Angling in the Big City
Story and Photos by Scott Haugen
As our plane descended into Anchorage, a buddy turned and asked about the fishing opportunities in the city. “I have a nine-hour layover and don’t feel like sitting around,” he commented.
“We just spent five days on the Nushagak and you want to go fishing in the city?” another friend questioned.
“Actually, there is some great fishing to be had, and this is the perfect time of year for it,” I chimed in. We spoke on the phone the following day from our homes in the Lower 48, and I was pleased to find that my buddy did well salmon fishing on Ship Creek and a suburban pond.
It’s been just over a year now since my book, A Flyfisher’s Guide To Alaska, came out, and I’m amazed at the number of inquiries I receive on fishing the Anchorage area. Whether you’re heading to Alaska on a cruise, road trip with the family, spending a day on a stopover from other part of the world, or have a half-day to spend in the city on a return trip home from an exotic Alaskan fishing experience elsewhere in the state, there is good fishing in and around the Anchorage area.
While fishing in this area is largely an urban experience, that in itself is a unique blend. Where else in the United States can you battle rush-hour traffic, then minutes later be fighting a 25-pound king salmon in the shadows cast by high-rise buildings? If you’re willing to wade, even the urban crowds can be left behind, and fishing can be surprisingly productive in many area streams. From big rivers to small streams to lakes and ponds, the Anchorage bowl has it all.
As for fishing Anchorage-area rivers and creeks for salmon, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden, it’s almost entirely a wade-fishing show. The fact all the fishing you’d ever want to do here can be done on foot adds greatly to the vast array of opportunities awaiting anglers.
Where you fish depends on what species you desire, time constraints, and what time of year you’re there (see run timing sidebar). “We stock 25 lakes and have something for everybody,” notes Barry Stratton, Regional Supervisor for Southcentral Alaska. “On some of the lakes you can fish the entire shoreline; it’s open and all on public land. Other lakes are best fished from a boat or float tube, while still others can be hiked to. As for streams, you can have some 50-fish trout and Dolly Varden days if you get upstream, away from crowds.” Stratton points out that an upcoming sleeper, Symphony Lake, up the South Fork Eagle River, will have some nice grayling this year, a result of stocking efforts three years prior.
Most Anchorage area lakes are stocked two times each year, providing very good, year-roundsport fishing. Though many of the streams within the Anchorage area support wild runs of multiple salmon species, most of the native runs are too small in number to support an active sport fishery. Consequently, Anchorage area sport fishing is a result of hatchery stocking programs that have created a successful put-and-take system. That said, let’s take a look at some of the more prominent, accessible fisheries in the Anchorage area.
Anchorage Area Lakes
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game goes to great effort to consistently keep fish numbers up in area lakes, and tourists should not overlook what they have to offer. Most Anchorage area lakes do not support a wild, natural population of fish. All area lakes, with the exception of Campbell Lake, are open year-round to sport fishing.
Rainbow trout are the first fish to be stocked in Anchorage lakes, usually prior to Memorial Day and again around the 4th of July. The size of these planter trout range from 8 to 10 inches, with some larger, 20-inch fish being introduced as well. Char, pike, and small landlocked king salmon can also be had. Unfortunately, pike were illegally introduced into many area lakes, thwarting the stocking programs of trout, char, and salmon.
Following is an alphabetical rundown of the stocked lakes in the Anchorage area. Target species as well as lake locations are included. These do not include the fishable waters on Elmendorf Air Force Base (907-552-2436) or Fort Richardson Army Base (907-384-0431).
Rainbow trout, Arctic grayling, and landlocked king salmon are available in Beach Lake, 21 miles north of Anchorage. Travel north on the Glenn Highway, taking the South Birchwood exit. Go north past Chugiak High School, 0.9 miles to Beach Lake Road. Stay on Beach Lake Road for approximately 2 miles, where the road ends at Beach Lake.
If looking for a trio of fish species, head to Campbell Point Lake, where rainbow trout, Arctic char, and landlocked king salmon are available. Situated on the central east side of the city, within Kincaid Park, off Raspberry Road, go 1.5 miles west of the intersection of Raspberry and Sand Lakes Road and follow the signs directly to the lake.
Rainbow trout, northern pik,e and landlocked king salmon are available in Cheney Lake, in the heart of Anchorage. Go 1 mile west of Muldoon Road, between East Northern Lights Boulevard and DeBarr Road. Turn on Beaver Place, which leads to the city park and the western shores of the lake. To access the eastern shore by way of 16th Avenue, turn off Beaver Place and head south on Otter Street. Go 1 block, turning west on Foothill Drive, continuing to the end of the street. Foot trails will lead to the lake.
