Coho salmon, commonly referred to as silver salmon, are the second least abundant of the Pacific salmon, after Chinook, and within the 49th state, silvers range continuously from the far southern panhandle to Norton Sound and from there sporadically to Point Hope on the Chukchi Sea. Adult coho returning to Alaska waters average between 8- and 12 pounds and are usually 24- to 30 inches long, though specimens of over 25 pounds have been caught.
While certainly not the state’s most heralded coho fisheries, silvers are able to penetrate Interior watersheds at least as far inland as the Tanana River, pouring into the spawning streams that run off the glacier-stuffed Alaska Range. The foremost silver salmon fishery in this region occurs in the Delta Clearwater River, an otherwise insignificant 23-mile-long tributary of the Tanana. The Delta Clearwater has averaged returns of over 30,000 fish for the last decade or so, its spring-like, oxygen-rich flows remaining open throughout the bleakest season and providing excellent spawning and overwintering habitat. But because the river’s coho run doesn’t typically peak until the middle of frostbitten October, with the fish having traveled a good thousand miles from the sea, pressure remains light, even in years when over 80,000 silvers have completed the voyage. Overall, good silver fishing can be had from the last week in September to the middle of November, with a peak around the first weekend in October. Bring a healthy selection of large to medium flash flies. Use a sink-tip fly line or add a couple split shot to your leader to get your lure down to the salmon’s eye level. Ten-pound test leader line is recommended on a 6- or 8-weight rod. All types of spinners or spoons work well for casters, but those with vibrant colors see more action. The daily bag limit on silvers is three per fisherman.
Access the Delta Clearwater River at the Clearwater State Recreation Site on Remington Road just outside of Delta Junction. Turn east off the Richardson Highway onto Jack Warren Road and follow to Remington. It’s only a two-hour drive from Fairbanks, but a day’s travel from Anchorage. For those wishing to fish the river by canoe, a popular way to cover this slow-moving stream, put-in at the state recreation area and pull out at Clearwater Lake, which is accessed from Jack Warren Road. It is a 12-mile trip and takes about six hours. Paddle down the Clearwater and onto a branch of the Tanana River. Turn into the first decent sized slough you encounter on your left after exiting the Clearwater and paddle through the still water to Clearwater Lake. Carry a good map as there are many other sloughs along the way. Stay in the largest, deepest channel and you’ll slide right into the lake’s western arm. Aim for the houses and the boat launch. Another option is to continue on the Tanana another 16 miles to the Richardson Highway bridge. Just follow the silty current and pull over when the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline passes over you. The Tanana is a big river and will take you far from the road system before crossing the highway.
Interior anglers can find silvers in a few other locations, but because of the distances traveled, encountering chrome fish is not nearly as common as in other areas of Alaska. For the adventurous, flying or boating out to a few tributaries of the Yukon River system also presents some good fishing opportunities. Unlike the coho that travel all the way to the Tanana drainage, which are often well into their spawning adaptations by the time they reach fishable waters, the silvers of the lower Yukon system are the same bright, aggressive fish that patrol the other coastal drainages of Southwest. The Andreafsky River in particular is a name worth remembering. Different than most of the drainages within the Yukon Delta, this 105-mile-long clearwater tributary, and its twin East Fork Andreafsky, traverses a broad range of ecosystems, including alpine tundra, rolling hills and a few sparse forests of spruce. Much of the lower river, after the Andreafsky and East Fork have joined to form one channel about five miles above the village of St. Mary’s, can be reached by jet boat, but to access the entire watershed, anglers have to find a gravel bar in the upper stretches that’s of suitable size for a small wheel-plane landing. The coho here typically begin to arrive in the system during August and continue in fishable numbers throughout the first few weeks of September.