Eklutna Tailrace is the place to be for silver salmon

Mike Campbell
The silver salmon run drew anglers to Eklutna Tailrace Aug. 8, 2009.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
The Inch family of Wasilla - James, Martina, Jacob and Johnathan - brought home a string of silver salmon from Eklutna Tailrace Aug. 8, 2009.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News

EKLUTNA -- Can fishing get much easier?

For weeks now, anglers have gathered at the confluence of the Eklutna Tailrace and Knik River to intercept silver bullets headed back to where they were dumped in the water as silver salmon smolt.

Want fish? Fishing poles bent regularly Wednesday afternoon, even though the pace had slowed considerably from first light that morning.

Want space? Even though the parking lot was three-quarters full, an angler could easily squeeze in on the banks at the confluence. Upstream past a footbridge crossing the tailrace were wide-open swaths of riverbank.

Want comfort? About one angler in six packed a folding chair along with Mepps, Pixies and a stringer in order to relax while casting and soaking in the sun. Dogs and toddlers had ample room to scurry about.

Want a view? Looming directly above the tailrace were 5,873-foot East Twin Peak and 5,401-foot West Twin Peak, with 6,398-foot Pioneer Peak not far off.

Want convenience? Wasilla anglers like Lori Orbeck can finish lunch at home and be casting into Elkutna Tailrace in under a half hour.

But like most Alaska fishing spots, any amenity is a distant second to fishing quality -- and for much of this year, Eklutna fishing has been lousy. June's king salmon return was piddling and anglers stayed away in droves.

This month's strong silver run has brought them back.

"The silvers are great -- especially this year," said Orbeck, who has fished it the last five years.

This summer, Orbeck housed two Texas A&M baseball players -- Scott Authur and David Alleman -- who played for the Alaska Baseball League champion Mat-Su Miners. She took them fishing for king salmon in the tailrace.

"It's the easiest spot around here to fish -- with the parking lot, the bathrooms, the access" she said. "You can just sit there in your chair and cast.

"You don't have to have money and you don't have to have expensive gear to bring home some fish."

And if you stay at it a while, there will be days like Friday when Orbeck and several friends limited out.

"But that was nothing," she said. "A lady in her 50s squeezed in between us. She cast three times and caught three fish. It was awesome."

Nobody went 3-for-3 Wednesday afternoon, but despite the crowd, most anglers remained jovial. On the narrow waterway, it's not unusual for anglers on one bank to cross lines with anglers on the opposite bank.

"Hey, wanna get married?" an older man called across the tailrace after his line got tangled with a woman's.

"Can I call my husband first?" she chirped back.

Earlier, an angler shot a cast across the tailrace and high into the aspen on the opposite side.

"Don't you hook my dog," shouted the angler beneath the errant lure.

"Sorry 'bout that," came the response.

And perhaps that exchange brought luck. Within five minutes, the angler beneath the off-target cast had a bright silver wiggling on the bank.

The tailrace at Mile 3.6 of the Old Glenn Highway is open 24 hours a day all year, extending from the Old Glenn Highway downstream to its confluence with the Knik. Silver salmon smolt have been stocked since 1998, king salmon fry since 2002.

Spinners, spoons and eggs all work well.

"It's become one of our favorite places to fish," said Martina Inch, who said she, husband James and sons Jacob and Johnathan landed six between them last week. "Since we live in Wasilla, it's just 15 minutes away."

Earlier this year, she said, staffers at Three Rivers Fly & Tackle in Wasilla showed the Inches a good way to rig salmon eggs with a cork by the hook and a weight to keep the rig down.

"Our goal since there's four in the family is to see if we can get up to 12 (fish). We keep trying. My husband's (in the) military, so I'm trying to get enough to last through the winter."

And give her sons some good fish stories to tell when school starts.

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@adn.com or 257-4329.

Photos: Alaska fishing
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