Delong Lake is home to rainbow trout and landlocked king salmon and is situated near the airport. Delong Lake Park can be reached on the west side of Jewel Lake Road, two blocks north of the corner of Jewel Lake and Raspberry roads, on 63rd Avenue.
Rainbow trout fans can head to Dishno Lake by traveling north on the Glenn Highway. Cross over Ship Creek and turn right on Ski Bowl Road. Go approximately 2 miles and the lake sits on the left hand side of the road.
For a central city fishing trip, Jewel Lake holds rainbows and landlocked kings. Go west on Dimond Boulevard, about 3.25 miles west of New Seward Highway. Turn north on Jewel Lake Road and go a quarter mile. Turn west on 88th Avenue. Parking can also be accessed at the southern lake shore, off Dimond Boulevard, just west of Jewel Lake Road.
Rainbow trout can also be found in Lake Otis, situated between Northern Lights Boulevard and 36th Avenue, off Stanford Drive, by way of Carlson Park. Rainbow trout, lake trout, northern pike, and landlocked salmon are available on Sand Lake. This urban fishery sits west of Jewel Lake Road, between Dimond Boulevard and Raspberry Road. A foot trail on Caravelle Drive, west of Jewel Lake Road, leads to the northeast shores of the lake. The east shoreline can be accessed behind Sand Lake Elementary School.
Taku Campbell Lake, situated on the southeast edge of Anchorage, holds rainbows, pike, and landlocked kings. Head west on Dimond Boulevard, traveling approximately three-quarters of a mile to King Street. Go north on King Street, then west on 76th Avenue to the city park.
Anchorage Area Rivers
From north to south, let’s take a look at some of the stream fishing sites around Anchorage. Some streams may be omitted due to lack of overall fishing opportunities, with the best streams receiving the attention.
Thirteen miles north of the city, on the Glenn Highway, finds you at the Eagle River. This is a restrictive fishery, due to its locale within Chugach State Park and Fort Richardson U.S. Army base, but there are a good variety of fish species to pursue here. Fishing here is from Bailey Bridge on the Army base, upstream to markers located in the Chugach State Park Eagle River Campground at mile 12 on the Glenn Highway, off the Hiland Road exit.
What makes the Eagle River so enticing to many anglers is that it’s one of only two Anchorage area streams currently open to the taking of adult king salmon. A small run of chum salmon exists, with silver salmon being perhaps the most popular of the trio, especially from Route Bravo Bridge, upstream. Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden can also be had.
The Eagle River can experience heavy glacial silting at times, so pay close attention when navigating across the stream or in swift water. Also, if venturing upstream—working the shoreline and walking on trails—beware of brown bears. I know of Anchorage area residents who won’t take to the river unless they have their bear pepper spray strapped to their belt.
A creek that’s closed to fishing, but open at the mouth is Sixmile Creek. Sixmile offers the best opportunity for anglers looking to catch a red salmon in the Anchorage area. Located on Elmendorf Air Force Base, call the Elmendorf Natural Resources Offices at 907-552-2436 prior to fishing. The area open to sport fishing is seaward of a steel cable that stretches across the mouth of the creek. Mid-July through the middle of August is the best time to fish the mouth of Sixmile for returning sockeye salmon.
Ship Creek, located on the northern fringe of the city of Anchorage, is the main salmon fishery in the metro-area and provides the best opportunity for catching a king salmon. King salmon are the first to enter Ship Creek, beginning in mid-May. An average of 3,000 king salmon are harvested annually by sport anglers on Ship Creek.
Silver salmon are also a big draw for Ship Creek anglers from mid-July through October, with the peak of the run coming in late August and early September. Chum salmon are also in the river at this time.
When the salmon are in Ship Creek, so are the people. This is combat fishing in the truest sense, but if you’re looking for an urban fishing experience, don’t let the crowds drive you away. The best way to access the river is to head north on E Street, going through the light on West 4th Avenue. Turn right at the three-way stop sign and head down the hill on North C Street to Whitney Avenue, which sits on the right side of the road. Western Avenue is farther up the road, and sits on the left hand side. There are excellent foot trails along both the north and south side of Ship Creek.
