Tight Lines: Campbell Creek
Article by Kalb Stevenson, PhD
As the snow melts each year and spring gives way to summer, I know that I will again find myself daydreaming about walking the banks of Campbell Creek in Anchorage. This June, I will also be helping a fairly young angler in our household scout out her first king salmon during the Campbell Creek Youth-Only King Salmon Weekend. And, come late July and August, I hope to bring home at least a few silver salmon for the barbeque.
Campbell Creek, located right in the heart of Anchorage, is a unique urban stream that is surrounded by greenery as well as roads and other elements of civilization. It meanders though residential areas, crosses under roads via enormous culverts, and winds through business districts, but it also moves through Anchorage’s parks, greenbelts and alongside trails in more forested areas. It literally cuts through the entire town, flowing east to west from the Chugach Mountains and emptying into Cook Inlet.
Fishing Campbell Creek can be a relaxing experience that allows for some different types of fishing and lots of scouting. The stream is stocked with rainbow trout and Dolly Varden, as well as tens of thousands of salmon fingerlings each year. There are two popular fishing platforms on Campbell Creek overlooking slower and deeper water (the NW corner of Arctic Blvd. & Dimond, and at the end of Piper St. just south of Tudor Rd.), but walking the river will get you away from other anglers and help you become more skilled in reading fish habitat. It’s not always an easy task to find the fish in the narrower areas of the stream, or even to keep your fly or bead from getting hung-up on brush near the banks. The search is half the battle.
Bring the Tackle Box
I have been asked about what is most effective to use for for trout, Dollies or salmon on Campbell Creek and the answer I give is that it depends of where you are fishing and what the fish are doing at that time. Allow me to provide a few scenarios to demonstrate what I mean.
I sometimes drive or ride my bicycle by the Peanut Farm on Old Seward Highway and Dowling Road and look at the tables and chairs on the back porch overlooking Campbell Creek. Each year there are probably a few sunny days in mid-August when restaurant patrons who are sitting and enjoying a meal outdoors will suddenly find themselves watching small schools of silver salmon slug through the clear, shallow water. The fish will swim under the footbridge and continue up the creek, tempting patrons to drop their hot wings and run for their fishing poles. In this scenario, when fish are on the move and passing through quickly, they should be sight-fished like any other typical salmon stream. Get a line out, get it down and try to put something in front of the silver that will induce a strike. These fish are on a mission to reach their headwaters, and scenarios like this mean you will only get one or two good drifts with a bead or streamer before the fish have moved on.
If you’ve got your spinning rod and find yourself in a wider or deeper stretch of stream, try different colored pixies, Vibrax or Mepps. The best color depends on the day and lighting, but black or pink on a silver spinner is a good first bet. Other colors that can be productive are blue or orange on either a silver or gold spinner.
If walking the banks for trout and salmon is your game, your best bet is to try using a streamer or a natural-looking wet fly (e.g., Woolly Bugger). I have never observed trout in Campbell Creek popping at the surface of the water for insects, but it seems logical that at some point they would do this. In this event, a smaller mosquito pattern is likely to be most effective. Beads are more effective for trout later in the year (i.e., late September) after king, silver and other species of salmon have schooled through (the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that Campbell Creek does have some small numbers of pink and sockeye salmon returning, but these are off-limits to fishing).
When fishing Campbell Creek, I also always bring some amount of bait with me—usually cured salmon roe. It’s best to drift it into pools or bends, as well as behind rocks. From one of the fishing platforms, bait suspended under a bobber is effective.
Weather can also play a factor on Campbell salmon. When it’s bright and sunny out, fish can be more included to stay in deeper areas, such as Campbell Lake and the areas adjacent to the fishing platforms. Rains can help to bring kings or silvers out of Campbell Lake and get them on the move upstream. The bike paths along Campbell Creek are also good for scouting where fish are sitting along the river, but you will have bushwhack a little if you want to cover the whole stream.
One new experience I am looking forward to this year on Campbell Creek is searching for resident species in the upper forks of the creek, as it runs through Campbell Park and Bicentennial Park. I have heard rumors that these relatively un-fished areas can hold Dolly Varden at certain times of year, but it will be challenging finding the right water since it is much swifter the closer the stream gets to its headwaters. These relatively quiet and forested areas are off limits to salmon fishing, so the majority of fishermen in town do not frequent them (upstream of where the river forks near Piper St., only one unbaited, single-hook artificial lure is allowed, and only resident species can be targeted). Bear protection is a requirement around these areas, especially in or near Bicentennial Park.
Kids Can be King for a Day
While silvers and rainbows are prime targets for adults on Campbell Creek, kids get to chase kings the last Saturday and Sunday in June. Anglers 15 years of age and younger can fish for king salmon on Campbell Creek between Dimond Boulevard and the Old Seward Highway between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. They don’t need to purchase a fishing license, and it’s a great opportunity for parents to spend time teaching their children to love fishing. It will help them to develop the skills of searching, locating, hooking and reeling in large fish.
Not every kid who fishes kings on Campbell catches, so there are a few insider tips to jot down that might help your son or daughter get into some fish. First, hit the stream early and start stalking visually before the fishery opens at 6 a.m. It should be plenty light out at that time so close to the solstice.
As you search for fish, let your kids use polarized sunglasses to peer through the surface of the water and find them.
As for bait, I’ve got to go with salmon roe. I am a little worried about my 5-year-old flinging it off of the hook on every cast, so I will probably wrap it with some red mesh to help it stay put. Drift the bait along the bottom, using the right amount of weight to keep it bouncing. If the water is murky, using a brightly-colored corkie can help to attract fish and will help to keep the bait off of the bottom and within eyesight of the kings. A baited Spin ’N Glo can do the trick because of the spinning motion, scent, and the fact that it sits undisturbed for several minutes at a time.
Finally, be warned that on the Youth-Only King Salmon weekend, fish around the platforms are targeted by more people and will spook easily. If you and your child show up early and get your spot at 5 a.m., be prepared for several people to show up and join you at 5:59. The more these fish are disturbed, the more they will go off the bite. At that point, it’s better to walk up- or downstream to find a shallower, but potentially more productive hole (in other words, make sure your kids are wearing boots or hip waders).
An Urban Delight
One thing I have consistently observed about silver salmon fishing in Anchorage is that when the run has died out at Ship Creek in downtown, it’s usually peaking just a few miles south on Campbell Creek in midtown. The limit of three fish is the same in both places, and both are easily accessible.
Campbell Creek is the perfect urban fishery, and for those living in or passing through Anchorage, it is a great opportunity for resident and anadromous species. For youth and adults alike, it’s a great prospect for tight lines on a tight budget.
Campbell Creek originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Fish Alaska magazine.