Article & Photos by Melissa Norris
“Twice as big as Texas yet with fewer roads than Delaware,” it reads on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website, “Alaska presents unique recreational access challenges.” That’s undeniably true, yet even still, bank fishing for silvers can be accomplished in many places on the road system in Alaska. Whether that’s in Southeast, Kodiak, the Mat-Su Valley or the Kenai Peninsula, here are the main places to walk in and fish silvers all around Alaska.
Not everyone wants the expense and ample duties that come with owning a boat. Some anglers prefer to bank fish for the ease of it and in order to be active. If this is your elected do-it-yourself method of fishing silvers in Alaska, then check out these hotspots from all around the state where you can walk in to fish and walk out with two or three coho on your stringer. As if the 3-foot vertical leap of the Alaska coho during an epic battle isn’t enough to get your blood pumping, just think about those fresh fillets on the barbecue.
Freshwater Bank Fishing for Silvers
Ship Creek is a popular location for silvers in Anchorage because it is located right downtown, and this hatchery-enhanced fishery is going strong. Ship Creek begins in the Chugach Mountains and ends as an estuary into Cook Inlet. With over 250,000 coho smelt released in 2017, Ship Creek is a prolific sport fishery that anyone can access. Even though ADF&G extended the king harvest on this creek until the end of July this year, dime-bright silvers have started to slowly show in the middle of July as they traditionally do. It has heated up as the weeks went on. When fishing for silvers at Ship Creek, most fish are commonly taken two hours before high tide and one hour after. Check the tide book to plan accordingly. Be aware that the tidal change is one of the most extreme anywhere and the creek can rise up to 30 feet in only 6 hours. Don’t get caught wading when the tide has risen, as it can be very dangerous. Nicknamed the Mud Hole, the shores of Ship Creek will easily capture your boots like quicksand so move your feed around if you are standing in it as the tide goes out.
The peak of the season is typically near the beginning to middle of August. Daily limits for silver salmon are 3 per day and 3 in possession from Ship Creek at the time this article was written. It is always best to check current regulations before fishing. Plenty of folks cast and retrieve spinners like a #4 Blue Fox Vibrax in red and orange. Bright colors work best in the silty water. #3 and #4 Pixees are a common choice for silvers around the state and work well here as well. Bait is legal and a lot of folks will hang salmon eggs near the bottom suspended by a weight and attached to a bobber.
You’ll definitely want rubber boots like Xtratufs because the area is muddy. You could wear waders as well. Consider bringing a chair. An extending-handle salmon net and cooler are necessary equipment. It gets crowded when the fish are in, as you would expect since it is the most accessible fishery in Alaska’s biggest city. Fishing Ship Creek is easy as well as accessible. You can rent gear, buy bait and tackle and get advice from the tackle shop located at Ship Creek called The Bait Shack. Dustin Slinker, the owner, is a helpful and knowledgeable fisherman. Paid parking is available right across from The Bait Shack.
Just south of Anchorage, about 25 miles down the Seward Highway, you’ll find Bird Creek Access Parking and a short walk to the river that will put you on good silver salmon fishing. In 2017 ADF&G released over 130,000 coho smolt into Bird Creek to enhance this sport fishery. They release coho smolt annually in Bird Creek and there is a strong run of chrome hatchery silvers.
The limit on silvers is 3 per day, 3 in possession. Make sure you know how to identify the various Pacific salmon as kings may not be taken from Bird Creek. The season is known to be best from the end of July through early August. There’s a campground nearby for those that want to stay for a couple days.
Anglers are warned that Bird Creek experiences extreme tidal fluxes and conditions can change rather abruptly. Most silvers are taken here from 2 hours before high tide to 1 hour after. Beware the mud flats that can act as quicksand in spots. Timing is everything to catch your limit. You want to be there when the fish are in. There is about 500 yards of fishable area depending on the tide and you can fish from mud flats to the ADF&G mile-marker. The creek resembles a lake when the tide is in and can get as deep as 15 feet in places when the Cook Inlet tidal flow moves into Bird Creek and meets with the river’s rushing water, thus slowing down the current. The additional water in the creek will hinder where you can fish at times.
Bait is legal for salmon fishing in this Turnagain Arm stream and common lures are Blue Fox Vibrax and Pixees, Mepps Aglia, Spin-n-Glos and salmon roe. If the silvers get lock-jawed, change it up by presenting a medium-sized Mepps Aglia-e, twitching a Luhr Jensen Kwikfish, or reeling fast on a Silverhorde Coho Killer. Extra lure action is helpful to entice silvers. The most common tried-and-true method for this fishery is fishing cured salmon eggs with a bobber.
