This expansive region offers dynamic fisheries for many primary game species. The valleys of Matanuska and Susitna, including drainages of Knik Arm and the Chulitna basin, promote easy road access to many prime fishing spots and are known for their great small stream and lake fisheries for salmon, trout, char, and grayling. The scenic value is splendid as jagged mountain peaks of several thousand feet tower above the valley below where the glacially influenced waters of Matanuska, Knik, Susitna, and Chulitna rivers continuously carve new channels through the timeless landscape.
While there are a handful of waters that support tidewater opportunities for salmon, the majority of waters in this area are situated inland and generally connected to one of several glacial river systems. The trademark of much of this area are the smaller clearwater tributaries of these systems, each teeming with fish and wildlife, including the vast lowlands that are literally covered with lakes and ponds amidst thick spruce, birch, and alder forests. To the north, snow-covered Mount Denali (McKinley) at well over 20,300 feet looms in the distance along with other majestic peaks outlining the horizon.
Area Roads & Highways
Parks and Glenn highways are both important arteries in accessing any lake or stream in this region with a myriad of side roads. Glenn Highway is the primary gateway out of Anchorage (Milepost 0) to the greater Matanuska Valley area, including the towns of Palmer and Wasilla, and continues heading northeast to the settlement of Glennallen in Copper Valley and the junction with Richardson Highway (Milepost 189).
Serving as the main artery of the Susitna Valley, the Parks Highway cuts through the area vertically, running from Wasilla and Anchorage (Milepost 0) in the south in a northerly direction, intersecting various roadside communities before terminating in the city of Fairbanks (Milepost 362) in the Interior. Important junctions include Willow and Hatcher Pass Road (Milepost 71.2), Talkeetna Spur Highway (Milepost 98.7), Trapper Creek and Petersville Road (Milepost 114.8), and Cantwell and the Denali Highway (Milepost 209.9).
The vast majority of primary stream fisheries for salmon and trout occur along the Parks, the Glenn more renowned for its lake fishing opportunities targeting landlocked salmon, trout, char, and grayling.
Major Fisheries / Hot Spots
The “Twin Valleys” region is studded with lakes, streams, and a couple of good-sized rivers, of which some eight of them are considered to be of significant value as true angling destinations. As for the Matanuska Valley and the drainages of Knik Arm, Ship Creek, Eklutna Tailrace, and the Little Susitna River represent the vast majority of angling effort and for good reason as very productive salmon runs keep anglers returning year after year. However, they are also very distinct from each other in appearance, size, species available, and style of fishing.
Ship Creek, located within walking distance of downtown Anchorage, and Eklutna Tailrace, on the outskirts of Palmer, both support wild and hatchery runs of salmon, as well as smaller populations of trout and char. Due to easy access within major population centers, including for those with physical disabilities, these streams enjoy a loyal following of local anglers. In fact, Ship has a reputation of being one of the most visited fishing spots in all of Alaska. King and silver salmon are the top draws but fishable numbers of pinks and chums and char are available too.
Far different are the roadside drainages just to the north; all are semi-remote as they flow through largely undeveloped areas. Susitna Valley offers a plethora of good places to fish, mainly clearwater tributaries draining into the turbid Susitna and Chulitna rivers. There are five of them that really stand out as being exceptionally gifted in terms of numbers of fish and species available, ease of access from the road, and quality of drainage for sport fishing purposes.
Starting with the Little Susitna River and continuing on to the tributaries flowing into the Susitna and Chulitna systems, including Willow, Sheep, and Montana creeks and East Fork Chulitna River. They are known for sizable runs of king and silver salmon, the former which may number in the multiple thousands to even tens of thousands of fish. Even greater densities of pink and chum salmon are present. Byers Creek also sports a sizable red salmon run. The latter species is not widely distributed in these waters but are usually abundant where found. Fly-fishers and others can certainly appreciate the rainbow trout and arctic grayling opportunities that are abundant in the middle and upper reaches of area streams.
All of these northern drainages are perfectly suited for bank fishing with plenty of opportunity for boating, particularly rafting. The Little Susitna is a good place for motor boating and a great place to arrange a multi-day float trip between access points. Willow Creek and East Fork Chulitna are other popular float destinations, but Sheep, Montana, and Byers are generally too small for anything but wading. Additionally, these waters offer some exceptional sight-fishing opportunities.
Other Productive Fisheries
There are several smaller streams in the valley that do not receive the effort of the hot spots described above yet has some very good opportunities for salmon. Jim Creek, tributary of Knik River, is a popular destination with local anglers, providing decent action for reds, silvers, and Dolly Varden. The weekend-only fisheries of Wasilla, Cottonwood, and Fish creeks, draining into Knik Arm, produce runs of primarily red and silver salmon. Some added trout and char action can be had as well. Equally entertaining are the handful of area lakes where both stocked and wild populations of landlocked salmon, trout, char, grayling, and burbot reside.
Apart from the major roadside hot spots of the Susitna basin, anglers have a good selection of additional waters worth exploring. In the southern section, the drainages of Little Willow, Kashwitna, Caswell, and Goose all support runs of king, pink, chum, and silvers salmon plus good action for trout and grayling. These are mainly wade fishing streams because of their size but the semi-glacial Kashwitna is also a prime spot for floating and motor boating. Anglers wanting to try something different may opt to spend some time on one or more of the small lakes in this area that support primarily rainbow trout but also a chance to tangle with northern pike.
Farther north, there is some productive fishing for salmon to be found, primarily king and silver salmon but also reds, pinks, and chums. Rabideux and Sunshine creeks are two local favorites. Lesser-fished yet equally productive waters include Peters, Moose, Troublesome, Honolulu, and the Middle Fork Chulitna where anglers may find worthwhile opportunities for rainbows and grayling. The small drainages of the upper Susitna and Chulitna drainages are known for their good fishing and lack of crowds.
From Wasilla, Palmer, Houston, and Willow, anglers have many great fishing destinations to choose from, the majority of them only a short flight away. The Susitna, Yentna, and Talkeetna river drainages have almost countless clearwater tributaries that support runs or populations of all five salmon species, trout, char, grayling, and pike. All of them are remote, yet do receive a fair amount of fishing pressure during the summer months, especially at the height of the king and silver salmon runs.
Some of the remote waters are only accessible by floatplane, landing on lakes or adjoining sloughs, while boats are utilized to reach other spots. Wheel planes usually land on gravel bars along rivers.
Sport Fishing Regulations
The Matanuska and Susitna valleys, including Knik Arm, are part of the Southcentral Alaska management area with restrictions listed under “Anchorage Bowl,” “Knik Arm,” and “Susitna River Drainage” sections in the booklet as provided by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G). 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:
Palmer: (907) 746-6300
Anchorage: (907) 267-2218