-year old fish was due to low abundance of 4-year old fish on the Deshka River in 2018. Given the low abundance of 4-year old fish in 2018 was widespread throughout the Susitna drainage, it was assumed the low Deshka River forecast would be reflective of other areas of the Susitna River drainage during 2019. Also, most escapement goals were missed in 2017 while allowing restricted harvest to occur over much of the season. All escapement goals were missed in 2018 when catch-and-release was allowed. Given the potential for the 2019 Susitna River king salmon returns to be less than 2017 and 2018, total closure was warranted and the most conservative action implemented.

Westside Susitna Tributaries

The Sustainable Escapement Goal (SEG) for the Deshka River of 13,000-28,000 king salmon was not achieved. The final weir count was 9,711 king salmon. Water temperatures rose to 21 °C by June 20, 2019, around the midpoint of a typical run, stalling salmon migration. Waters progressively warmed as water levels dropped, resulting in negligible fish passage and a cumulative count of about 7,500 fish through a 20-day period. During this period, king salmon were likely holding in the cooler waters of the Susitna River downstream of the Deshka River mouth. Once stream conditions improved around July 11, about 2,000 more fish passed over a 7-day period. However, the number of fish holding was ultimately insufficient to achieve the escapement goal. Aerial escapement surveys were conducted postseason on four other westside streams. Escapement goals were achieved on the Talachulitna River, Lake Creek, and Peters Creek. The survey on Alexander Creek of 1,297 fish, although below goal, was the highest count since 2005. This stock is likely depressed by a combination of low marine survival and northern pike predation. Intensive pike suppression work conducted by ADF&G since 2010 may be improving freshwater survival of juveniles.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2019, closed king salmon fishing in Units 1-6 of the Susitna River drainages for the season. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed in the waters normally open to king salmon fishing in Units 1-6 of the Susitna River drainages. Sport fishing for other species was allowed seven days per week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. including the waters in Unit 2 that are normally closed on certain days during the king salmon season.

Eastside Susitna Tributaries

Management decisions effecting Eastside Susitna streams (Units 2, 3, 5, and 6) are based upon postseason aerial surveys over eight streams, which have established escapement goals. Surveys provide an annual index of abundance. Three of six goals were achieved in this area of the Susitna River drainage in 2019. Willow, Montana, and Prairie creeks failed to meet their escapement goals, while goals on Little Willow and Clear creeks and Chulitna River were met. Sheep and Goose creeks were not counted as cloudy water conditions due to the semi glacial nature of these streams prevailed.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2019, closed king salmon fishing in Units 1-6 of the Susitna River drainages for the season. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed in the waters normally open to king salmon fishing in Units 1-6 of the Susitna River drainages. Sport fishing for other species was allowed seven days per week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. including the waters in Unit 2 that are normally closed on certain days during the king salmon season.

Knik Arm

The Little Susitna River and the stocked terminal fishery at Eklutna Tailrace are the only Knik Arm streams open to the harvest of king salmon by regulation. The SEG for the Little Susitna River of 2,100-3,900 king salmon as assessed by weir and 900-1,800 fish as assessed by aerial survey. The majority of the fish counted through the weir this season were counted at night using video, even during a period of poor water visibility that lasted through the entire month of June. The weir was inundated by high flows for about a week during mid-June. However, it is not thought many fish escaped the weir undetected. The SEG was met by June 24, 2019, with a final count of 3,666 king salmon. The fishery was restored to special regulation on June 26. However, as the bulk of the run had already passed upstream of the weir, fishing success was low. The aerial survey was not conducted this year due to cloudy water conditions. Fishing at the Eklutna Tailrace was fair throughout the season.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2019, closed king salmon fishing in the Little Susitna River drainage. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed in the waters normally open to king salmon fishing in the Little Susitna River drainage. Sport fishing for other species was allowed seven days per week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. each day.

On June 26, 2019, the Little Susitna River reopened to king salmon fishing.

West Cook Inlet

Sport fisheries on the Chuitna, Theodore, Lewis, and the Beluga rivers drainages are closed by regulation. The SEGs on the Theodore and Lewis rivers were not attained in 2019. The SEG for the Chuitna River was met.

Sockeye Salmon
Susitna Tributaries

Weirs are operated to count sockeye salmon escapement into three lakes: Judd Lake (Talachulitna River) and Chelatna Lake (Lake Creek) on the Yentna River drainage and Larson Lake (Larson Creek) on the Susitna River. Sport fisheries on the Talachulitna River and Lake Creek are too far downstream of the weirs for timely inseason management. On Larson Creek, the sport fishery is in relatively close proximity to the weir, allowing for timely inseason management of the fishery. The SEGs for Chelatna and Judd lakes were attained. The Larson Creek SEG of 15,000-35,000 sockeye salmon was missed. Water level on Larson Creek was extremely low due to widespread drought conditions throughout Southcentral Alaska during July and August. Temperatures taken at the weir were relatively high. The result was low fish passage and an inability to effectively assess run strength using the weir. It became apparent that fish holding in the mouth area were susceptible to the sport fishery longer than a more typical water level year. Given this situation and a low cumulative count on August 10, 2019, the sport fishery was closed. The final count at Larson Creek was 9,522 sockeye salmon. Near the end of the season, staff surveyed the creek downstream of the weir to the creek’s confluence with the Talkeetna River and counted 3,200 dead fish in prespawning condition.

Management Actions

On August 10, 2019, sport fishing for all salmon species closed in the Larson Creek drainage and within a one-quarter mile radius of its confluence with the Talkeetna River.

Knik Arm

A weir is operated on Fish Creek to assess escapement and as a tool to manage the personal use dip net fishery. The SEG for the Fish Creek is 15,000-45,000 sockeye salmon. A personal use dip net fishery may open based upon an escapement projection in excess of 35,000 fish between July 15 and July 31. A final count of 76,264 fish was above the SEG range.

