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2013 Mat-Su Valley

Supplement to the May 21, 2013

Robert DeBerry/Frontiersman

Make the most of Mat-Su stillwater fishing By Butch and Jehnifer Ehmann Ehmann Outdoors

MAT-SU — Do you want the good news or bad news first? Let’s start by ripping off the Band-Aid. By now, if you live anywhere in Southcentral Alaska you have heard about the dismal situation of our salmon returns here in the Valley. Without getting into too much detail, the forecast of salmon returns this summer have caused the state Department of Fish and Game to reduce the sport fishing harvest objective by 80 percent. For many anglers, this does not mean that we will fish 80 percent less this summer, it simply means we will be more creative in where and how we fish that 80 percent of the time. Which leads us into the good news — the Mat-Su is considered the stillwater capital of Alaska. This title is appropriate because of its relatively dense population of some 80 lakes within near proximity to the road system. The same lakes that we all fished through the ice over the long winter we will now continue to fish over the summer and into fall. We still plan on spending time chasing salmon, but like many Alaskans we are willing to take this downturn in stride and spend time exploring alternative fishing spots. If you also have this general sense of perseverance, here’s some things we are taking into consideration while planning our upcoming stillwater trips. First thing we take into consideration is what species we are after. This will help determine fishing gear, lake accessibility and expectations for catch rates. Not only does the Mat-Su have plenty of lakes to choose from, we also have a diverse selection of species to target as well. From grayling to pike, the Mat-Su can definitely keep a fishing junkie preoccupied throughout the season. If you don’t already have a favorite stillwater spot or if you are looking to try a new lake, we Page 2

Kaylee Ehmann is all smiles after landing this nice rainbow trout from one of the Valley’s many stocked lakes.

recommend visiting the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website and its extensive database of lakes (http://tinyurl. com/7heco9v). While doing this research, also take note of the department’s recent stocking records that includes detailed information of what species was stocked, the size of the fish stocked and how many fish released. This website also has detailed information on each species, which can be helpful in determining characteristics like food sources, activity levels and

spawning behaviors. Since the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery came online in June 2011, thousands of rainbow trout, Arctic char and Arctic grayling have been stocked in lakes around the Valley. If you are interested in high catch rates, especially if you have children in tow, we recommend targeting lakes with robust stocking programs that will naturally have higher catch rates. Hand-in-hand with the species selection is also going to be a consideration for lake access. 2013 Fishing Guide

Many, but not all, lakes in the Mat-Su are accessible by road. Some require a short hike on foot with established marked trails and some have limited to no public shore access. The majority of stocked lakes have a public access point, so if you are new to the area, stocked lakes are a good place to start. Make sure to check if the lake has public access and where on the lake it is prior to arriving. Many lakes in the Valley for even those of us who were born and raised here don’t have clear access points and signs, and

Courtesy Ehmann Outdoors

it’s important to respect the landowners in the area. When it comes to rod selection, we can get most stillwater fishing done in the Mat-Su with a 5-weight fly rod or light trout spinning rod. The exception to this is when we are targeting pike, which can require heavier gear depending on the size of the pike known to be in the fishery. We have also fished with lighter gear such as a 3- or 4-weight fly rod, but it simply depends on what See LAKES, Page 7 May 21, 2013

A t

Tackling your tackle box By GREG JOHNSON

WASILLA — The fishing in Alaska is legendary and you’ve finally decided to create a few fish stories of your own. Getting started can be daunting in a state famous for its world-class sport fishing, where seasoned anglers spend thousands of dollars trying to land trophies. You can have all the fancy boats, outboard motors, high-tech rods and reels, but without a properly stocked tackle box, you’re likely to return with more lamentations about the ones that got away than fish in your cooler. Without having to take out a second mortgage, what are some basics every tackle box should have? “That is a short question, but a really big one,” said Mike Hudson, owner of 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla. “If I try to cover everything, that’s a pretty big tackle box. What I mean by that is if I go salmon gear all the way through all the stuff to trout, that’s a big tackle box.” For the Valley and what people are fishing for now, king salmon is the big deal,

he said. Even with state Department of Fish and Game restrictions on much of the local king season, making sure you have the right spinners, lures and basic tackle is essential, Hudson said. “This is where you start with your tackle box basics,” he said, pointing to the tackle aisle lined with hooks, swivels and weights. “You start here. You’re going to need some form of weight when you’re just gear fishing. If you’re going for kings, you’re going to need 25-pound test line minimum. If you’re going for silvers, you can drop down to 15-pound test line.” And even the most innocuous-looking of items can make all the difference, Hudson said. “You need a really quality swivel, something that’s going to hold up to a king salmon and everybody else,” he said, offering some advice on what to stay away from — the old-fashioned safety-pin-style snap swivel. Now that you’ve got your line, weights and swivels, it’s time to stock your box See TACKLE, Page 7

