Area Sport Fishing Reports
Below average escapements since 2012 have resulted in preseason and inseason restrictions and closures on the Susitna and Little Susitna River drainages. This year marked the fourth year of king salmon management under four stock-based goals set on the Susitna River drainage (Deshka, Yentna, Eastside, and Talkeetna rivers). The preseason forecast for Deshka River king salmon was for a total run 7,243 king salmon. Given a forecast below the low end of the BEG and the BEG being missed in 2022, the Deshka River king salmon fishery started the 2023 season closed as did fisheries within the Talkeetna and Eastside Susitna areas. Catch-and-release fishing was allowed by emergency order on the Yentna River drainage and the Little Susitna River as the optimal escapement goal (OEG) on the Yentna River and the sustainable escapement goal (SEG) on the Little Susitna River were attained in 2022.
The BEG for the Deshka River of 9,000 - 18,000 king salmon was not achieved in 2023 despite the sport fishery being closed throughout the season. The run was four days late relative to historical run timing. The final weir count was 3,741 king salmon. Aerial escapement surveys were conducted in late July on three streams contributing to the Yentna River king salmon stock: Lake Creek, Talachulitna, and Peters Creek. Assessment of the Yentna River OEG of 16,000 - 22,000 is pending data analysis; however, all three aerial counts were well below average. The age composition of the Deshka River king salmon run and forecast for the 2024 season in pending analysis of age data collected at the Deshka River weir.
preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2023, closed king salmon fishing in the Susitna River drainage, except in the Yentna River, which was restricted to catch-and-release only. Gear was restricted to only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure.
Management decisions for Eastside Susitna streams (Units 2, 3, 5, and 6) are based on postseason aerial surveys of eight streams used to estimate run size and escapement of the Eastside (Unit 2 streams along the Parks Highway) king salmon stock and the Talkeetna River stock, which are two stock goals in place since 2020. Counts were successfully conducted on Willow, Little Willow, North Fork Kashwitna, and Montana creeks that collectively contribute to the Eastside king stock and Clear and Prairie creeks that contribute to the Talkeetna stock. Assessment of the Eastside and Talkeetna stock goals is pending data analysis; however, counts on these systems were some of the lowest on record. A survey count of 494 on the Chulitna River was well below the SEG of 1,200 - 2,900 fish.
A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2023, closed king salmon fishing on Eastside Susitna (Unit 2) and the Talkeetna River (Unit 5). Gear was restricted to only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure.
The SEG for the Little Susitna River is 2,100 - 4,300 king salmon as assessed by weir and 700 - 1,500 fish as assessed by post season aerial survey. This weir-based goal is the primary goal used for assessing escapement unless flooding or some other event results in an incomplete weir count. Use of video at this site has enabled fish to be counted even during periods of high spring runoff when water clarity is poor as was the case throughout the majority of the 2023 season. Cold water temperatures likely impeding upstream migration of king salmon followed by flooding that occurred during the last 10 days of June made assessment of run strength using weir counts difficult. However, daily counts post recovery of the weir following the flooding were below past years in which the goal was achieved. In addition, reports of low fishing success from anglers, guides, and staff also indicated a much weaker run than in 2022 when the escapement goal was narrowly achieved. The sport fishery was closed by emergency order on July 6. The final weir count of 799 was incomplete.
A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2023, restricted king salmon fishing in the Little Susitna River drainage to catch-and-release only. In addition, only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure was allowed in the waters normally open to king salmon fishing.
On July 6, the Little Susitna was closed to sport fishing by Emergency Order.
Sport fisheries on the Chuitna, Theodore, Lewis, and the Beluga rivers drainages are closed by regulation. An aerial survey was conducted on the Chuitna River in which 372 king salmon were counted, well below the SEG of 1,000 - 1,500 fish. The survey of the Theodore River was not completed in 2023.
A preseason emergency order effective May 1, 2023, closed king salmon fishing on all West Cook Inlet streams not already closed by regulation.
A weir was operated to count sockeye salmon escapement into Larson Lake, which drains into the Talkeetna River via Larson Creek (Susitna drainage). Weirs on Chelatna Lake (Lake Creek) and Judd Lake (Talachulitna River) were not operated this year due to budget reductions. The sport fishery in Larson Creek, which occurs at the confluence of Larsen Creek and the Talkeetna River, is in relatively close proximity to the weir, allowing for timely inseason management of the fishery. Water levels were favorable toward consistent daily fish passage and fishing success throughout the season. The Larson Creek SEG of 15,000 - 35,000 sockeye salmon was achieved on August 1 with a final count of 38,069 fish.