This stretch of Ship Creek lies in a major urban industrial part of town and is actually owned by the Alaska Railroad. When fishing this area, proceed with great caution and abide by all “No Trespassing” signs. Stay clear of all railroad tracks and bridges. In addition to scattered roadside pulloffs along Ship Creek, there are three public daily-fee parking areas: two along Whitney Road and one on Western Avenue.
Another urban angling opportunity lies in Campbell Creek, the second most popular fishing stream in the city of Anchorage. Campbell Creek flows from the Chugach Range, east of Anchorage, and winds its way right through the middle of town, south of Northern Lights Boulevard. As a result, many private properties border this stream, in the form of both residential and business. When fishing Campbell Creek, take extra precautions to know where you are so as not to unintentionally trespass.
If you’re into spotting fish and casting to them, this is the premier river in the area for such an approach. Because Campbell Creek is fed by so many mountain streams, it runs gin clear a large percentage of the time. Sight fishing fans will love spending time on this river, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get into good fishing all on your own.
Waders are a must here, for getting yourself in position to locate fish and make well-placed casts is critical. Brush choked banks mean anglers need to remove themselves from such tight confines before attempting to cast, and when you do, a whole new world opens up on this creek. With an average of 2,000 coho being harvested annually, it’s definitely the silver salmon that attract anglers to Campbell Creek. In fact, silvers are the only salmon species sport anglers are currently allowed to fish for in Campbell Creek, and the season openings can vary.
Three easily accessible points to Campbell Creek are available to the public. One parking area sits on the north side of Dimond Boulevard, just west of Victor Road. Here, anglers can walk down a small slope and fish from a boardwalk structure. You can also hike upstream on the foot trail and get into good fishing. A second access point is the boardwalk at Folker Street, just east of Lake Otis, and south off Tudor Road. Portions of this trail are paved and ideal for wheelchair access. A third access point sits in the upstream section of both the North and South Fork of Campbell Creek. This area can be reached by turning south on the Campbell Airstrip Road off Tudor Road, about 1/2 mile east of the Boniface Parkway. Foot trails along the bank, and a footbridge across the South Fork, lead to good trout fishing. This section is closed to all salmon fishing, but open for catch-and-release fishing of rainbows, which run in the 10 to 12-inch class.
It should be noted that the section of Campbell Creek sitting downstream of Lake Otis Parkway to the markers at Shelikof Street, is closed. Though Campbell Creek has both red and king salmon, it is closed to the taking of these species. However, it is open year-round for the taking of king salmon less than 20 inches long, and other salmon less than 16 inches long.
Twenty-five miles south of Anchorage, right on the Seward Highway, is Bird Creek, one of the more popular and most productive streams in the area. This is one of my personal favorites to hit when I’m in the area. Two newly paved parking lots and an improved overlook make accessing this fishery easy. Bird Creek is open to salmon fishing, other than kings, 16 inches or longer from its mouth, upstream 500 yards to the Fish and Game markers.
Approximately 350 yards upstream from the Seward Highway bridge, a cable strung across the creek marks the beginning of private property. All land upstream from this point is private, and anglers must obtain landowner permission before fishing there.
If fishing west of the bridge, at the mouth of Bird Creek, avoid walking too far out on the mud flats. Many people are routinely cut off from land when doing this, and with some of the world’s strongest tides in Turnagain Arm, the situation can be life threatening.
If you pay close attention, fishing the incoming tides near the mouth of Bird Creek can be red hot. This is what many locals try to hit. A few red salmon swim up Bird Creek, and the highest concentration of dog salmon in the Anchorage area can be found here. On even number years, a considerable number of pinks make their way into Bird Creek, making it the premier stream for this salmon species. But it’s the enhanced run of silvers that really attract anglers to this stream. This season, look for a predicted run of some 5,000 silvers to return to Bird Creek, thanks to Fish and Game stocking efforts.
If heading to Bird Creek, do so on a low, outgoing or prior to an incoming tide. High tides affect fishing all the way to the legal boundaries and there is no way of accessing the gravel bars on either side of the stream.
When in the Anchorage area, don’t overlook the fishing opportunities that exist there. From the months of May through August, a fishery hotline is updated weekly by the Anchorage-based Alaska Department of Fish and Game. For current reports and up to date information regarding regulatory changes, call 907-267-2510. Additional, year-round updates can be had on weekdays by phoning the Division of Sport Fish at 907-267-2218. For free informational brochures or personal assistance, visit the Fish and Game area office at 333 Raspberry Road in Anchorage.
Scott Haugen is a regular contributor to Fish Alaska.
Fish Anchorage, Alaska: Angling in the Big City originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Fish Alaska.