Management Actions

On July 26, 2019, the Fish Creek Personal Use Dip Net Fishery was opened for all salmon species, except king salmon, through July 31.

On August 9, 2019, the salmon limits, excepted king salmon, were increased to six fish per day and in possession in all waters of Fish Creek opened to salmon fishing. However, only two fish per day and possession may be coho salmon. In addition, sport fishing was allowed seven days per week from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. each day.

Coho Salmon
Susitna Tributaries

The final coho salmon count on the Deshka River was 10,445 fish (SEG 10,200-24,100). Extreme water temperatures as high as 28° C were experienced on the Deshka River this season due to widespread drought conditions throughout Southcentral Alaska during July and August. Water levels were record low in many area streams. The combination of high stream temperatures and low water were the likely cause of prespawning mortalities observed in Bachatana Slough and Montana Bill Creek in the West Cook Inlet area and other streams in the Matsu area, including Cottonwood, Wasilla, and Jim creeks. No mortalities were observed on the Deshka River and a reasonable explanation is that enough cold water refugia exists along the Deshka mainstem from muskeg seepages. However, as is common on the Deshka River under similar, but usually less severe stream conditions, stream conditions resulted in the stalling of coho salmon passage for about three weeks during historical peak of the sport fishery. The cumulative weir count held at around 3,000 fish during this period and eventually the sport fishery was closed due to the low count and uncertainty in numbers holding near the mouth. As waters gradually began to rise late in August, fish holding in the Susitna River near the Deshka River mouth began to move upstream. About 6,500 salmon passed the weir over about a 10-day period at the close of the season, the goal was achieved on September 5, 2019. Throughout the season, anglers reported consistent slow fishing success across the Susitna and Yentna rivers drainages, with some good days in which limits were taken.

Management Actions

On August 21, 2019, coho salmon fishing was closed in the Deshka River drainage including all waters within a one-half mile radius of its confluence with the Susitna River. In addition, the use of bait was prohibited.

Knik Arm

Weirs were operated on the Little Susitna River, Fish Creek, and Jim Creek. The SEG on the Little Susitna River is 10,100-17,700 fish. Widespread drought across Southcentral Alaska during July and August resulted low water and high stream temperatures throughout the Knik Arm area. Prespawning mortalities were observed by staff. Several hundred coho salmon in Wasilla Creek and less than 100 coho salmon in Jim Creek were observed dead prior to spawning, likely a direct result of warm water and low stream conditions. Record low water conditions in the Little Susitna River created a situation where coho salmon began holding in pools suitable for refugia throughout the lower 30 miles of river and upstream migration all but ceased beginning around August 10, 2019. The sport fishery was eventually closed on August 21, due to a low cumulative count and uncertainty in what remained of the run downstream of the weir and inlet. Migration had not resumed prior to the weir being pulled on August 3 as waters remained very low. The final count of 4,228 fish is considered to be incomplete. The Fish Creek SEG of 1,200-4,400 coho salmon was met August 12 and the final weir count was 3,025 fish. At Jim Creek, prespawning mortalities due to warm water conditions were observed early in the season. The SEG for Jim Creek of 450-1,400 coho salmon is assessed post season by a foot survey of McRoberts Creek, a small spawning tributary within the Jim Creek system. The survey conducted on September 26 counted 162 coho salmon, below the goal. A count of 632 fish on Upper Jim Creek, another spawning tributary, was average. A total of 3,736 coho salmon were counted through the weir. The low count on McRoberts Creek may, at least in part, be due to the late arrival of fish to Jim Creek that may not have migrated into the index area by the time of the survey. Fishing was reported to be average and good early in the season through about the first week of August. Fishing success became slow throughout the Knik Arm area during the rest of the season.

Management Actions

On August 14, 2019, the use of bait was prohibited on the Little Susitna River.

On August 21, 2019, coho salmon fish was closed on the Little Susitna River and the use of bait continued to be restricted.

West Cook Inlet

Coho salmon escapement is not monitored on West Cook Inlet area streams and ADF&G must rely on trends in harvest and angler effort taken from the Statewide Harvest Survey and reports from anglers and guides when assessing these stocks. The combination of high stream temperatures and low water were the likely cause of prespawning mortalities observed in Bachatana Slough and Montana Bill Creek in the West Cook Inlet area. Several thousand coho salmon were reported dead in these shallow streams, likely a direct result of low water and high stream temperatures. In general reports from anglers fishing West Cook Inlet streams was good throughout the season.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery.

See the printable PDF version, which includes a table of Region II Escapement Goals and Escapements (2010-2019).

PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND

Greater Susitna River/Knik Arm Area

Emergency orders released preseason targeted a 100% reduction in king salmon harvest in the Susitna and Little Susitna rivers drainages through closure of fisheries. Typically, 5-year old fish constitute about half a given year’s run and on the Deshka River for the second year in a row, sibling models suggested a potential weak run of 5-year old fish in 2019. There was also uncertainty in the forecast of 4-year old fish in 2019. The low forecast of 5-year old fish was due to low abundance of 4-year old fish on the Deshka River in 2018. Given the low abundance of 4-year old fish in 2018 was widespread throughout the Susitna drainage, it was assumed the low Deshka River forecast would be reflective of other areas of the Susitna River drainage during 2019. Also, most escapement goals were missed in 2017 while allowing restricted harvest to occur over much of the season. All escapement goals were missed in 2018 when catch-and-release was allowed. Given the potential for the 2019 Susitna River king salmon returns to be less than 2017 and 2018, total closure was warranted and the most conservative action implemented.