A Susitna River personal use dip net fishery was implemented by the Board of Fisheries in 2020 to take place on the lower Susitna River from a point located approximately one mile below the old Susitna Station, downstream to the Alexander Creek turnoff/tip of Bell Island. This fishery is remote and only accessible by boat or short field performance aircraft capable of landing on gravel bars. The fishery is part of the Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use Salmon Fishery management plan and occurs each Saturday and Wednesday between 6:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. from July 10 through July 31. This was the third year of this fishery. Fishing effort mostly mirrored last season with relatively low participation. Fishing success increased incrementally with each period through the end of July.
No management actions were implemented during the 2023 season.
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 Fish Creek is 15,000 - 45,000 sockeye salmon. By management plan, a personal use dip net fishery may be opened by emergency order between July 15 and July 31, if the escapement can be projected to be above 35,000 fish. The dip net fishery was opened on July 22 for 10 days. Positive dipnetting reports combined with a strong run suggests harvest estimates may be average to above average (5-yr mean harvest of 25,000 salmon; 22,500 sockeye salmon). The weir was successfully operated through the duration of the run, in which 44,960 sockeye salmon were counted, near the upper end of the SEG range of 15,000 - 45,000 fish.
On July 22, the Fish Creek Personal Use Dip Net Fishery was opened for all salmon species, except king salmon through July 31.
On August 1, sport fishing was allowed 7 days a week and the bag limit increased to six per day and six in possession on Fish Creek targeting sockeye salmon.
Funding was secured to operate the Deshka coho weir through the entirety of the season. Flooding prevented counting fish during the outset of the season through July 27. However, post flood weir indicated far fewer fish missed than needed to project achievement of the SEG of 10,200 – 24,100 fish. Further, reports by guides and anglers and observations by staff indicated below average fishing success on the Deshka and across other Susitna River drainage streams. An emergency order was issued mid-August to close the Deshka River to the retention of coho salmon and reduce the bag limit to one coho salmon and prohibit the use of bait in all other waters of the Susitna River drainage. Another more severe flood was experienced late in the season, ending the weir project on August 25, about 90% through the historical run. A final count of 1,817 is considered to be incomplete; however, it is unlikely the SEG would have been achieved.
On August 14, the bag limit for coho salmon was reduced to one fish and bait prohibited in the Susitna River drainage.
On August 17, the Deshka River was closed to the retention of coho salmon and bait prohibited.
The Little Susitna weir was inundated by flood waters at the outset of the season. However, as the weir was again functional starting July 24, it is unlikely many coho salmon were missed. Initially, weir counts were favorable and produced an upward trending projection that peaked near the upper end of the SEG range by August 4, near the quarter point of the historical run. Bait went into effect on August 6 per regulation. Weir counts fell off as much as a week early relative to historical run timing, indicating an early weak run. Overall fishing success was reportedly low. By mid-August, emergency orders prohibited the use of bait, followed by closure of the sport fishery to the retention of coho salmon. Additional flooding later in the season resulted in losing the count after August 25 or by the 80th percentile of the average historical run. A weir count of 3,726 fish is considered incomplete; however, it is likely the SEG of 9,200-17,700 was missed in 2023.
Fish Creek weir was funded to operate for the full coho salmon season. The SEG of 1,200 – 6,000 fish was attained on August 16, with a final count of 1,534 fish. The run was eight days early based on the midpoint of the average historical run.
Jim Creek weir was funded to operate this season. A weak showing of coho salmon prompted closing the sport fishery to salmon fishing by mid-August at about the quarter point of the historical run. The weir count was ultimately lost to flooding that inundated the weir starting August 28 or at about the 70% point of the historical run. The SEG for Jim Creek of 250 - 700 coho salmon is assessed post season by a foot survey of McRoberts Creek, a small spawning tributary within the Jim Creek system. A survey conducted on September 26 counted 378 coho salmon, within the goal range.
On August 12, bait use was prohibited on the Little Susitna River.
On August 17, the bag and possession limit was reduced to one coho salmon on the Little Susitna River.
On August 19, the Little Susitna River was closed to the retention of coho salmon.
On August 19, Jim Creek was closed to salmon fishing.
Coho salmon escapement is not monitored on West Cook Inlet (WCI) 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. Sport fishing success as reportedly good this season in tributaries of WCI.
No management actions were implemented during the 2023 sport fishing season.