I've been eagerly waiting to put out the first fishing report of the season. Warm sunny weather makes it feel as though we are well into June and the season is underway, but the fishing is just ramping up. After a cold May with late snow a year ago, I'm optimistic the good early fishing and weather will stick around.
May fishing is turning out to be productive for anglers, especially saltwater anglers. Nice weather helps, and most of the sportfishing charters have been doing well, taking advantage of warmer water temperatures and the great weather. I spent Monday and Tuesday calling a number of captains, guides and anglers, and the consensus is that saltwater fishing has been good for the last two weeks or so.
As recently as a decade ago, we could always count on a fairly stable high-pressure system to dominate Southcentral Alaska in May and June, but the last couple of years have seen the opposite. Last year's spring weather was miserable for fishing. But this year is like a dream of years' past. My hope is that the rest of the season follows through with good fishing and more nice weather.
A few anglers have already caught king salmon at the mouth of the Deshka River. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game weir was installed recently and just five fish had been counted as of the May 20. Check the Fish and Game website for current regulations concerning hook and bait restrictions. It is still early for kings, but expect the action to build slowly and peak by mid-June.
The mouths of the Deshka River and lower Little Susitna are your best bets for an early king. Weirs have been installed on both rivers to view current fish counts.
On the other hand, fishing at the Eklutna Power Plant is slow; this tailrace fishery will pick up in June as the water levels rise in the Matanuska River.
I spoke with Tom Hilty at Three Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla on Tuesday and he mentioned that pike fishing has been good in the Nancy Lakes area. Hilty said a client brought a 48-inch pike by the shop recently. Although the angler didn't name the lake where the fish was caught, Hilty suspected it came from the Nancy Lakes system.
Hilty also said that most Mat-Su lakes have been fishing well, especially those in the Kepler-Bradley complex and the Knik-Goose Bay Road area. Fish and Game is stocking many area lakes.
Parks Highway streams have been fair to good for trout migrating back to their summer lairs, and most drainages have yielded fish. Try smolt patterns, cotton candy flies and sculpins for starters. Many flowing waters along the Parks Highway are catch-and-release only for rainbow trout until June 14. Check the Fish and Game website for clarification.
Rhett Nealis of Tri River Charters in Talkeetna said he has been fishing since late April, and the trout fishing was good until hot weather hit. The Talkeetna River has been off and on according to Nealis. Hot weather brings high and off-color water, which makes the fishing less productive. On cooler days, the river clears and trout fishing has improved. Nealis said salmon are not in the drainage yet, but trout and grayling fishing has been fair to good, depending on the water.
Fishing in Seward has been in full swing the last two weeks. Andy Mezirow of Crackerjack Sportfishing reported nice catches of halibut up to 100 pounds. The water temperature is as high as 50 degrees at the mouth of Resurrection Bay, and the bait and halibut have both moved in. Most fish have been caught in depths of 24 to 36 feet. Dianne Dubuc, owner of Alaska Saltwater Charters, reported some limits of king salmon recently as well as a few chums. Try Pony Cove for salmon. Rockfish have been caught in most areas too.
Halibut fishing in Whittier near the Montague Strait has been very good for anglers soaking bait. Kristen Labrecque of Saltwater Excursions has been catching some sizeable halibut at depths up to 40 feet on Kodiak Custom rigs with circle hooks and half a herring. Labrecque had a 170-pound halibut on board last week and said most anglers landed nice-sized fish. But anglers were having a hard time finding a smaller second fish less than 29 inches to fill out their limits, she said. Whales have been showing in Prince William Sound and Seward, with many reports of pods of orcas and humpback whales.
Most Anchorage lakes have been stocked and the fishing has been good. The city lakes are kid- and family-friendly, a great place for children to start fishing. DeLong, Little Campbell, Jewel, Cheney and other lakes have been stocked. Check the Fish and Game website for current stocking information. With the high sun, the better fishing has been before 10 a.m. and after 9 p.m. Bobbers with bait and a selection of dry flies and nymphs are the best bet.
Ship Creek remains slow for kings. Water conditions are good and the kings should start to show any day.
Twentymile River hooligan fishing is just starting. The dipping has been slow to fair, but it's expected to improve over the next week. Fish the flood tides. Open season for hooligan in salt waters is April 1-May 31; in fresh waters, it is April 1-June 15. There is no bag or possession limit for personal-use smelt, but make sure your fishing license is current. Hooligan may be taken by dipnet in fresh or salt water. The area just north of Twentymile River is a speed zone, and drivers are reminded to slow down and watch for anglers. Park well off the highway and do not trespass on the railroad tracks or the railroad right of way.
Early-season halibut fishing in Homer has been fair. Success will improve as more fish move from deep, over-wintering waters into shallow, summer-feeding areas. Regulation changes are in effect for guided halibut anglers. The bag limit is two fish per day, one of any size and one no more than 29 inches long.
The Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby started May 15, and the GCI $50,000 and Stanley Ford F-150 tagged fish are back again this year. Other tagged fish range in value from $250 to $1,000. The derby has a new automated leaderboard featuring quick updates.
The Deep Creek, Anchor and Ninilchik weekend fisheries should improve this weekend. At this time of year, steelhead trout leave the rivers and enter salt water after spending the winter in the river after spawning in the spring. Familiarize yourself with the differences between kings and steelhead trout before you fish, and practice good fish handling if you catch one. Remember, steelhead trout must not be removed from the water and must be released immediately.
The Kasilof is starting to produce a few kings, and a few downriver steelhead are being caught in the Crooked Creek area. Fishing should improve in the coming weeks for kings.
The saltwater fishing near the Deep Creek and Anchor Point launches has been good with anglers catching a fair number of kings and halibut.
I spoke with Scott Vanderlooven of All About Fishin Charters in Anchor Point on Tuesday and he said the halibut fishing has been good within 12 miles of the dock. No need to run 20-plus miles this spring. Rod Berg of Rod 'N Real Charters said he had clients fishing for halibut a few days ago when a school of kings came to the surface following his baits. One client cast a lure to the school and landed a 17-pound feeder king.
Tony Weaver has fished all over Alaska for more than 40 yeas. He is a photographer and author of "Topwater: Flyfishing the Last Frontier Alaska." He has written for numerous outdoor publications. He can also be seen on KTVA as a host on "Get Out Fishing" and on OLN's program "Alaska Outdoors."