Westside Susitna Tributaries

The Sustainable Escapement Goal (SEG) for the Deshka River of 13,000-28,000 king salmon was not achieved. The final weir count was 9,711 king salmon. Water temperatures rose to 21 °C by June 20, 2019, around the midpoint of a typical run, stalling salmon migration. Waters progressively warmed as water levels dropped, resulting in negligible fish passage and a cumulative count of about 7,500 fish through a 20-day period. During this period, king salmon were likely holding in the cooler waters of the Susitna River downstream of the Deshka River mouth. Once stream conditions improved around July 11, about 2,000 more fish passed over a 7-day period. However, the number of fish holding was ultimately insufficient to achieve the escapement goal. Aerial escapement surveys were conducted postseason on four other westside streams. Escapement goals were achieved on the Talachulitna River, Lake Creek, and Peters Creek. The survey on Alexander Creek of 1,297 fish, although below goal, was the highest count since 2005. This stock is likely depressed by a combination of low marine survival and northern pike predation. Intensive pike suppression work conducted by ADF&G since 2010 may be improving freshwater survival of juveniles.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2019, closed king salmon fishing in Units 1-6 of the Susitna River drainages for the season. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed in the waters normally open to king salmon fishing in Units 1-6 of the Susitna River drainages. Sport fishing for other species was allowed seven days per week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. including the waters in Unit 2 that are normally closed on certain days during the king salmon season.

Eastside Susitna Tributaries

Management decisions effecting Eastside Susitna streams (Units 2, 3, 5, and 6) are based upon postseason aerial surveys over eight streams, which have established escapement goals. Surveys provide an annual index of abundance. Three of six goals were achieved in this area of the Susitna River drainage in 2019. Willow, Montana, and Prairie creeks failed to meet their escapement goals, while goals on Little Willow and Clear creeks and Chulitna River were met. Sheep and Goose creeks were not counted as cloudy water conditions due to the semi glacial nature of these streams prevailed.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2019, closed king salmon fishing in Units 1-6 of the Susitna River drainages for the season. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed in the waters normally open to king salmon fishing in Units 1-6 of the Susitna River drainages. Sport fishing for other species was allowed seven days per week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. including the waters in Unit 2 that are normally closed on certain days during the king salmon season.

Knik Arm

The Little Susitna River and the stocked terminal fishery at Eklutna Tailrace are the only Knik Arm streams open to the harvest of king salmon by regulation. The SEG for the Little Susitna River of 2,100-3,900 king salmon as assessed by weir and 900-1,800 fish as assessed by aerial survey. The majority of the fish counted through the weir this season were counted at night using video, even during a period of poor water visibility that lasted through the entire month of June. The weir was inundated by high flows for about a week during mid-June. However, it is not thought many fish escaped the weir undetected. The SEG was met by June 24, 2019, with a final count of 3,666 king salmon. The fishery was restored to special regulation on June 26. However, as the bulk of the run had already passed upstream of the weir, fishing success was low. The aerial survey was not conducted this year due to cloudy water conditions. Fishing at the Eklutna Tailrace was fair throughout the season.

Management Actions

A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2019, closed king salmon fishing in the Little Susitna River drainage. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed in the waters normally open to king salmon fishing in the Little Susitna River drainage. Sport fishing for other species was allowed seven days per week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. each day.

On June 26, 2019, the Little Susitna River reopened to king salmon fishing.

West Cook Inlet

Sport fisheries on the Chuitna, Theodore, Lewis, and the Beluga rivers drainages are closed by regulation. The SEGs on the Theodore and Lewis rivers were not attained in 2019. The SEG for the Chuitna River was met.

Sockeye Salmon
Susitna Tributaries

Weirs are operated to count sockeye salmon escapement into three lakes: Judd Lake (Talachulitna River) and Chelatna Lake (Lake Creek) on the Yentna River drainage and Larson Lake (Larson Creek) on the Susitna River. Sport fisheries on the Talachulitna River and Lake Creek are too far downstream of the weirs for timely inseason management. On Larson Creek, the sport fishery is in relatively close proximity to the weir, allowing for timely inseason management of the fishery. The SEGs for Chelatna and Judd lakes were attained. The Larson Creek SEG of 15,000-35,000 sockeye salmon was missed. Water level on Larson Creek was extremely low due to widespread drought conditions throughout Southcentral Alaska during July and August. Temperatures taken at the weir were relatively high. The result was low fish passage and an inability to effectively assess run strength using the weir. It became apparent that fish holding in the mouth area were susceptible to the sport fishery longer than a more typical water level year. Given this situation and a low cumulative count on August 10, 2019, the sport fishery was closed. The final count at Larson Creek was 9,522 sockeye salmon. Near the end of the season, staff surveyed the creek downstream of the weir to the creek’s confluence with the Talkeetna River and counted 3,200 dead fish in prespawning condition.

Management Actions

On August 10, 2019, sport fishing for all salmon species closed in the Larson Creek drainage and within a one-quarter mile radius of its confluence with the Talkeetna River.

Knik Arm

A weir is operated on Fish Creek to assess escapement and as a tool to manage the personal use dip net fishery. The SEG for the Fish Creek is 15,000-45,000 sockeye salmon. A personal use dip net fishery may open based upon an escapement projection in excess of 35,000 fish between July 15 and July 31. A final count of 76,264 fish was above the SEG range.

Management Actions

On July 26, 2019, the Fish Creek Personal Use Dip Net Fishery was opened for all salmon species, except king salmon, through July 31.

On August 9, 2019, the salmon limits, excepted king salmon, were increased to six fish per day and in possession in all waters of Fish Creek opened to salmon fishing. However, only two fish per day and possession may be coho salmon. In addition, sport fishing was allowed seven days per week from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. each day.