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2013 Fishing Guide

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When it comes to salmon, know your limits By GREG JOHNSON

MAT-SU — An effort to significantly curtail the harvest of king salmon in the Cook Inlet area has prompted early sport fishing restrictions from the state Department of Fish and Game. For resident and visiting sport fishers in the Valley, the emergency orders reduce the annual limit of kings taken from local waters from five to two, along with a laundry list of other restrictions. “This is something we’ve been working on throughout the winter,” said Sam Ivey, Mat-Su area management biologist for the Division of Sport Fish, about what he’s calling a “conservative approach” to managing this year’s king salmon returns. “We tried to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the downturn in king salmon we’ve been seeing specifically in our area,” he said. “We want a strategy to provide as much opportunity in our area as possible, while trying to achieve as many escapement goals as possible.”

Poor escapement numbers of kings in the Big Susitna and Little Susitna river drainages over recent years has prompted several emergency orders to deal with the low returns, including harvest limits and closing the season early in 2012. “To give you and idea (of how kings have been faring locally), we have 17 (escapement) goals in the Northern Cook Inlet,” Ivey said. “Prior to the downturn, we’d achieve 93 percent of those goals on average for the five years preceding the downturn in 2007. Since 2007, we’ve achieved a little under half, on average, about 41 percent. That’s area-wide.” Along with limiting harvest to two kings for the season, which runs through July 13, the emergency orders place the following restrictions on area river drainages: • Although the limit of kings from the fresh waters of Cook Inlet remains at five, no more than two may be taken in combination from the Susitna River and Little Susitna River drainages. Kings taken before May 15 also count against the twoking limit.

• Only one unbaited single-hook artificial lure is allowed in the drainages, including the Deshka River. • Harvest in Unit 4 is restricted to Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, with catch-and-release only allowed Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Harvest is still allowed seven days a week on the Deshka, but bait is not allowed. • Taking kings in Unit 1 (except the Deshka River), on Parks Highway streams within Unit 2, the upper Susitna (Unit 3), Talachulina River (Unit 4), Talkeetna River (Unit 5) and Chulitna River (Unit 6). For these areas, catch-and-release fishing only is allowed during days and times normally open to king salmon fishing. • King harvest in the Little Susitna River is allowed only on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Only catch-and-release is permitted on other days. • The Eklutna Tailrace is excluded from all restrictions. Coming off a 2012 season that saw significant restrictions on area river drainages, the move by Fish and Game is a disappointing way to start this season, but not unexpected, said Mike Hudson, owner of 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla. “I’ve been watching a steady decline in the salmon return numbers for about the last six years,” Hudson said. “I kind of saw this coming. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of blue sky out there and I think there

are some problems. You look at the king salmon fishery, the entire West Cost, it’s been falling for awhile.” For local business and charter owners that cater to the sport fishing industry, the prospect of another lean season is something most are willing to accept to protect the resource, Hudson said. “It’s going to be tough on us, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “However, it’s the department being proactive on forecasting some weak salmon returns. By the department going ahead and putting some restrictions in early will also help reinforce the need for the commercial industry to carry some of that fishing restrictions as well.” By acting now, state officials hope being conservative will allow the season to proceed without closures, Ivey said. “Overall, the annual limit reduction means different things for different areas,” he said. “We need more than just an annual limit reduction by itself. That’s why we have more stringent cuts to harvest in certain areas.” Along with allowing only single hooks and various catch-and-release schedules, the two-king limit is expected to reduce the harvest in the Little Su drainage by about 80 percent, Ivey said. “That’s the comprehensive strategy we See LIMITS, Page 7

ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman file photo

The Eklutna Tailrace is one local area that is exempt from a series of emergency order restrictions on king salmon fishing. Page 4

2013 Fishing Guide

May 21, 2013

Make the most of your spring fishing By Butch and Jehnifer Ehmann Ehmann Outdoors

