Dipnetting Fish Creek
The Fish Creek Personal Use Fishery is a hit-or-miss affair, because it is only open if escapement minimums are met. The trigger point for opening the fishery is 35,000 fish, and ADFG opens the fishery if weir counts indicate escapement minimums will be met. Once escapement is met, the fishery may open. Hours available for dipnetting change from year to year, so it’s important to keep in contact with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game before heading to Fish Creek. This fishery is very popular with residents of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, due to its close proximity to both urban areas.The Fish Creek Personal Use Fishery is a hit-or-miss affair, because it is only open if escapement minimums of 35,000 fish are met. Once escapement is met, the fishery may open. Hours available for dipnetting change from year to year, so it’s important to check with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game before heading to Fish Creek. This fishery is very popular with residents of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, due to its close proximity to both urban areas.
Fish Creek flows just over 13 miles from Big Lake to Cook Inlet’s Knik Arm. It hosts runs of all five species of Pacific salmon, but the primary target for dipnetters is red salmon. Silvers are incidental, and in some years the pink salmon are thick as well.
The Fish Creek Personal Use Fishery primarily targets sockeye salmon, though silvers, pinks and chums have been caught at the same time. Any king salmon that are caught must be immediately released, without removing them from the water.
This fishery is open by Emergency Order only after ADFG is able to determine if escapement minimums willl be met. Opening dates can vary, along with the hours allowed for dipnetting. Some years, the fishery is closed. The chart below highlights in red the usual timing of the dipnet fishery, the last two weeks in July in years when the fishery may be open.
There are two ways to get to Fish Creek. The first, and most popular is to drive. Fish Creek is located at MP 16 from the Parks Highway junction. It’s 49.6 miles from Anchorage to the intersection of the Parks Highway and Knik Goose Bay Road. From there it’s another 16 miles to the bridge over Fish Creek. Park on the north side of the highway. There’s a dirt parking area on the left before you cross the bridge. If that area is full, some opt to park on the shoulder of the road.
The only other way to get to Fish Creek is by boat. Put in at the dirt ramp at the Parks Highway bridge over the Knik River. It’s about 18 miles from there to the mouth of Fish Creek. This run is best made close to high tide, to avoid the numerous mud bars and shallow water on the Inlet.
If you're dipnetting from shore, waders are essential at Fish Creek, not only for dipnetting in the mud along the creek bottom, but for accessing dipnetting areas. Numerous tidal guts must be crossed, and some of them are filled with loose mud.
This fishery may open and close on short notice, based on management escapement objectives. Check with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game before dipnetting at Fish Creek.
Fish Creek is bordered by private property that runs from the bridge to the river mouth. Land may be posted or not, but in Alaska private land is not required to be posted. The difficulty in dipnetting Fish Creek is in avoiding trespassing, as pretty much everything above the high tide line is private land. This includes the grassy areas on both sides of the river mouth area. The surest way to avoid trespassing is to dipnet out of a boat.
The photo below shows some dipnetters fishing at low tide. These people are well below the private property visible in the sedge-covered areas above. Pretty much anything with sedges growing on it is private land here!
Discard fish waste in the deepest part of the creek, where the current and tides will wash it out into the Inlet. Better yet, clean your fish at home. Do not discard fish waste on the banks or in the surrounding woods! These are private lands, and fish waste will attract bears. Because this fishery is very small, compared to others, a bear in the area will completely disrupt other dipnetters, and pose a danger to anyone in the area.
The greatest hazard at Fish Creek is the muddy banks. The mud is comprised mostly of glacial silt that’s been washed down from rivers draining into Knik Arm, over thousands of years. This silt layer is many feet thick, and dipnetters are easily trapped in this mud to the point that they cannot get free without help. Some dipnetters will bring along a small square of plywood to stand on while dipnetting, and this can be a tremendous help. Be sure to haul it home with you when you’re finished. Without something firm to stand on, it’s possible to gradually sink into the mud without noticing an issue until you try to move on. Change positions frequently and avoid places with standing water.
The tide can move in very quickly on Fish Creek! Check the tide tables before dipnetting, and pay attention to the water level. The creek can rise a foot or more in a matter of seconds, giving you little time to move to higher ground.
Finding a place to get your net in the water without trespassing on private land is the biggest challenge to dipnetting Fish Creek. Review the following notes for the best ideas, and a general orientation to the area.
1. Primary Parking Area. There's a dirt turnout here where most people park while dipnetting. It's legal to park here as it's in the public highway easement. Use caution when crossing the road to Fish Creek, as traffic moves along rapidly through this stretch. Alternative parking is along the shoulder of the road, if this area is full.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game maintains a Port-a-Potty at this location. A dumpster is also provided for garbage.
2. Upper Creek Area. This area is narrow and flows along over a rocky bottom at low tide. This area holds few fish at low tide, but there are pools where dipnetting may be possible. As the tide comes in, you will find yourself crowded up into the edges of private lands on boths ides of the creek.
3. Private Land, South Side. The south side of the creek is treed, giving way to sedges near the creek itself. A muddy path usually develops in this area during dipnetting season, but it frequently ends up on private property. There are several tidal guts that branch off of the creek, and crossing these can be difficult due to viscous, boot-sucking mud.