Coho Salmon
Susitna Tributaries

The final coho salmon count on the Deshka River was 10,445 fish (SEG 10,200-24,100). Extreme water temperatures as high as 28° C were experienced on the Deshka River this season due to widespread drought conditions throughout Southcentral Alaska during July and August. Water levels were record low in many area streams. The combination of high stream temperatures and low water were the likely cause of prespawning mortalities observed in Bachatana Slough and Montana Bill Creek in the West Cook Inlet area and other streams in the Matsu area, including Cottonwood, Wasilla, and Jim creeks. No mortalities were observed on the Deshka River and a reasonable explanation is that enough cold water refugia exists along the Deshka mainstem from muskeg seepages. However, as is common on the Deshka River under similar, but usually less severe stream conditions, stream conditions resulted in the stalling of coho salmon passage for about three weeks during historical peak of the sport fishery. The cumulative weir count held at around 3,000 fish during this period and eventually the sport fishery was closed due to the low count and uncertainty in numbers holding near the mouth. As waters gradually began to rise late in August, fish holding in the Susitna River near the Deshka River mouth began to move upstream. About 6,500 salmon passed the weir over about a 10-day period at the close of the season, the goal was achieved on September 5, 2019. Throughout the season, anglers reported consistent slow fishing success across the Susitna and Yentna rivers drainages, with some good days in which limits were taken.

Management Actions

On August 21, 2019, coho salmon fishing was closed in the Deshka River drainage including all waters within a one-half mile radius of its confluence with the Susitna River. In addition, the use of bait was prohibited.

Knik Arm

Weirs were operated on the Little Susitna River, Fish Creek, and Jim Creek. The SEG on the Little Susitna River is 10,100-17,700 fish. Widespread drought across Southcentral Alaska during July and August resulted low water and high stream temperatures throughout the Knik Arm area. Prespawning mortalities were observed by staff. Several hundred coho salmon in Wasilla Creek and less than 100 coho salmon in Jim Creek were observed dead prior to spawning, likely a direct result of warm water and low stream conditions. Record low water conditions in the Little Susitna River created a situation where coho salmon began holding in pools suitable for refugia throughout the lower 30 miles of river and upstream migration all but ceased beginning around August 10, 2019. The sport fishery was eventually closed on August 21, due to a low cumulative count and uncertainty in what remained of the run downstream of the weir and inlet. Migration had not resumed prior to the weir being pulled on August 3 as waters remained very low. The final count of 4,228 fish is considered to be incomplete. The Fish Creek SEG of 1,200-4,400 coho salmon was met August 12 and the final weir count was 3,025 fish. At Jim Creek, prespawning mortalities due to warm water conditions were observed early in the season. The SEG for Jim Creek of 450-1,400 coho salmon is assessed post season by a foot survey of McRoberts Creek, a small spawning tributary within the Jim Creek system. The survey conducted on September 26 counted 162 coho salmon, below the goal. A count of 632 fish on Upper Jim Creek, another spawning tributary, was average. A total of 3,736 coho salmon were counted through the weir. The low count on McRoberts Creek may, at least in part, be due to the late arrival of fish to Jim Creek that may not have migrated into the index area by the time of the survey. Fishing was reported to be average and good early in the season through about the first week of August. Fishing success became slow throughout the Knik Arm area during the rest of the season.

Management Actions

On August 14, 2019, the use of bait was prohibited on the Little Susitna River.

On August 21, 2019, coho salmon fish was closed on the Little Susitna River and the use of bait continued to be restricted.

West Cook Inlet

Coho salmon escapement is not monitored on West Cook Inlet area streams and ADF&G must rely on trends in harvest and angler effort taken from the Statewide Harvest Survey and reports from anglers and guides when assessing these stocks. The combination of high stream temperatures and low water were the likely cause of prespawning mortalities observed in Bachatana Slough and Montana Bill Creek in the West Cook Inlet area. Several thousand coho salmon were reported dead in these shallow streams, likely a direct result of low water and high stream temperatures. In general reports from anglers fishing West Cook Inlet streams was good throughout the season.

Management Actions

No management actions were implemented during the 2019 sport fishery.

See the printable PDF version, which includes a table of Region II Escapement Goals and Escapements (2010-2019).

 

 

Buskin River Drainage Opening For Coho Fishing

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

(Kodiak) – The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is reopening the Buskin River drainage to sport fishing for coho salmon effective 12:01 a.m. Friday, October 4 through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, December 31, 2019. Sport fishing for coho salmon on the Buskin River is open and anglers are allowed one coho salmon, 20 inches or greater in length, per day and in possession under general regulation.

“The Buskin River coho salmon stock has seen several years of lower returns than expected and was closed due to low escapement for much of the season to be conservative,” stated Area Management Biologist Tyler Polum. “with recent rainfall, the Buskin has seen significant coho salmon passage and has achieved its escapement goal.”

As of October 1, 2019, 5,037 coho salmon have passed the Buskin River weir. The escapement goal for coho salmon into the Buskin River is 4,700 to 9,600 fish. Typically, the run is over by now, but exceptionally late run timing, likely due to dry conditions has meant that the majority of the run is only now entering the drainage. Therefore, it is warranted to open the sport fishery to allow opportunity for anglers to fish the Buskin River for coho salmon.

2019 Chitina Dipnet Permit Reports Due On October 15

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) would like to remind Chitina Personal Use Salmon Fishery permit holders that October 15, 2019 is the deadline to report fishery participation and harvest. The Chitina Personal Use Fishery, which allows for dipnetting in the Copper River downstream of the Chitina-McCarthy Bridge. near the community of Chitina, closed on September 30, 2019. Reporting on the permit is mandatory and all permit holders are required by law to report even if they did not fish, or if they fished and caught nothing. If no one in your household went dipnetting, please report on the permit that you “Did Not Fish”. On days the permit was fished but nothing was caught, please report those dates and record zeros for each salmon species.

ADF&G encourages permit holders to report online at https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/Harvest/, whether they obtained their permit online or at a private vendor or ADF&G office. Alternatively, filled-out permits may be mailed, with appropriate postage, to the address printed on the permit or be hand-delivered to a local ADF&G office during regular business hours. Timely and accurate reporting of participation and harvest is necessary for the management of this personal use fishery.

