2021 Fishing Report

The summer of 2020 was terrible for fishing in the Interior. Fish runs were very low in many fisheries, like the Yukon, Tanana and Chitina, making closures a norm throughout the summer. I had been very successful fishing in 2019. I had limited out at Chitina, catching 25 salmon, and I had started set netting on the Yukon for the first time. Using a set net was an eye opener, with less effort, I could catch far more fish in a shorter period of time. I ended up catching about 80 fish that way in less than 36 hours, with the majority being chum salmon with the remaining a mix of whitefish, pike and burbot. I was looking forward to returning in 2020 and trying my luck with kings, but the many closures provided limited opportunities and I only ended up heading to the Yukon once, catching about 10 whitefish. So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to what I hoped would be a better season in 2021.

Starting in the month of June, I looked almost daily at sonar fish counts for Miles Lake on the Copper River. The rule of thumb is that what is seen there is seen in the Copper River canyon about 2 weeks later. Numbers were coming in very high during the first few days of the month and we made plans to head down for the third week of the month. Alana, our friend Elizabeth and I jammed my Subaru full with coolers, nets, clothes and snacks, as well as more nets and my bike strapped to the top of the car. Reaching Chitina around midnight, we made our way about 2.5 miles down trail to the beginning of the canyon, to a spot where I had had success a few times before. By 1:30 am we had our nets in the water, standing on shore, trying to stay warm amidst light rain and the wind blowing up from down canyon. I caught a fish in the first 5 minutes and the excitement tapered off from there. We only ended up catching 5 more fish in the next 8 hours, eventually deciding it wasn’t worth it. We packed up, made a detour to the McCarthy Road, where we hiked to a waterfall, before heading north back home.

Copper River from above

In the following three weeks, it seemed that anyone who went down to Chitina was catching their limit within just a few hours. Numbers on the sonar count had decreased but I was still motivated to return. Cade and I decided to head down together and try our luck.  He was adamant about having some time to sleep and make it more of a trip rather than a rushed process.  I was not. We walked down the trail, sans bikes, and stopped at the spot we had gone to in 2019.  There we had limited out in 3 hours and were hoping for similar results.  Within the first minute after putting my net in the water, I had caught a king. King fishing had been closed for the season so I had to release it, but so far so good.  We caught a slow trickle of fish over the next 3 hours.  Some guys were fishing across the river from us and seemed to be catching a lot more, so we decided to move to my other spot down in the canyon. 

Cade hiking in

Fishing became a lot steadier with us catching a fish about every 10 minutes or so.  We were surprised to see a harbor seal swimming in the eddy just beyond us. It remained the entire time we were there and even bumped up against our nets a few times. We would end up reaching just about to our limits in about 3 hours.  Only just about because Cade decided to not catch 1 of his 25 and dedicate it to the harbor seal.  We made the death march back down the trail, 17 fish on our backs for about 2.5 miles.  Cade went back with a bike for the remaining 6 fish and upon his return, the conclusion of another successful trip. Much to Cade’s dismay, it ended up being another quick trip, with home to home ending up around 30 hours.

O’Brien Creek emptying into the Copper River. Hundreds of gulls await any scraps

Alana had plans to join her friend Kayla to do some fishing near her old home down on the Kenai towards the end of July.  Alana really wanted me to go but I was uncertain.  I knew there were a lot more people on the Kenai and the dipnetting was supposed to reflect that. Not to mention the fact that it was at least a 10 hour drive one way.  I hemmed and hawed, eventually deciding to go and have the experience at least once.  We drove south with dogs, nets and gear in tow, stopping one night in Wasilla at Kayla’s house before continuing south to the Kasilof River.  I was astounded as we pulled in to the parking area to see dozens and dozens of RVs, cars and tents. And this is the less crowded area. We turned past a bank of 20 port a johns and made our way to an open spot on the beach, where we set up our camp, donned some waders and headed off into the water.  The fishing was the same, not being able to see anything and just holding your net in the water.  The difference was the quantity of people and being in the water while fishing, as opposed to standing on shore.  Unsure of the boundary markers at first, we fished not far from our tent, until I had a talking to from the local wildlife trooper. We moved into the masses, fishing nearly side by side by the river’s mouth.  On the opposing side of the river people did the same, while boats went up and down the middle, trying to catch some there.  It is a wonder how any salmon is able to make it past to spawn.

Taiga admiring the volcanoes

We fished with the tides. Out in the ocean during high tide and back around camp when it was not. We took the dogs on walks down the beach when the tide was low, seeing what ended up on shore and admiring the volcanoes towering across the inlet.  A religious group prowled the beach, trying to pass out bibles and lure people to their station where they had setup a bouncy castle, face paint and hot dogs.  The experience was a bit bizarre and reminded me more of a state fair or what I imagine a NASCAR event is like. The fish came in slowly but steadily and towards the end of our second day Alana and I were nearing our limit.  Alana and Kayla kept fishing while I gutted out what we had caught. Not long after, we called it good. Ending with an additional 31 salmon to add to our household total.  I was glad to have checked it out once, but with smaller fish on average, 22 hours of driving round trip and large crowds, I do not think I will be returning any time soon.

The only thing missing from this year’s fishing adventures is setnetting on the Yukon.  Once again, fish runs have been very poor this summer due to past overfishing.  Kings were closed almost immediately and the summer and fall chum runs never even opened.  I very much enjoy the whitefish from the Yukon and do hope to go at least once before freeze up.  But having caught 56 salmon, we are in a very fortunate position heading into winter. Anything else is a bonus.

Copper River red filets

1 Comment

  1. I lived in Alaska 20 years and made the run to China every year
    so those Copper river filets bring back memories of long
    and hard climbs up the hill with my backpack filled with fish
    but looking at those steaks also reminds me of sitting in camp
    and eating Salmon steaks whose flavor
    can not be matched by store bought fish…

    Thanks for the story and photography

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