The greater Copper Valley area along with Valdez Arm is the least-fished on the road system in the Southcentral region. It is certainly not because of a lack of fish or scenery; the valley and its surrounding waterways have angling quality and scenic beauty to match any roadside fishery in the state, offering both top-notch freshwater as well as saltwater opportunities. In addition, several of the largest volcanoes in Alaska can be found here and, along with the snow-covered Wrangell Mountains, provide a majestic backdrop to most any angling excursion. The fjord-like landscape of Valdez at the northern edge of Prince William Sound has aptly earned the nickname of “Little Switzerland.”
Lakes and clearwater streams are generously spread throughout the area, most of which flow into the vast Copper River, a major glacier-fed body of water cutting its way from the Interior of the state all the way to the North Gulf Coast. These waters are rich in salmon runs, particularly kings and reds, and help drive an entire ecosystem supporting healthy populations of rainbow trout, lake trout, Dolly Varden, and arctic grayling. Situated to the south is Valdez Arm, a destination entirely of its own sporting tremendous runs of primarily pink and silver salmon and world-class bottomfish opportunities for halibut, lingcod, and rockfish.
Those visiting this area of the state will appreciate the rustic feel of the fisheries as population centers are far and few compared to other roadside angling destinations. Services and amenities offered are relatively minimal, with the possible exception of Valdez that supports good infrastructure for even the most discriminate traveler.
Area Roads & Highways
Several highways connect the small towns and settlements in the area with other parts of the state as well as Canada and the Lower 48. Richardson Highway is the main artery, originating in the coastal port of Valdez (Milepost 0) at the head of Valdez Arm and cuts vertically through the entire Copper Valley, joining the Glenn Highway in Glennallen (Milepost 115), Tok Cutoff in Gakona (Milepost 128), Denali Highway in Paxson (Milepost 185), and Alaska Highway in Delta Junction (Milepost 266) before terminating in the Interior city of Fairbanks (Milepost 362). Nearly all of the most important sport fisheries in the area can be found along this highway. Glenn Highway, originating in Anchorage (Milepost 0), heads eastward and joins the Richardson Highway in the town of Glennallen (Milepost 189). Small lakes and clearwater creeks are plentiful along the Glenn.
There area many side roads of the Richardson and Glenn highways that anglers can capitalize on, leading to more remote sections of various featured drainages, as well as providing additional access to smaller and perhaps lesser-fished waters.
Major Fisheries / Hot Spots
Almost a couple of dozen productive fishing spots line the road system in the Copper Valley/Valdez area; however, only three of them experience large runs of salmon and productive populations of resident game species that attract significant angling effort.
Clear-flowing Gulkana River north of Glennallen supports two runs of red salmon lasting from early summer into fall, an early run of kings, and has some noteworthy rainbow trout action and arguably some of the best arctic grayling fishing in the entire state. Moreover, just to the south, the larger and swifter glacial-green Klutina is home to huge late-run king salmon, many specimens of which exceed the 50-pound trophy mark, and two red runs that span the entire summer. Both of these systems are easily fished from the bank at the various access points but the use of rafts and powerboats are common as well. The Tonsina River is a highly productive yet rarely fished system, supporting runs of late-run kings, reds, and silvers as well as Dolly Varden and arctic grayling. Good populations of bear, moose, and other wildlife are present.
Port Valdez is the area highlight of marine fisheries and the only hot spot of Northern Prince William Sound accessible by road. Silver and pink salmon are the main species, both of which yield exceptional fishing during the summer and early fall months. Other species of interest include king salmon, halibut, lingcod, rockfish, and salmon shark. Very lucrative salmon and halibut derbies extend through the summer into fall, providing even more incentive for anglers. Wildlife is abundant.
Other Productive Fisheries
Besides the main river and marine fisheries, there are several other places to visit that offer good fishing opportunities for at least one or more species of game fish. The vast highland lakes in the northern portion of Copper Valley – Louise, Paxson, and Summit – are known for trophy lake trout (up to 20 pounds or more), grayling, and burbot, while area streams support seasonally excellent grayling opportunities.
However, the southern section of the valley has a quite different angling perspective, with fewer small streams and lakes yet most all harboring populations of salmon, char, and grayling.
There is only one other location in the Valdez area that offers any viable fishing (apart from a couple of stocked lakes). Robe River has decent populations of early-run red salmon, pink salmon, and autumn silver salmon, with hot fishing for Dolly Varden.
Anglers looking for a little extra adventure to add to their roadside fishing may want to consider a couple of options. One is to fly into a select number of lakes to sample excellent action for lake trout, wild rainbow trout, and grayling. There is even some great fishing available for king and red salmon in a few remote streams. For a really unique experience, consider a trip into the Wrangell Mountains for steelhead trout.
Another option is to do some float fishing. Anglers are dropped off at a lake where they can portage through to a remote stream and spend days to weeks rafting or canoeing through undisturbed wilderness in pursuit of red salmon, rainbow trout, and arctic grayling. For a unique experience, consider a September trip into the Wrangell Mountains and Hanagita River for steelhead trout.
Anglers fishing out of Valdez have great options to add variety to their catch by exploring one of dozens of remote bays, coves, and streams of Prince William Sound that support large stocks of salmon, char, and bottomfish – even sea-run trout. Travel by charter boat is a popular and cost-effective way of fishing the more distant parts of the sound. Aircraft are sometimes used to access locations that are a considerable jaunt from the road system, such as those found on Montague and Hinchinbrook islands.
Sport Fishing Regulations
The Copper Valley is in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim & Upper Copper/Upper Susitna River regulations summary booklet as provided by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G), under the “Upper Copper/Upper Susitna River” section. The Valdez area is covered in the Southcentral Alaska regulations summary booklet under the “Prince William Sound” section. Open and closed seasons and areas, legal tackle and gear, bag and possession limits, and fish size restrictions may vary from drainage to drainage and between species. Consult a copy of the regulations before fishing or call the ADF&G regional/field offices directly for information.
Glennallen: (907) 822-3309
Anchorage: (907) 267-2218