Additionally, ADF&G is notifying fishery users that beginning next fishing season, all 2020 Chitina Personal Use Salmon Fishery permit participation and harvest reporting must be completed online through the ADF&G website. Online reporting will be required regardless if you purchased the permit through the ADF&G online store or through a vendor. Returning permits by mail or hand-delivery will no longer be an acceptable means to report in 2020. Also, beginning with the 2020 fishing season, the penalty for failure to report Chitina Personal Use Salmon Fishery harvest online by the October 15th reporting deadline will be the loss of future personal use fishing privileges, and permit holders who fail to report will be denied a permit for the fishery in the year following the failure to report.

Let Me Be Your Guide

Guide Jeremy Warter (right) and a client show off a Nushagak River king. One of the priorities you’ll have when planning an Alaska fishing adventure is choosing a perfect guide for your needs. (TONY ENSALACO)

 

The following appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY TONY ENSALACO

Months of anticipation were obliterated sometime between the words “good morning” and dropping the boat into the river.

Within moments of meeting our guide for the first time, he made it abundantly clear that he was the boss. We were basically along for the ride. He described our rigid itinerary, which consisted of how we were going to fish – no exceptions. What time we would be off the river – no exceptions.

He told us doesn’t like to take pictures while we are fishing. He said that we could take all of the pictures that we wanted with the salmon that were kept from the trip – no release shots. He proudly proclaimed that he has been doing it his way for over 25 years and had no intention of changing the routine on this day. When my buddy Pedro Gonzalez worked up the nerve to ask if he could try some fly fishing, the guide immediately shot down any likely hope of that plan by rudely responding in a raspy voice. “You can bring your gear, but I probably won’t let you use it,” he barked at us.

Needless to say, any scrap of positivity that remained vanished before we were allowed to make our first cast.

I CONSIDER THAT EXPERIENCE as an anomaly. I have been out with a cross section of guides a handful of times and I found them to be extremely courteous and professional, and I would have no reservations about fishing with most them again. Let’s face it: They wouldn’t last too long in that type of business if they weren’t completely qualified and didn’t know how to get along with a wide assortment of personalities.

I also don’t think the outing was a complete bust. Despite our limited interaction with the guide, we caught our share of fish and I was still able to learn a few things.

Being a Great Lakes angler, I have never intentionally targeted silvers because most of the rivers in my backyard don’t host fishable runs of them.

The silvers I have caught in the past were welcome surprises while fishing for late-season kings or early-run fall steelhead. I purposely hired a guide so I could learn the nuances of catching silvers and was able to pick up enough info to set me up for the rest of the trip. So it was mission accomplished.

The blunder I made was allowing an employee of the lodge where I was staying to choose our guide without offering any of my input. The only request I had made was that I wanted to fish with the one who had the most experience.

Normally, that way of thinking would make sense. You can never go wrong with a seasoned professional, unless that particular guide happens to be stubborn and doesn’t feel that he has to conform to his client’s different needs and skill levels.

I personally felt that he might have been suffering from “burnout,” a condition that unfortunately happens to some veteran guides, as well as other occupations. It’s when the person has been doing the same task for a long period of time and loses the initiative to put out his best effort every time he performs. If I would have done my due diligence, I probably would have chosen to fish with someone else.

Don Hinkle (right, with Danny Kozlow) is known as a guiding icon on the Situk River near Yakutat. An experienced guide usually means a good day on the water. (TONY ENSALACO)

SO THEN, HOW DO you find a guide that is right for you? There really isn’t an exact blueprint, but you should know that different guides offer different experiences and will fit certain anglers better than others. The first question you have to ask yourself is this: Why do you want to hire a guide? The obvious answer would be to catch lots of fish, right? Yes and no.

Of course, catching tons of fish until you can’t lift a rod anymore is never a bad thing, especially if that’s your sole intention. Personally, I have never gone out with a guide because I just wanted to catch tons of fish.

The reasons why I have gone on guided trips was because I wanted to gather information about a new river, learn a different technique or discover how to fish for a species that I am not familiar with.

If I caught some fish along the way, then I considered that a bonus. In fact, one of my worst fishing experiences was with a guide who produced a six-man limit of king salmon before 10 a.m. It was because I didn’t learn squat. I booked a trip with a guide to learn how to fish an unfamiliar river.

When I told him my intentions upfront, he assured me that I would pick up a few things from him. What ended up happening was that we launched the guide’s boat from a private ramp that was 30 yards adjacent to one of the best holes on the river.

All the guide had to do was to run half of a football field upstream to position the boat above the hole, run out a dozen plugs behind the boat and wait for a rod to slam dunk. My party took turns fighting the fish once one of the rods doubled over – all in plain view of our vehicles. We never moved. My only takeaway from that trip was that I needed a car wash.

Reconnaissance and catching fish aren’t the only reasons why someone might want to hire a guide. Some anglers will go out with a guide after spending long days of hiking the streams or operating a boat themselves. They are looking to take a much-needed break.

I have met several groups of diehard DIY river fishermen who will schedule a saltwater excursion or even pay for a river guide in the middle of their Alaskan stay for that reason. In the case of the river guide, they are not looking for his expertise. What they are really doing is hiring a chauffeur so they can take a well-deserved breather.

My philosophy is that if I ever do retain a guide’s services, I would prefer to go out with him at the beginning of the trip. That way I can either get some sort of an idea of what methods seem to be working or know what stretches of river are fishing the best and what areas can be eliminated. The reason doesn’t matter; once you decide that you want to get a guide, the next step is to do some research.