4. Private Land, North Side. There's a trail through the woods just off the highway here, that takes you to the river. Portions of that trail are on private land. Local landowners are pretty tolerant about dipnetters using this trail, however they could close it off at any time. Help ensure this area remains accessible by not dumping trash or human waste here. Under no circumstances should you gather firewood in this area. If you must have a fire, bring your own wood and burn it well below the tide line, on public land.
5. Creek Mouth Area. The lower creek area offers the best dipnetting opportunities, because there's more room to fish here. It's best just before and just after high tide, when there's plenty of room to avoid trespassing. Fish tend to come in with the tide.
One of the most popular ways to avoid trespass on Fish Creek is to float down from the bridge in a canoe or raft at high tide. The current at that time is slack, and moving upstream or downstream is easily done.
Caring for Your Catch
The logistics of keeping your fish clean in this fishery are daunting, to say the least. In most cases, your fish will be covered with mud, along with all your gear. You can rinse some things off in the creek during low tide, which is not a bad idea. The most accessible places to do this are in the upper portions of the creek, toward the highway bridge. It's not generally recommended that you clean your fish here, as there is no good way to dispose of the carcasses and entrails. You can't dispose of it in the woods, because it's private land. Theoretically you could toss it in the creek, but the dipnet area is so narrow that there's a good chance you're going to cause issues with other dipnetters catching your fish waste instead of fish. Your best bet is to stun and bleed your fish here, and take them home to process. If you prefer to clean your fish here, haul the waste out.
Be sure to review our page on Caring for Your Catch for some great ideas on how to preserve your fish for excellent table fare!
Celebrate Diversity! Pick up Someone's Trash!
Very few Alaskans were born here, and most of those came from parents or grandparents who moved here from somewhere else. At the same time, we live among people who can trace their ancestry back to a time when Alaska was a very primitive place, devoid of the modern trappings of development. So Alaska is an amazing melting pot of diverse cultures, with vastly diverse perspectives on nature, the environment, and on how we conduct ourselves in the field. Most of the cultures represented in Alaska today have their roots in a strong love for the outdoors, and an intensely personal environmental ethic. Traditional Samoan culture has a very high regard for the environment and man's place in it. Filipino culture embraces a concept they call "pakikisama", or "harmony", in which getting along with others is respected. They also incorporate the principle of "hiya", or "shame". It's a sense of social decency that drives them to comply with public norms of behavior. Japanese culture embraces the notion of living with nature, as opposed to the Western concept of taming nature. Alaska native culture embraces a love for the land and the creatures that live on it, recognizing man's role as a participant in nature. Western culture, though having gone through times when care for the environment took a back seat to industrial progress, has come full-circle to now setting high standards of environmental protection and accountability. Gone are the days when tossing beer cans into the weeds at the old fishing hole, or flipping cigarette butts into the river were accepted practices. Now, we pick up after ourselves and those around us.
As interest in Alaska grows, we are seeing an increase in the numbers of people on our rivers and lakes. Some of these people come from places where strong environmental ethics were not in place, and they are bringing that here. We are seeing an increase in trash left behind by people who should know better. A bag full of trash, left lying where a trash can used to be, will attract other people to leave their trash in that place as well. Let's break that cycle, by hauling out our own trash.
Regardless of your cultural or social background, we are all Alaskans, and we share a strong environmental perspective. We don't want our home to become like some of the places we came from. The Alaskan environmental ethic drives us to not only haul out our own trash, but to bring along a couple of extra bags to pick up after other people as well. We teach our children to do the same, because this is our cultural norm. Many of the dipnetting sites in Alaska have no trash facilities, and garbage left behind by some becomes a burden others must clean up. Let's take the initiative to show our love for this amazing place by cleaning up after ourselves, and by leaving no trace of our campsites.
Need More Information About Alaska Dipnetting?
We've got you covered! Check out the Dipnetting Menu on the left side of this page, or click one of the links below for more information.
Check out the following links to the various dipnetting locations in Alaska.
Dipnetting the Twentymile River
Alaska's Twentymile River is the outflow of a collection of glacially-fed lakes and streams in the Chugach Mountains near Portage. The river carries a heavy load of glacial silt, therefore the water is an opaque gray color, limiting water clarity to less than an inch. The river is host to several anadromous fish runs, including several species of salmon. The river passes under the Seward Highway at MP 80.7. Twentymile is the first dipnet fishery of the season, with activity peaking during the month of May.
The Hooligan Page
Hooligan (thaleichthys pacificus), also known as "candlefish" or "eulachon" are a species of smelt, similar to capelin (mallotus villosus), rainbow smelt (osmerus mordax), and longfin smelt (spirinchus thaleichthys). They travel into several Alaska rivers on their spring spawning run, in some cases by the tens of thousands. Eagles, gulls, bears, and humans congregate in some of these places to indulge in the bounty. Hooligan are an interesting species in that unknown environmental factors often cause them to change destination streams unexpectedly. A particular river may see a strong hooligan run for several years, then suddenly a river that historically had none sees a deluge of fish.