Little Susitna River (Little Su)
Silvers usually start to show up in the Little Su by mid-July and they continue coming in until the beginning of September. Angling is generally best in the lower river during the first few weeks of the run until early August when the run heads upstream. Two coho per day is the typical regulation set by ADF&G for the Little Su.
There are two prime spots to access shoreside fishing on the Little Su. The Little Susitna Public Use Facility boat launch and campground at the end of Point McKenzie Road offers such access. In the Houston area at Mile 58 near the Parks Highway bridge is another spot to walk in for coho on the Little Su. The Little Su has produced the second to largest harvest numbers for silvers on record in the past and it is just an easy one-hour-plus drive from Anchorage, making it a consistent top choice for bank fishing coho. The start of the run this year has been slow but we are hoping it will pick up.
About a half-hour from downtown Anchorage and only 15 minutes from Wasilla on the Old Glenn Highway is the Eklutha Tailrace. The limit here on silvers 16 inches or longer is 3 per day, 3 in possession. ADF&G released over 125,000 coho smolt into the Eklutna Tailrace this spring as part of their hatchery stocking program. Locals fish the Tailrace because they can get there quickly, there is large day-use parking lot, good bank access and the restrooms are a definite plus. The most common fishing methods for fishing silvers at the Eklutna Tailrace is hanging salmon roe on the bottom. People commonly fish near the confluence of the Eklutna Tailrace and the Knik River.
The silver fishery on the Kenai is comprised of two runs; the “early” run at the end of July/beginning of August and the late run that begins in September, which generally produces larger fish. General limits on silvers in the Kenai are 2 per day, 2 in possession until September 1st when it becomes 3 per day, 3 in possession. The upper Kenai River sees its own set of regulations. For instance, it is a fly-fishing-only area, as directed: “Kenai River upstream from ADF&G markers downstream of the ferry crossing to ADF&G markers that are about 300 yards upstream of the public boat launch at Sportsman’s Landing (including the waters around the upstream end of the island in front of the Russian River mouth), and the Russian River from its mouth upstream about 100 yd to ADF&G markers.” A limit of one coho per day, one in possession is the rule in this areas so make sure you always check current ADF&G regulations before fishing a specific area. It also means using a single-hook, unbaited, artificial lure is the only way to fish as well.
We like to cast spoons with single hooks and throw bright flashy flies to silvers on the upper river in the fall. Bait is allowed in August for silvers and then to single hook, unbaited lures beginning in September, unless in a fly-fishing only area in a specific timeframe as mentioned above.
There are several access points for anglers seeking silvers on the Kenai River by foot. Cunningham Park down Beaver Loop Road (after August 15), Centennial Park, the Soldotna Visitors Center, Bings Landing, Funny River Campground, Morgan’s Landing, Izaak Walton State Recreation Site, and the Russian River Ferry Access at Sportsman’s Landing are some of the most popular spots to access the river on foot. There is a lot of private property along the Kenai River as well as areas that are protected for stream habitat so make sure you are in an area that allows access.
12 miles south of Soldotna is the Kasilof River with a strong run of coho salmon. The Kasilof River State Recreation Area, the Crooked Creek State Recreation Area and the Tustemena Lake Campground are the access points for the river. Be aware that there is a lot of private property along the Kasilof as well as areas that are protected for stream habitat. Coho are in the Kasilof in late July through August and September with them concentrated in the lower river in the earlier part of the run. The earliest fish are typically caught at the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Kasilof. Fishing salmonegg clusters is common in the silty, part-glacial fed river until September 1 when no bait or treble/multiple hooks are allowed. At that point anglers have to use single-hook, unbaited, artificial lures. Flies and spinners are effective. Silvers like bright and flashy attractants.
Silvers start to show up on the Kodiak road system by mid-August. Commonly, road anglers seek limits on the Buskin River, Olds River and the Pasagshak. ADF&G is predicting large returns of stocked silvers to Monashka Creek, Pillar Creek, Mill Bay and Mission Beach in 2017 because they stocked these areas with coho smolt last year so this is an added resource for sport anglers. These stocked fish are exempt from the Kodiak road-system regulation limiting the daily coho catch to 1 per day, 1 in possession after Sept 15. Prior to that date the daily bag limit is 2 per day, 2 in possession in the Kodiak Road Zone. ADF&G has removed the regulation prohibiting fishing above the highway bridges from Aug 1 to Sept 15 in all the rivers flowing into Chiniak Bay. Instead now it is a road system, freshwater-wide date constraint on limits. Check regulations and emergency orders before fishing.
