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Hatchery stocking triggers better silver salmon fishing at Bird Creek

Kevin Klott
Colin Hillberg of San Francisco holds up a stringer full of pinks as he walks across the pedestrian bridge after a successful salmon fishing trip to Bird Creek south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Stephan Black pretends to kiss a stringer with a silver, a chum, and pink salmon while fishing at Bird Creek south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Anglers work the low-tide while salmon fishing at Bird Creek south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
A fisherman releases a pink salmon caught at Bird Creek south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Ron White carries a stringer with two silvers that his wife Pamela White caught while fishing at Bird Creek on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Anglers fish the incoming tide near the mouth of Bird Creek on the Turnagain Arm side of the Seward Highway on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Stephan Black carries a stringer with a silver, a chum and pink salmon while fishing at Bird Creek on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Chris Soares and Michelle Ono salmon fish from the rocks under the Seward Highway bridge while at Bird Creek on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Anglers line the muddy banks of Bird Creek as the incoming tide forces them out of the creek bed on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Pamela White fights a coho salmon near the mouth of Bird Creek while fishing the Turnagain Arm side of the Seward Highway on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News Pamela White fights a silver salmon near the mouth of Bird Creek while fishing the Turnagain Arm side of the Seward Highway on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Pedestrians watch fisherman from an observation deck above Bird Creek on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
David Dickman carries a sliver salmon back to the parking lot after fishing with his wife Nicole and their children Tyberious, 8, and Evylane, 6, at Bird Creek on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Wendy Caudle who is originally from England, said that her finger nails are her passion as she holds up a Vibrax while trying her luck salmon fishing at Bird Creek on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Caudle said, "I never picked up a pole until 2 1/2 years ago and now you can't get it out of my hand."
Bill Roth
Bob Tenge of Anchorage makes a cast while salmon fishing at Bird Creek on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Bob Tenge casts under a railroad trestle while salmon fishing at Bird Creek south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Salmon caught at Bird Creek hang on a stringer on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth
Stephan Black pretends to kiss a stringer with a silver, a chum, and pink salmon while fishing at Bird Creek south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Bill Roth

BIRD CREEK -- While flogging the water for coho salmon on a cloudless Tuesday morning, my mind drifted back to an email I got years ago when I worked full time as the Anchorage Daily News’ fishing reporter. The email was from a reader, an avid Bird Creek angler who was clearly upset that I had written an article about the excellent coho fishing here along Mile 101 of the Seward Highway.

“How dare you write about my secret spot,” the reader wrote. “Now everybody’s going to be down there!”

That email has been seared into my memory bank, not only because it’s ridiculous to think this creek was ever a secret once the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began stocking it with hatchery smolt decades ago, but also because I think of it every time I come here and fish elbow to elbow with dozens of other anglers trying to limit out on silver salmon.

Tuesday morning was proof that Bird Creek is no secret.

One of the two dozen anglers casting into the semi-glacial water was Bill Kolmer, a Minnesota native who fished next to his wife, Sunae. They camped the night before in an RV at the Bird Creek Campground. They woke up early on their second-to-last day in Alaska and walked down the footpath to fish the high tide.

Thirty minutes after getting her line wet, the Kolmers’ effort paid off. Sunae landed the first salmon of her life, a chrome-bright coho on a Blue Fox Pixee spoon.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “All I knew was salmon are feisty.”

Three species of salmon can be found here: silvers, pinks and chums. All three are exciting light-tackle salmon. So for inexperienced anglers like Sunae, Bird Creek was the perfect way to discover the feel for reeling in and landing a fish.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” admitted her husband Bill, who spends his summers fishing for sunfish, crappies and perch near the Twin Cities.

'So many fish' 

Ray Glory knew exactly what he was doing Tuesday.

A regular at Ship Creek, where the silvers are just now starting to return, the Anchorage angler decided to switch things up and try his luck along the Turnagain Arm. He fished the outgoing tide near Fish and Game’s regulatory marker — about 500 yards upstream of the Seward Highway — and worked his way downstream, flipping a dark purple coho fly on his medium-action spinning rod.

Glory started fishing just after high tide and limited out nearly four hours later. He wouldn’t say the fishing here was hot; he attributed his successful day — three bright silvers and a slew of pinks he caught and released — to the moment he came across a slight bend in the creek where the water ran deep.

“They were stuck along this big rock,” he said. “I nailed 'em.”

Fishing trips like this to Bird Creek should only improve over the next couple of weeks, said Dan Bosch, a Fish and Game biologist for Anchorage, Prince William Sound and the North Gulf Coast.

“At the peak of the run, you’ll have so many fish that they’ll just be hanging out at the bottom of the creek no matter what the tide level is within the fishery,” he said. “Typically that happens around the first or second week in August.”