(Above) Kristen (left) and Danny Kozlow with a limit of Alaska sockeye salmon. Understandably, as long as the guide gets them on some fish will please most anglers. (TONY ENSALACO)

THE FIRST PART OF our Alaska morning was spent floating downstream with hardly any verbal interaction. If one of us asked the guide a question, he replied in short and not so detailed answers that were of no help to us.

After enduring a couple of hours of awkward conversation, we finally came to the conclusion that it was best to cease communication altogether because of the obvious tension that was permeating throughout the drift boat. There was an imaginary wall of separation between us, even though we were sitting a few feet away from each other.

Fortunately, the day got somewhat better once we started getting into some fish. Bent rods and screaming drags always seems to alleviate any unresolved friction among anglers, so the strict regimen and the sparse small talk was temporarily forgotten.

Since I’m not big into photography, I wasn’t concerned about taking pictures of the feisty, acrobatic silvers we were releasing. As a hardcore river rat, I’m more interested in getting my lure back into the water and hooking up again rather than delaying a hot bite by digitally documenting any piscatorial conquests.

After landing a number of salmon, the trip actually started to become enjoyable, even though I could still tell that we were fishing under a time constraint. There was no doubt the guide was adamant about sticking to his agenda. He planned on making it back to the takeout on time.

Pedro and I would be getting into some fish from a hole we just arrived at. Out of nowhere, the guide would abruptly pull up the anchor and tell us that we were about to move downstream.

In fact, for most of the morning he never let us get out of the boat, even though we fished some areas that appeared to be more suitable for bank fishing. I suspected that the reason he kept us sequestered was to save on time. Then, he surprised us by acting out of character.

A little more than halfway into our float, the guide threw us a curveball by pulling over and beaching the boat. He ordered Pedro and I to disembark and fish an unappealing stretch of river several yards downstream. He also instructed us to bring the net with us because he was going to stay back and watch from his rower’s seat.

It didn’t add up that he wanted us to get our waders wet after spending the morning jostling with each other in the front of the cramped boat. All the while we were searching for innovative ways to make unobstructed casts around each other.

Don’t get me wrong. It felt great to finally get some elbowroom, even though we didn’t catch any fish out of that hole. In fact, it was one of the only spots that we couldn’t scrape up any action.

I have heard that some guides will purposely have their customers fish low-percentage spots so the guide can take a break. I personally know one who stops at unproductive holes to rest, and refers to such places as “sandwich holes.” They allowed him to eat an uninterrupted lunch without having to cater to his clients. I guarantee that was the guide’s intention for putting us on that particular hole.

As the trip was coming to an end, our guide seemed to become a little more friendly – and definitely more flexible. He even offered to pull over and give Pedro a chance to tangle with a coho with his fly rod. It was obvious that the guide was trying to soften the mood, so we perhaps might consider becoming more generous with his tip. Too little, too late.

Ensalaco is an experienced angler himself, but you can never stop learning from a local guide. “The selection shouldn’t only be based on which guide catches the most fish,” he writes. “It’s probably more important to find one that accommodates your personality and needs.” (TONY ENSALACO)

FINDING A GUIDE CAN be done in several ways. If your trip’s package doesn’t include a guide already, you can rely on a manager where you are staying to make arrangements with one of the guides that they normally work with. This will make the process easier, but it also limits your options.

One problem to be aware of is when you book a trip at the last minute and the best guides will, most likely, have already been taken. This can happen when planning a trip during the peak of the season, and the most popular ones have been reserved for months.

During busy times, lodge and hotel managers will often scramble to find anybody that is semi-capable of filling a guide’s role just to keep up the demands of their clients. I have been on rivers during the height of the run and it seemed that anyone who knows which way is downstream becomes ordained as a qualified guide.

Personally, if I was shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I would want to fish with a full-fledged guide. If you plan on hiring a guide during the historical peak of a run, then my advice is to book months – or on some crowded fisheries – a year or two in advance to be sure you are getting a professional and not a backup.

You can also find guides on your own. I have found guides by perusing the different outdoor publications like this one that have special planning sections that are divided by different areas or regions. A few of them even have sections dedicated to guide businesses.

This type of advertising can get you started in the right direction, but it only gives you a limited amount of information and will usually leave out important things like the cost of the service. And you still need to contact the guide for his availability.

Another way is to do a Google search of the body of water you would like to fish or an area that you plan on visiting, and then let modern technology do its thing. A guide’s website can give you more details, including the price of the guide’s fee and the days that are still open. You can also find out how long the trip will last, the best times of the year and the various species that are available and what you should bring, among other things.

Ryan McClure of Glacier Bear Lodge was kind of a guide-in-waiting when he fished with the author before becoming a licensed guide. “He did everything right,” Ensalaco writes. (TONY ENSALACO)

ONCE YOU HAVE NARROWED it down to a few choices of potential guides, the next step is to have a conversation with him. This is to find out if you are going to be compatible with each other. I think it should be conducted similar to a job interview, but with a unique twist.

You are the one doing the hiring, but the guide is going to be the boss. Of course, you are not going to make an appointment to sit him down in an office and drill the guide with questions. An in-depth phone call would be a smart thing to do. Explain to him what you are looking to get out of the trip and ask him what he expects from you.

If your intention is to relax and enjoy the vistas while you wait to reel in the fish as the guide does all of the work, but he expects you to have a more hands-on approach, then maybe you should search for someone else.

Another variable that needs to be addressed is the cancellation policy. Sh*t happens – it’s Alaska, after all. Horrible weather, blown-out rivers and emergency fishery closures are some of the risks you take when visiting the Last Frontier.

I once scheduled an early-spring steelhead trip that almost had to be delayed because the roads leading to the river were not accessible due to the 10 feet of snow that was covering them.

Guides had trouble accommodating the trips that had to be canceled and rescheduled, and some fishermen who expected to be fishing from the guide boats were out of luck that week because of the lack of availability. Make sure you find out about alternative options if you are forced to change the original plans.

You are going to ask questions, but don’t forget to talk about yourself. Guides can be versatile but often specialize in certain styles of fishing. You might be talking to the most knowledgeable guide on the river, he might only be proficient at gear fishing and you’re looking to wave a fly rod. Otherwise maybe you should find someone that better fits your needs.

Another thing you should also inquire about the guide’s policy on keeping fish. If the service runs a strict catch-and-release operation and you’re interested in filling your freezer, then, well, you know.

You need to be honest about your ability and stamina. Most anglers see themselves as experts, even though they might be new to the type of fishing they will be doing. If you’ve never done it before, be upfront with the guide so he knows what to expect.

Guides deal with clients of all skill levels and know how to prepare ahead of time to have the right equipment and customize the day to match skillsets.

Tell the guide about your fishing endurance and please let him know if you or anyone in your group have any existing health ailments. The guide is responsible for you, so explain what you can and cannot do. Fishing in Alaska can get pretty intense between the long days and the countless battles, so it can get pretty taxing on an angler if you’re not mentally and physically prepared.

Remember that the main goal of your guide search is to discover compatibility. You will be spending hours in close proximity with someone who you just met, so you need to make sure that your personalities will mesh. You don’t need the greatest or most seasoned guide to have a great experience.

I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH to take one of the most memorable trips I ever had this past spring with a young guide who hasn’t even had a full year of experience under his belt.

I was fortunate to have shared a boat again with Ryan McClure, the maintenance manager at the Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat, Alaska (866-425-6343; glacierbearlodge.com).

The last time I fished with Ryan he’d been working on becoming a certified guide. Since then, Ryan became licensed and did some guiding last fall during the silver salmon run.

The day I fished with Ryan wasn’t an official guided trip, just two dudes doing some steelhead fishing together. I was anxious to see Ryan get into some ocean-bright steelies, which he did, but he was more interested in working on his guiding skills.

The last half of the day turned into a guided simulation, which Ryan passed with flying colors. He did everything right. He piloted the boat like he has been doing it longer than the years he has spent on this earth. He was knowledgeable about the town as well as the fishery. He also demonstrated his versatility when he pointed out different things along the river.

Most important, he was a hard worker and tough as nails. The weather took a turn for the worse in the early afternoon, and even though Ryan spends most of the year in the 49th state, he wasn’t aware of how to dress for the miserable conditions.

I could tell he was uncomfortable and offered to cut the day short, but Ryan refused. He stuck it out like a consummate professional and even managed to land a 35-inch chrome buck on his new centerpin outfit despite being completely drenched.

Ryan is studying to be a helicopter pilot, but he definitely will be a big success as an Alaskan fishing guide. I recommend booking a trip with him while he is still available.

ALL GUIDES AREN’T CREATED equal. Choosing the right one can definitely make or break a trip. The selection shouldn’t only be based on which guide catches the most fish. It’s probably more important to find one that accommodates your personality and needs.

Alaska has a tremendous amount of fishing guides, so searching for one can be as overwhelming as the state itself. By doing some research – followed up by a conversation or two – you should have a good idea if the guide is right for you. ASJ

Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby Finale

Shortly after deciding to retire the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, the event wrapped up for the 34th and final time last weekend. Here are the results from the final event, courtesy of the Homer Chamber of Commerce:

The final results of the 2019 Jackpot Halibut Derby are as follows:

Jackpot winner, Jason Schuler, who fished in July with captain Daniel Donich on the Optimist, wins a jackpot of $13,160.50 for his fish weighing 224.2 pounds. 

Jason Schuler (left) was the winner of the last Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby. His 224.2-pound fish won Schuler $13,160.50. (Photo by Homer Chamber of Commerce)

Our “Just for the Halibut” raffle winner is Martina Parrish of Bozeman, Montana, who takes home $1,000, and Vincent Kruzick of Soldotna wins our $500 Released Fish Prize for releasing a big halibut while out on the water earlier this month.

Congratulations to our kids’ prize winners:
Brooks Smith of Pomeroy WA
Evan of Chicago, IL
Logan of Wasilla, AK
Alayna Naylor of Wasilla, AK
and Jack Brixey of Altaville, CA

Our little winners are all very excited! Jack is in 4-H and said he’s going to use his $225 prize to buy a pig for the fair.

We had 5 tagged fish come in this year worth $250 (1) and $1000 (4) but none of them took home the grand prizes. 

 

Salmon In Hot Water: Summer Temps Take Toll In Fish Die-Off

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Quinn-Davidson

The following appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY MARY CATHARINE MARTIN

 From the Koyukuk River, to the Kuskokwim, to Norton Sound, to Bristol Bay’s Igushik River, unusually warm temperatures across Alaska this summer led to die-offs of unspawned chum, sockeye and pink salmon. 

That warm water this summer acted as a “thermal block” – essentially a wall of heat salmon don’t swim past – and delayed upriver migration. 

Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, the director of the Yukon Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, took a team of scientists along 200 miles of the Koyukuk River to investigate a die-off of chum salmon at the end of July. The team counted 850 dead, unspawned chum – and that, she said, was a minimum count. 

“We were boating, going about 35 or 40 mph, and we know we missed a lot,” she said. “On a boat going by relatively fast, we were probably getting at most half the fish and at least about 10 percent of the fish.” 

Locals to the area said this same thing happened four or five years ago, she said, but not to the scale it did this year. 

She attributes the deaths to heat stress.

“We cut open the fish, looked for any size of disease, infections, parasites…. By all indications, these fish looked healthy,” Quinn-Davidson said. “They didn’t have any marks on them or any sign of disease or stress otherwise. And the die off event coincides with the week of heat we had.” 

The total run was more than 1.4 million chum, she said, with some arriving before the warm weather event. 

“We definitely had chum salmon spawn,” Quinn-Davidson added. “And chum salmon continue to make it to spawning grounds. There are salmon that made it through. Hopefully they’ll pass those genes on that allowed them to persist.”