Only 2 miles from the city of Kodiak near the airport the Buskin supports a great deal of the recreational fishing in Kodiak’s road system and has traditionally seen very high returns of coho with an average of about 10,000 fish. 2016 was a mystery, though, as the Buskin did not see its normal return and ADF&G closed it to sport-fishing for coho. Anglers can usually keep 2 coho per day until September 15. Silvers are usually available in the Buskin between mid-August and mid-September. The Kodiak area sportfish biologist Tyler Polum explained, “Productivity in a lot of these coho runs is driven by environmental conditions in the various life stages, so there more than likely could be something that caused last year’s run to be much lower than the others. On the other hand, it followed the trend of much of Southcentral. For this year, I wouldn’t expect to see a trend of low-abundance but coho can often follow 2-3 year cycles of high- and low abundance so its hard to say. I know we will be watching it a little closer now than we have in the past as it was the first time we have had to close it altogether.”
The Olds River is just about a 40 minute drive from the City of Kodiak halfway around Kalsin Bay. Deep pools can be present, depending on weather and water conditions, which makes wading for silvers a good prospect. Mile 29.7 is where you’ll find the Olds River Bridge and mile 30.8 is the mouth of the Olds. Most people fish just below the highway bridge. Fishing the tidal zone extending into the bay is a good option when the tide is rising. Tidal changes can make the river impossible to wade so be aware of timing.
To get to the Pasagshak River drive about 40 minutes south on the Chiniak Highway and then take a right on Pasagshak Bay Road. The Pasagshak State Recreation Site is at mile 8.9, where camping is available on a first-come basis, and the mouth of the Pasagshak is at 9.2 on Pasagshak Bay Road. The Pasagshak River is heavily influenced by tides, which changes the depth, the width and also the direction the water is flowing. Fishing is usually good right at the mouth of the river. The lower part of the river offers sight-fishing possibilities but once they move up the deeper channels it becomes difficult to see the fish.
The Situk River is the main feature in Yakutat for freshwater. Bank anglers fishing for coho on the Situk primarily begins at the Lower Landing and near the mouth. The limit is 2 per day on silvers and traditionally this area sees a good run of coho. Silver season really heats up on the Situk about the third week of August and continues to be good well into September. Wading becomes more difficult for anglers if water levels are high from heavy rainfalls. The Lost River and Tawah Creek are also options for fishing road-accessible silvers in Yakutat.
Cowee Creek and Montana Creek are some of your best freshwater options to bank fish for coho in Juneau, as well as Peterson Creek. People also fish the Gastineau Channel near the hatchery, Lena Point and Amalga Harbor. Bag limits are 2 per day, 2 in possession for freshwater coho 16 inches and larger in Juneau. Bait is prohibited in the creeks listed above. Lures like Pixee and Vibrax or flashy flies are used for silvers. Note that on Cowee Creek anglers less than 16 can use bait from September 15 through November 15.
The Chilkat River has the third largest run of coho salmon in southeast Alaska and bait is allowed all year. The Chilkat River’s water clears up by October and fish are abundant. Limits for Chilkat River coho salmon that are at least 16 inches are 3 per day with 6 in possession. There are several access points along the river from the Haines Highway between milepost 4 and 25.
The Chilkoot River can be fished for coho below the lake and it is also a popular coho salmon fishing site during September and October. Daily bag limits for Chilkat River coho salmon 16 inches or larger are 2 daily and 2 in possession. While there are less coho returning to the Chilkoot than Chilkat the size of the coho are said to get as large as 20 pounds. Access the river from the mile-long road in the Chilkoot State Recreation Site. The use of bait is allowed here as well.
Anglers looking for road system access to silvers on Ketchikan visit Ketchikan Creek, Herring Cove Creek from the highway downstream to the ADF&G markers, and the Ward Creek Drainage. All three areas are restricted to unbaited, artificial lures or flies and have a 2 per day, 2 in possession coho limit.
Prince of Wales Island
The largest coho return on Prince of Wales is in the Klawock River. Millions of coho smelt are released by the Klawock River Hatchery. The best time to fish for Klawock coho is from late August through September. Upstream from the ADF&G markers bait is prohibited year-round on the Klawock and only unbaited, artificial lures or flies may be fished. Downstream of those markers, bait is allowed from September 15 through October 15.
There are many streams to try around Prince of Wales Island that contain catchable coho. Most of the silver fishing in Prince of Wales is done during the fall run where coho enter the streams in late August. The island does host a small run of summer silvers that can be found in some streams around the end of June through beginning of September.
For catch-and-release fishing late in the season try the coho fishery on the Delta Clearwater River off the Richardson Highway from mid-September through November with its peak in mid-October. The limit is 3 per day, 3 in possession, although their long itinerary, traveling over 1000 miles from the Bering Sea make them slightly less desirable tablefare than in other bank-fishing destinations around the state. Anglers can shore-fish at the Clearwater State Recreation Site near where boats are launched but much of the property along the Delta Clearwater is private and access is limited without a boat.
Melissa Norris is Publisher of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines.