Suddenly, silver salmon seem to be swarming many Mat-Su waterways as concerns earlier this month about the sluggish start to the coho season appear to have diminished in the face of a late bull rush.
Nonetheless, the Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission has scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22, to discuss concerns about the upper Cook Inlet fisheries. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotton as well as state sportfish director Tom Brookover and commercial fishing director Scott Kelley plan to attend.
“The concern that people in this area have is that the management of the Cook Inlet commercial fishery comes at a cost to other users,” said commission member Larry Engel, a former Fish and Game biologist who pointed to an Aug. 3 commercial opening that resulted in a one-day catch of 49,000 cohos. “It’s very irritable to the people up here — and it has been for a number of years.
Whether a late surge of silvers deflates early season concerns that too many silvers were taken by Cook Inlet commercial fishermen remains to be seen. After all, the trickle of cohos to their spawning streams has turned into a torrent.
On Fish Creek, Fish and Game biologists on Monday doubled the bag limit to four salmon of any species. Already, more than 3,300 silvers have passed the Fish Creek weir, leading biologists to predict the upper end of the escapement goal, 4,400 fish, will be surpassed.
And on the Deshka River, one of the biggest salmon streams in the Mat-Su, an army of silvers has marched upstream — nearly 25,000 in the last week.
How big of a return is that?
It’s more than the total annual return for any year since 2009. In fact, the one-day return of 9,600 silvers on Saturday was more than the full 2011, 2012 or 2016 seasons.
With more than 33,000 silvers past the Deshka weir, the upper end of the escapement goal has been exceeded by some 9,000 fish.
“I guided an afternoon group of three guests — each of whom caught a limit of coho salmon while casting with Flashtrap Spinners,” Mat-Su guide Andy Couch reported on his website about his Sunday trip. “The group started hooking salmon soon after we started fishing.”
In the face of that bonanza, the silver return to the Little Susitna River has lagged and fishing with bait is still prohibited. As of Sunday, it was less than any year since 2012 on that date.
“Traditionally, the second-largest coho fishery in the state is the Little Su, exceeded only by the Kenai River,” Engel said. “It’s the largest in terms of participation in this area — and the most important.”
“It seems to me that (Fish and Game) department should not have area-wide drift fishing in August — at least until Little Su has enough fish that it opens to bait fishing,” he said.
Couch and other Mat-Su anglers argue that the slow start to the silver season strangled a fishery that typically revs up before hunting season opens, tourists head back to the Lower 48 and youngsters return to school.
Tuesday’s meeting is at assembly chambers, 350 E. Dahlia Ave. in Palmer. Engel said he expected the 300 chairs would be filled. Audience members can testify no more than three minutes each.