MAT-SU — Arguably some of the best still-water fishing in the Mat-Su takes place in the spring. Like clockwork with the longer days and slightly warmer temps comes the nagging instinct to break out the fishing poles. Timing is crucial as some of the highest catch rates occur when our lakes are only partially open. Melting ice edges when fished with patience and a variety of lures and flies can provide exhilarating success and help to set the pace for a summer of hook-sets, tight-lines and sore arms. The amount of time it takes for our local lakes to transition from ice fishing to open water varies greatly each year. Factors that affect the speed of the melt are the obvious warmer temperatures and wind, but some years overly excited boaters with spring fever are a huge factor in

Timing is crucial as some of the highest catch rates occur when our lakes are only partially open. Melting ice edges when fished with patience and a variety of lures and flies can provide exhilarating success and help to set the pace for a summer of hook-sets, tight-lines and sore arms. the ice shifting, breaking and faster melt. Catching the lakes in this transition is important because once the ice is gone there tends to be a lull in fishing — or should we say catching, until water clarity once again improves. This unpredictable melt also challenges some of the most seasoned fishermen into finding what the fish are biting. Many factors affect this so-called “bite,” such as water temperature, water clarity, spawning cycles, hatches and lighting requiring chess-like strategy. Each fisherman has his or her own ideas of what works best, but generally speaking, we will try a couple of things that have worked for us

in the past. Our first rule of catching is don’t rule anything out. If it has a hook, bring it along and try a couple casts. If the water clarity is poor but it’s a sunny day, throw something shiny in the drink. If it’s a bright day with great water clarity, try a more grub-like jig. One of my favorite things about springtime fishing is that all the rules you meticulously tested out last summer will at some point fail you. This time of year also offers unique ways to present lures and flies. Sometimes you will have success casting and retrieving, other times fish will prefer a still bobber presentation. Try using the ice to

your advantage by casting on top of it and then tugging lightly until it naturally falls into the water and sinks slowly. Changing your technique can mean the success or failure of any lure. Once the ice is completely out, choose lures or flies that imitate what fish are feeding on. Pay attention to what’s flying and swimming around, and again throw a wide variety of bait. Also this time of year, take into account that our native stocks are spawning therefore catch and careful releasing of these fish will ensure healthy future populations. When all of this is said and certainly done, one thing is for sure — spring isn’t just for organizing our tackle boxes anymore. Butch and Jehnifer Ehmann are owners of Ehmann Outdoors and live in Palmer. They can be reached on Facebook @Ehmann Outdoors or through their website,

Resource spotlight

A visit to will help any river or lake fisherman looking for the best return on their investment of effort. Don’t forget to check out the new Alaska Lake Database, an interactive page that features 3D maps and tons of information on local lakes. May 21, 2013

2013 Fishing Guide

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2013 Fishing Guide

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with a variety of lures, he said. This is where you’ll make important choices about what will attract fish the best. “As far as lures go, there are lures that cross over well, stuff that has to be in your box,” Hudson said. “Blue Fox Vibrax, that’s huge, or the Kodiak Custom Tackle stuff. Blue Fox Vibrax catches everybody. There’s about, I would say four or five very core colors that work extremely well.” There’s silver-blue, silver-orange, something dark. “You can get these in a variety of different sizes for multiple species,” he said. They also come with an optional single hook, which works well for the Valley because of the single-hook restrictions in some areas. Along with lures, most tackle boxes should also be equipped with some basic drift gear, he said. That includes a variety of spinning glows and some fluorescent yarn to use when you can’t use bait. “With these rigs like this, once you get a rig all set up, they’re good because with restrictions, in some areas you can’t use bait,” he said. “This adds as an attractor and they’re pretty darn successful with kings without bait.” Confused yet? Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. In fact, Hudson said one of his most important pieces of advice is to ask other fishermen or tackle shops what works. In many cases, they’ll steer you to the right tackle and save you a significant amount of time and money from not buying unnecessary gear. While there are many options for lures, there a couple of basic tools that are essential for every fisherman no matter what, Hudson said. First is a good quality multi-tool. “That does everything,” he said. “It gets hooks out, it fixes your gear, it cuts leaders, it cuts spline, it fixes your outboard. A quality multi-tool is definitely a must. It never goes anywhere without me. I have it with me all the time.” Second is something that surprises most people when Hudson tells them. “Everybody always asks me what the No. 1 most important piece of equipment is when you’re ready to start fishing,” he said. “I always tell them it’s polarized sunglasses. You only get one chance to get your eye ripped out with a hook. You don’t get a second chance. I’ve probably broken a half dozen pairs of sunglasses with spinners and hooks over the years.” For more information about tackle and gear, contact Mike Hudson at 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle at or 373-5434.