Quality smolt

Bosch has been eagerly awaiting the silvers -- not only at Bird Creek, but also Ship Creek and Campbell Creek. This summer will mark the first time that Bird, Ship and Campbell creek anglers will land cohos raised inside the $98 million William Jack Hernandez Hatchery, a 141,000 square-foot facility in Anchorage that opened in June of 2011.

The life of a silver salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) is short: two years in freshwater, one year in saltwater. There is little variation to that schedule, unlike the king salmon, which can spend 1-2 years in freshwater and up to five years in saltwater. As hatchery fry become smolt, they outgrow their tanks and get pumped into much larger tanks where they spend a year and a half. Once their weight reaches 20 to 24 grams -- though less than an ounce, ideal size for surviving the perils of ocean life -- Fish and Game officials transport the smolt aboard one of its sophisticated fish trucks to their final destination.

Some 110,000 coho smolts were released into Bird Creek last July.

“If we could get 10 percent back, that would be great,” Bosch said. “We were coming off some pretty lousy fishing years because of the situation at the hatchery.”

The old hatchery on Fort Richardson had lost its hot water source, which basically made the hatchery an ineffective place to raise good-sized smolt.

“With the new hatchery, we are producing top quality smolt,” Bosch said. “We’re giving them every possible benefit to survive out there.”

Here's how fishing is shaping up around Southcentral this weekend: 

Homer area

Early silvers are arriving at Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, and fishing should improve into August. A portion of the lagoon will be open only to youth ages 15 or younger all day Saturday. Fish and Game staff will be on site to help young anglers gear up and fish for cohos. Fishing rods will also be available to check out and use at the lagoon. The daily bag and possession limit is six in the lagoon. Snagging is prohibited.

Otherwise, Homer Chamber of Commerce President Jim Lavrakas, a former charter captain, said Tuesday that one of his former colleagues reported catching 20 silvers before noon. Point Adams has been a hot spot.

Ned Friedman’s 278-pounder continues to lead the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby by 80 pounds.  

Anglers casting off the end of Homer Spit have caught walleye pollock, Pacific cod, Dolly Varden and silvers.

Kenai River / Upper Kenai 

Thursday is the last chance to dipnet for reds at the Kenai River personal use dipnet fishery, which closes for the season at 11 p.m. The Kasilof River personal use fishery remains open until Aug. 7. Remember to mark your catch on your permit before concealing them from view or transporting them.

On the upper Kenai River, fishing for reds can be decent from Jim’s Landing upstream and should pick up steam. As of Monday, 732,225 sockeyes have been counted swimming past the sonar on Mile 19 of the Kenai River, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said, “Sockeye salmon fishing success in the Upper Kenai River is very low at this time as few late-run sockeye salmon have arrived to this area. Fishing success for sockeye salmon is very low in the Russian River.” However, more than 1,100 reds passed the weir at Lower Russian Lake on Tuesday, by far the most on any day during the late run, suggesting that run is gaining steam.

Fishing for trout and Dolly Varden has been excellent — Battle Creek Specials and other fly patterns imitating salmon flesh are good bets.

Resurrection Bay

Silver salmon fishing is getting hot at Pony Cove and around Cheval Island near the entrance of Resurrection Bay. Mooching with herring seems to be the ticket. There’s good halibut fishing too, and rockfish are steady.

Anglers can also try to target silvers at the head of the bay.

“It’s really early for that,” Bosch said.

Prince William Sound

Halibut fishing is strong, with the top Valdez Halibut Derby fish weighing in at 203 pounds. The silver derby is motoring along too, with a 15.6-pounder topping the leaderboard. Anglers should be able to start targeting silvers near Whittier any time.

Mat-Su

The Fish Creek personal use dipnet fishery closes Thursday at 11 p.m. Nearly 30,000 sockeyes have passed the weir -- nearly double the amount of fish counted at this time last year -- but most dipnetters are landing pinks.

Anglers can catch silvers at some go-to places like Eklutna Tailrace, Jim Creek, Little Susitna and Deshka River. A strong push of silvers swam past the Deshka weir last weekend, bringing the total number of cohos to 1,853.

Anchorage

A Fish and Game information officer who was fishing for silvers on Campbell Creek on Monday limited out during his lunch break. “He only had an hour lunch and he caught three cohos,” Bosch said.

Nearly 30,000 coho smolt were released into Campbell Creek last year. The creek has also been stocked with rainbow trout.

Anglers report that silvers are moving into Ship Creek. The typical silver here -- as well as Campbell Creek and Bird Creek -- ranges from 6 to 7 pounds.

Down at Bird Creek, where anglers can run into bears, Fish and Game officials are encouraging anglers to be cautious. “You should have your fish with you at all times,” Bosch said. He suggests cleaning the fish as you catch them and throwing the carcass into the current to prevent it from hanging up on rocks.

“That is what attracts bears,” he said.

Kevin Klott is an Anchorage freelance writer and avid angler.