By Andy Couch
North of Anchorage, Alaska, in the Mat-Su Valley king salmon fishing regulations are the most restricted I’ve seen in 35 years of guiding. Fortunately, there is still one location where standard fishing king salmon fishing regulations remain in effect: the Eklutna Tailrace/Knik River fishery. If you want to use bait for kings this is where you’ll need to go.
After migrating to the ocean and spending one-to-four years in the ocean these fish return in a variety of sizes to the tailrace. Legal jack king salmon in Alaska freshwater fisheries are less than 20 inches in length. In the Upper Cook Inlet area the limit on these jack king salmon is 10 per day in waters open to king salmon fishing. The typical size of most of the legal jack king salmon we catch is between 12-20 inches. Anglers may keep one adult salmon per day. They tend to range from 10-30 pounds.
In many Alaska rivers king salmon are the first salmon available each spring. They are also the largest. For people who enjoy fish with a rich salmon flavor king salmon provide the ultimate table fare. They are my favorite salmon for eating.
The Eklutna Tailrace/Knik River Chinook are arriving this season. Meanwhile, they started to show in late May. The Eklutna Tailrace and Knik River are partially occluded with glacial silt. Depending upon glacial melt during the fishing season the tailrace waters can range from a beautiful emerald green to a light gray whereas the Knik River is darker and more opaque. Because of this limited visibility baits like Fire Cure salmon roe greatly increase an angler’s opportunity for success.
I’ve found that allowing my cured roe to soak in Pautzke Nectar several minutes before fishing further enhances my Eklutna Tailrace/Knik River king salmon catching opportunity. For those familiar with Pautzke cures I normally follow directions printed on the bottle. After my roe has been cured I store it in Ziploc bags in the freezer until ready to use. I pull the roe from the freezer with enough time to thaw before fishing. Next I dump the amount of roe I intend to fish in a small plastic pail and pour in an entire bottle of Nectar. Then it is off to go fishing. When fishing these sloppy, wet baits I choose to wear surgical gloves to keep my hands clean. Immediately after baiting a hook or hooks I wash all the remaining roe juice and Nectar off my gloved hands before fishing.
My favorite method of fishing roe is to drift it under a bobber. My favorite for this fishery is a #5 ESB bobber in either pink or orange color. The bright colors let me see the bobbers as they float for considerable distance in search of an aggressive or inquisitive king salmon. Oftentimes the bite starts out with the bobber jumping and dancing along the water’s surface before the salmon totally engulfs the bait and dunks the bobber. To avoid missing bites and spooking the salmon I’ve learned to wait until the fish pulls the bobber out of sight before setting the hook.
Once the bobber goes down there is usually slack line that should be reeled in before setting the hook. Watching my line I shut the bait and crank until the line is running nearly straight toward where the bobber disappeared beneath the water’s surface. Reel too much or too quickly and you may pull the bait away from the fish before you set the hook. If you do not reel enough slack out of the line you may set the hook and not even feel anything on the end of the line. Through enough bites to practice on one gets considerable better at reeling in the right amount of slack before setting the hook with a long sweep.
My favorite part of catching king salmon on Fire Cured roe under a bobber is when I set the hook and feel that first huge surge of a heavy fish at the end of the line. For me that never gets old. If the hook is set solidly and I do everything right it may shortly be time to fire up the barbecue for some mouthwatering king salmon.
When: The kings are staring to return right now. Expect better action from the second week of June through the end of the month.
Where: The Eklutna Power Plant and its tailrace are located about a 40-minute drive north of Anchorage along the Old Glenn Highway. There is a parking area with outhouses, dumpsters and a fish cleaning table beside where the tailrace dumps into the Knik River. The entire tailrace is open to salmon fishing 7 days a week and 365 days per year. Bait and multiple hooks are allowed at all times. From the tailrace the king salmon fishery is open an additional two miles downstream in a side channel of the Knik River. Below the side channel confluence the river is closed to king salmon fishing.
Editor’s Note: Andy Couch guides Alaska salmon fishing trips on the Deshka and Little Susitna Rivers. Visit his website where you’ll find free daily fishing reports at http://www.fish4salmon.com.