species we are fishing for and what kind of shore access we have. Our girls have gotten the job done many times with a click and flick Snoopy pole, so rod choice is really all left up to personal preference. Regarding tackle and flies, there’s really a time and place to justify using just about all of it throughout the season. For rainbows, in the very early or very late spring that we seem to be having currently, we tend to fish soft grubs and jigs off the ice edges until more open water is present. Once we have some room for casting we look more to hatch imitations. Mid-summer, anything is game and we usually come prepared with the whole tackle box with everything from nymphs, dragon fly larva, egg sucking leeches, bead patterns and mepps spinners to take us into fall. Regardless of where you choose to go or what you choose to fish for, this summer will be an important one to discover stillwater fishing in the Mat-Su if you haven’t already. For more detailed information on stillwater fishing opportunities in the Mat-Su, Ehmann Outdoors will be providing a Stillwater Seminar at the Dorothy Page

May 21, 2013


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want,” he said. “Some systems are more prone to overharvest and we’re making those catch-and-release only.” For the Little Susitna River, “we’re looking for around a 75 percent reduction in harvest on that river alone, and that’s about what we had last year when we put restrictions in early, then closed the river. The main thing is to provide opportunity — whatever that may be — through the whole season through July 13,” Ivey said. “What impacts most users out there is if we have to close down a whole season.” Another below-average sport fishing season isn’t what Deshka Landing ordered, but if that’s what it takes to help protect kings in the drainage, that’s what he supports, said Joseph Wright, president of the Deshka Landing Board of Directors. The restrictions “just confirms what I had an idea was coming,” he said. “When it comes to restrictions, we’ve got to protect the fishery and it’s a crisis. I’m rather pleased they restricted the bait on the Deshka, that’s a good move. … It’s a conservative approach. … I firmly believe the

Courtesy Ehmann Outdoors

Jehnifer Ehmann shows off a large rainbow trout caught in a Mat-Su lake.

Museum in Wasilla from 5 to 7 p.m., May 27. Butch and Jehnifer will have on hand tackle, rods and information on how to plan for your next stillwater trip in the Mat-Su.

Butch and Jehnifer Ehmann are owners of Ehmann Outdoors and live in Palmer. They can be reached on Facebook @Ehmann Outdoors or through their website,

‘We tried to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the downturn in king salmon we’ve been seeing specifically in our area.’

One study Hudson said he saw found that the pollock harvest was catching up to 150,000 kings. “That’s a lot of fish,” he said. “The problem isn’t just in the Upper Cook Inlet. If you look at the bigger picture, it’s the entire West Coast.” Until there’s more comprehensive data showing what is causing the poor return of salmon to local rivers and streams, the sport fishing industry will be hurting, Hudson said. “It’s tough, and it’s not just me this affects,” he said. “People cancel trips and they won’t go. They won’t pay guides and spend a lot of money to come up here and not be able to take fish home. It’s a huge ripple effect. There are millions of dollars spent across this state, and in particularly this roadside fishery, that just goes away.” In the end, Hudson said he’s concerned about the future of the fishery, one he calls unique. “You can’t go anywhere else in the world that you can fly into an international airport, rent a car, drive 45 minutes and fish for five species of wild salmon,” he said. “It’s that unique.”

— Sam Ivey, biologist Division of Sport Fish

fishery should be closed to bait until you know what the escapement is going to be. If you have a poor escapement, it’s too late (by that time) to do anything about it.” For Hudson, the last five or six years of lean king returns is indicative of a more wider-reaching problem. It’s not just that kings aren’t passing local weirs, it’s that they’re not making it back to Alaska waters in the first place, he said. Pollock fishing along the West Coast is catching thousands of kings in its nets. “Being an astronomically huge industry — because pollock is basically a cod and it’s a global thing and a big money maker — it’s hard to regulate those fishermen,” he said.

2013 Fishing Guide

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2013 Fishing Guide

May 21, 2013

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Fishing in the Mat-Su Valley