 FISH SUFFERED  

According to KYUK Alaska Public Media, in the Kuskokwim there was a die-off of salmon having “heart attacks” due to the warmer-than-usual water along the ocean. 

In Norton Sound, large numbers of pink salmon were observed dead before spawning, according to KNOM radio. 

Conservation organization Cook Inletkeeper put out a release on July 10, noting that on July 7, stream temperatures on the Deshka River hit 81.7 degrees Fahrenheit – more than five degrees above the previous highest-recorded temperature in that location, according to science director Sue Mauger. In the Deshka, the warm water created a thermal block that prevented the salmon from moving upstream. 

Mauger said she and others are in the middle of an intensive five-year temperature survey on the Deshka to figure out the location of the river’s cold waters, which could serve as refuges during climate change. 

“We have so many different types of systems (in Alaska) with different hydrologies,” Mauger said. “Some are fed by glaciers, some by snowpack, some by groundwater… and the joy of salmon is how diverse their life histories are, to capitalize on all that different habitat… but when you’re hitting temperatures in the 80 degrees, there’s no doubt fish are in high stress, and if they’re surviving they must be hitting cold water refugia.”

STATEWIDE ISSUES  

Even Bristol Bay, which experienced its second highest harvest of sockeye salmon ever – 43.1 million – experienced at least one die-off. 

Nushagak/Togiak area management biologist Timothy Sands said there was a large die-off of sockeye on the Igushik River. After hearing reports, he received a video from a boater around July 20 of dead unspawned sockeye lining the banks of the river. He has seen a thermal block in that river prevent salmon from migrating upstream before, in 2016. 

Sands thinks that’s what the problem was this year. “They couldn’t go upriver because it was too warm and the water didn’t contain enough oxygen, so they died,” he said. “The warmer the water gets, the less dissolved oxygen is in the water.” 

Daniel Schindler, a University of Washington professor of aquatic and fisheries sciences, noted that in addition to warm water containing less oxygen, it increases salmon’s metabolisms and need for oxygen, creating a “double whammy.” 

 SUFFOCATION POSSIBLE 

A Juneau-based research scientist for the University of Montana, Chris Sergeantco-wrote a paper on warm, crowded, low waters’ effect on salmon. In essence, warm, low water plus large populations of salmon can lead salmon to suffocate. Climate change will lead to this kind of thing to happen more frequently, Sergeant said, especially in snow-fed systems like the Igushik.

Bristol Bay experienced an early spring, Sands said, so though there was “a fair bit of snowpack,” that snowpack melted early, meaning it wasn’t there to cool the river in June.

The Igushik was also particularly affected because of its geography, Sands said. 

“I’ve described it as a long pond,” he said. “The tide goes more than halfway up the river to the lake. It’s very slow-flowing, very muddy. When it was really sunny out, it just heats up that river faster.” 

Though Sands doesn’t have estimates of the actual number of fish that died, based on the setnetter catch rate he said between 200,000 and 300,000 were in the river during the warm water event that killed the salmon there. A small amount of fish – Sands estimates between 500 and 700 – made it up to the spawning grounds during the thermal block, but most of the escapement goal was met from fish that swam upriver afterwards. 

The die-offs “are happening around the state and seems to have coincided with that week of really warm, warm temperatures,” Quinn-Davidson said. 

Are you aware of warm waters affecting salmon where you live? We – not to mention fisheries scientists – would like to hear about it

 Email information and/or photos to mc@salmonstate.orgASJ

 Editor’s note: Mary Catharine Martin is the communications director of SalmonState, a nonprofit initiative that works to ensure Alaska remains a place wild salmon thrive. Check out salmonstate.org for more.

 

Buskin River Coho Fishery Shutting Down

Coho salmon photo by ADFG

The following updates are courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

Buskin River Closed to Coho Salmon Fishing

(Kodiak) – In an effort to achieve escapement goals, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is closing the Buskin River drainage to sport fishing for coho salmon effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, September 18 through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, December 31, 2019. Sport fishing for coho salmon on the Buskin River is closed and any coho salmon caught incidentally while fishing for other species may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately.

“The Buskin River coho salmon stock has seen several years of lower returns than expected,” stated Area Management Biologist Tyler Polum. “As long as we’re in this period of low productivity, we need to manage conservatively to get coho salmon upriver to spawn.”

As of September 15, 2019, only 181 coho salmon have passed the Buskin River weir. The escapement goal for coho salmon into the Buskin River is 4,700 to 9,600 fish. Based on historical run timing, more than 50% of the run has occurred and ADF&G does not expect the final weir count to meet the escapement goal for this stock. Therefore, it is warranted to close the coho salmon sport fishery in an attempt to meet escapement objectives.

No Bait Allowed on Copper River Highway Streams

(Anchorage) – The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is prohibiting the use of bait on the Copper River Highway streams effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, September 18 through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, December 31, 2019. The Copper River Highway streams include all freshwaters drainages crossed by the Copper River Highway from and including Eyak River to the Million Dollar Bridge, including Clear Creek at mile 42 downstream of the Carbon Mountain Road Bridge.

“With the low numbers of coho salmon seen in the aerial survey we need to reduce harvest to ensure escapement for future coho returns,” stated Jay Baumer Sport Fish Area Management Biologist.

On September 11, 2019, the Copper River Delta (CRD) drainage aerial survey count for coho salmon was estimated at 8,565 coho salmon versus an anticipated range of 18,286 – 38,285. In addition, during the CRD aerial survey mortalities were observed in other reaches of Ibeck Creek likely related to low water conditions. The Copper River Delta area had been experiencing drought conditions with minimal to no rain. It has been determined that low water conditions over the last few weeks likely impeded fish migration. To help increase escapement in the CRD eliminating bait from the sport fishery is warranted.