Image slowly improving for Jim Creek

Mike Campbell
EVAN R. STEINHAUSER / Daily News archive 2007

The yin and yang of Jim Creek near the Butte persists.

On one hand, the clear-water creek flowing into glacial Knik River offers incredible scenery and fishing that at times is nothing less than outstanding. Fighting a fresh, acrobatic silver salmon while gazing upon the Knik Glacier and Pioneer Peak is an outdoors experience hard to beat.

Dealing with trash, gunfire and anglers who flout both the law and fellow anglers' ethics by yanking snagging hooks through the water can be nothing less than dispiriting.

A sampling of Alaska State Troopers dispatches out of Jim Creek over the last few weeks:

• Joshua Harrison, 28, of Palmer, was charged with using weighted hooks in an effort to snag salmon. His fish were seized.

• Emma Martin, 56, of Goodnews Bay, was charged with attempting to snag salmon with weighted hooks.

• Susan Wrir, 40, of Palmer, was charged with attempting to snag salmon with weighted hooks.

• Tia Martin, 28, of Chugiak, was charged with trying to snag salmon with weighted hooks.

• Edgar Verano, 59, of Anchorage, was charged with attempting to snag salmon.

• Joseph F. White, 26, of Palmer, was charged with fishing in fresh water with weighted hooks.

• Daniel Sherwood, 29, of Eagle River, was charged with snagging a salmon.

• Heather Berger, 28, of Palmer, was charged with illegally discharging a firearm in the weapons-restricted area of the Knik Public Use Area.

To anglers accustomed to such bucolic settings as Kepler-Bradley Lakes or the Anchor River, a list like that is little more than a litany of lawlessness.

"I don't think it's anything out of the ordinary," said Lt. Tory Oleck of the Alaska State Troopers. "There's always some snagging."

"It's always been a hot spot for us when the fish show up. It happens every year at this time. Some people are just prone to snag. The temptation can become too great when the fish aren't cooperating."

David Griffin of the Department of Natural Resources goes a step farther.

"Jim Creek was notorious as the place to go and do whatever you wanted, lawful or unlawful," he said. "What we've been trying to do is change the paradigm, and it takes time. It's difficult, and sometimes it's painful.

"I would say things have improved."

The Knik River Public Use Area was created four years ago. It encompasses 200,000 acres of state land, 60,000 acres of federal land and about 1,000 acres of private land where an array of wildlife roam and recreational opportunities abound.

Of all the birds, animals and fish that pass through, salmon probably attract the most attention. Jim Creek is among several Mat-Su streams enjoying a nice silver salmon run so far this season, said Dave Rutz, the Palmer-based biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

During weekends at the peak of silver or red salmon runs, upward of 300 people can crowd the river banks, Griffin said.

All types.

"For many years, a variety of unlawful activities have occurred on lands throughout the Knik River corridor, including resource degradation, vehicle burnings, garbage dumping, hazardous waste disposal, vandalism, underage drinking, litter, reckless target shooting and tree cutting," notes the Knik River Public Use Area website.

But Griffin believes that regular patrols by ticket- writing Troopers, and new regulations, have helped. The public has chipped in with cleanup events and greater vigilance. Some 20 offenses ranging from burning wooden pallets to dumping a vehicle to discarding hazardous substances are punishable by fines up to $300.

"Just this past weekend, I was out there and stopped by a camp to say hi," Griffin said of the area that's a bumpy ride down a wet and rutted dirt road from Sullivan Avenue. "It was a mom, a dad and a couple of kids.

"He said they used to come out 10 years ago to recreate and stopped. They didn't like seeing all the trash and the hoodlums. But they like the trooper presence and they like the DNR presence, so they started coming back."

Progress, however, is slow.

"We still have along way to go," Oleck acknowledged. "But it's not as bad as it was just a few years back."

Then, he recalled, torching cars was a weekly, if not a daily, occurrence.

"Since then, a lot of bad behavior has stopped,'' Oleck said. "We haven't corralled the shooting out there yet, but we have regs in place and we're working on it.

"It's a cleaner place. We've stopped some of the trash fires and burning of pallets.

"An inch at a time."

Biologist Rutz agrees.

"It's progressing pretty slow," he said, "but it's certainly a lot more pleasing going out there. The number of junk cars is way, way, way down."

And people have noticed.

"I've been out there at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday morning," Griffin said, "and I'm there with 75 people when the fish are running."

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

Increasing bag limits

In response to a strong silver salmon run to the Knik Arm drainage, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will boost the bag limit from two to three fish starting Saturday.

Jim Creek and the Little Susitna River are excluded.

In addition, the weekend-only fisheries in Cottonwood, Fish and Wasilla creeks will add Mondays as a legal fishing day for the rest of the season, with Fish Creek opening Saturday, a week earlier than normal.

Area management biologist Dave Rutz said a strong silver return to Fish Creek, where a weir is operated primarily to count red salmon, suggested liberalizing the catch. Fish Creek has an escapement goal of 1,200-4,400 silvers. Through Tuesday, about 1,400 silvers had passed the weir, with Rutz projecting an escapement of 12,000 fish.

“There is a strong correlation between runs to Fish Creek and other Knik Arm streams,” he wrote in the emergency order issued Wednesday.

Photos: Alaska fishing
Forum: Where are the fish biting?
More fishing coverage
Post your Nice Catch
By MIKE CAMPBELL
mcampbell@adn.com