Sport fishing in much of Alaska may sound pretty bleak on the brink of one of summer's biggest holidays. With poor king salmon returns closing or limiting fisheries, spots where fishermen can wet their hooks or nets may seem limited.
But with a little creativity, all is not doom and gloom. While fisheries throughout Southcentral are limited for kings, other fish -- including red salmon, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout -- are swimming in numerous rivers and streams.
If combat fishing on an Alaska river sounds unpleasant, many lakes -- both stocked and not -- are open and ready for anglers.
Water levels on the Kenai and the Russian rivers are starting to level off, but so are sockeye salmon runs on the Russian. But the Kenai River closure to king salmon fishing ended July 1 as the second run of big fish started. Fishing remains slow, and only the lower 18 river miles are open; bait remains banned.
But Robert Begich, sport fish area management biologist for the northern Kenai Peninsula, noted that water conditions, though still higher than average, have improved since last week. Water is less turbid in the Kenai, improving overall fishing conditions. But more hot days or heavy rainfall could ruin that.
The first run of Russian River red salmon has dropped off, Begich said, but that's typical this time of year. Saltwater trolling out of Homer may be your best option if you're determined to hook a king. Ricky Gease of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said sockeye fishing has been productive on the west side of Cook Inlet, if you can get there.
Twenty-seven lakes in the Northern Kenai Peninsula are stocked with rainbow trout, Arctic char, Arctic grayling and land-locked salmon. Others are not stocked, but still support good populations of those fish, Begich said.
With the king season closed early and the silver season weeks away, fishing in the Mat-Su is largely limited to resident species -- grayling, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden.
There's always a bit of a break between king and silver salmon fishing, noted Sam Ivey, area management biologist for sport fisheries in northern Cook Inlet. That break has been extended with the king closures.
So fishermen have to look farther.
"What I recommend is if you hit one stream, say Willow Creek, and if it's just too high and you feel like you don't want to fish it, drive north and chances are unless there's been a high precipitation event, you can usually find some fishable waters as . . . you head up the Parks Highway," Ivey said.
Another good bet is any of the region's stocked lakes. Ivey said the hatchery truck has been "all over the map" recently, delivering a catchable rainbow trout to lakes throughout the Mat-Su.
Many of those lakes -- including Nancy Lake and the Kepler-Bradley system -- have family-friendly campgrounds for those looking to spend the Fourth of July outdoors.
Mike Hudson, owner of 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla, said he's been selling a lot of canoe gear to people who plan to portage the Nancy Lake recreation system. Pike fishing has been particularly good out there, he said. Over the Father's Day weekend, Hudson said his son and his nephew caught 73 pike between them.
"That's the type of fish that like those bright, sunny days," he said.
Upper Copper River/ Upper Susitna River
Red salmon runs in the upper Copper and upper Susitna river systems are strong and above average in some places.
Mark Somerville, Fish and Game area biologist, said red salmon runs typically slow down this time of year and pick up later in the month. That hasn't been the case for the Klutina River, which has seen above-average runs for this time of year.
As one of the better red salmon sport fish fisheries in the state, Klutina anglers should expect to encounter combat fishing. Somerville said both the Gulkana and Tonsina rivers have seen great returns in recent years. The Gulkana had more 100,000 red salmon end up at the locations they were released last year. Access to the Gulkana is available near the Richardson Highway Bridge at Mile 127 or by purchasing Ahtna, Inc. access to fish most of the river. Ahtna owns most of the land along the banks of the Gulkana from the Sourdough campground at Mile 148 of the Richardson Highway all the way to the Copper River.
The Tonsina has a smaller run that's even more difficult to access, which should make fishing less hectic and quieter, Somerville said. That may make it a little easier to nab a red.
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at email@example.com