The Coho Connection – Cordova Alaska
By John L. Beath
Splashes of fish trying to throw hooks echoed across Ibeck Creek’s shrub-lined shores causing me to look downstream. With fly rod in hand my gaze focused on two anglers with spinning rods 100 yards away. Both anglers had coho wildly jumping at the end of their lines trying to shake sharp hooks. Seconds later the next angler upstream swung hard on a fish, sending a third silver-bright coho twisting and thrashing out of the water in violent protest. The scene confirmed the upstream migration of a fresh-from-the-salt school of aggressive Prince William Sound Alaska coho salmon.
These upstream surges occur several times per day on Ibeck Creek, Eyak River and a dozen other rivers and creeks within reach of anglers based in Cordova Alaska. When these hard-fighting coho, weighing between 8 to 18 pounds move upstream, they strike at virtually anything in their path. And like all fisheries, some lures and flies get more intense responses than others.
After anxiously watching and waiting for five minutes as the coho moved upstream past the spin anglers, my weighted bunny leach drifted along a deep slot near a fallen stump. At the bottom of the drift two V wakes erupted from the center of the creek moving toward the sweeping fly at the end of its drift. A fat 14-pound buck coho with a large hooked nose kype arrived first and slammed the bunny leach. The second smaller fish turned away in a flash of silver, losing out to superior size and speed. Watching big coho hit a fly through polarized glasses is exciting but nothing compared to feeling the fish’s bone-jarring hit. My seven weight rod bent to the breaking point on impact with the fish’s gaping maw.
In just three hours time, this was the fourteenth coho strike of the day and the third “keeper” coho of the day to complete my daily limit. No matter which coho river or creek you choose to fish while visiting Cordova, catch and release is advised. Anyone who keeps the first three fish they land might be finished in less than an hour’s time. After retaining a freshwater limit of three coho, anglers can fish the saltwater for three additional coho. Cordova has a thriving enhanced coho fishery at Fleming Spit, just north of town.
A paved sidewalk at the edge of the saltwater provides a great place to cast into the sea.The ocean-side fishery at Fleming Spit is a high tide event regardless of time of day. When the Fleming Spit coho run appears, local families enjoy this fishery and line the sidewalk, in hopes of catching a six fish saltwater limit. As the high tide crests, schools of coho swim in wide circles, inching closer to the two underground culverts leading to the freshwater enhancement ponds. Fleming Spit enhancement coho move into the culverts at high tide and then stage in two ponds across the two lane road. During low tides or when coho don’t bite in the saltwater, anglers can site cast spinners or flies to dozens of coho in the freshwater ponds. Anglers also use eggs under bobbers here with tremendous success.
The Fleming Spit fishery can be amazing and incredibly fun for the whole family. When these fish go on the bite they will rush from deeper water chasing your fly or lure into the shallows, sometimes right at your feet before clamping their jaws down on the hook. If rains swell local rivers and creeks, Fleming Spit is the best alternative to save the day and provide good fishing.
Cordova’s most famous and productive fishery is the Eyak River. The Eyak is easily accessed by road and close to town. One section of the river is a fly-only area next to the highway and offers an excellent opportunity to catch coho. Farther down stream coho provide easy limits for anglers fishing from self-guided or guided boats. The Eyak River is a perfect coho fishing river with long slow drifts, massive sand bars and miles of “fishy” drifts. Coho from Cordova’s Eyak River are among the fattest, heaviest cohos in Alaska. Averages sizes here range from 10 to 14 pounds with the largest exceeding 20 pounds.
Anglers based in Cordova can also choose to experience a remote excursion to one of a dozensmall streams within Prince William Sound. Orca Adventure Lodge offers boat excursions as well as fly-in trips to some of the best Alaska coho fisheries. These fisheries are remote and filled with wild runs of fat, feisty coho. During one trip I landed 60 fish on the fly in four hours. Aggressive coho also take top water wogs with their backs half out of water and their mouths gaped wide open on impact.
Timing your trip to Cordova is critical – be there anytime from August 20th to Sept 15th and you won’t be disappointed. Cordova is landlocked; you must either fly there or arrive via Alaska Ferry. If you can afford to fly to Cordova or Anchorage, virtually any budget can experience a Cordova coho fishing trip.
Budget minded anglers can fly to Anchorage and rent a car or motor home, drive to Valdez and then take the daily Alaska Ferry to Cordova. Or they can fly to Cordova, rent a car and choose any number of affordable places to stay. You can also book with Orca Adventure Lodge and choose an ala carte trip or all-inclusive experience, including boat outs, fly outs and guided fishing on the Eyak River.
Regardless of which choice you make, a Cordova Alaska coho salmon fishing trip will spoil you for life. Most of the anglers you meet have been here before and make this an annual fishing trip. You will also meet many anglers from Germany who rank Cordova as the best coho fishery in Alaska because of its roadside access to several great locations including the Eyak River and Ibeck Creek. Before booking your trip make sure to make plenty of room in your freezer because you will need the space. I’ve never failed to bring home a box of prime vacuum sealed fillets from Cordova – my favorite coho destination in Alaska!
Best Lures & Flies
By far the most popular spin lures are the Mepps, Vibrax, Pixies and Kodiak Custom Tackle GI Sspinners or Silicone Spinners in size 4 and 5. Fluorescent red, green and yellow are top choices for these lures. However, my favorite and most productive spinners are the Kodiak Custom Tackle Silicone Spinners.
The experts at the local Cordova fly shop, Whiskey Ridge Trading Company recommend anglers bring hot pink, purple, olive, white and black egg sucking leaches in size #4. Also bring a few Bunny leaches in the same size and colors. Skykomish Sunrise, Mickey Finn and Popsicle fly patterns also work well in size #4. Also bring a selection of size #2 flies.
Rods & Reels
Spin and bait casters should come equipped with medium action rods in the 7 to 8 ½ foot length range rated for 12 to 20-pound test. Choosing to go light also works, but you will loose a few fish. When going light with spin tackle I prefer an 8-foot rod rated for 8 to 12-pound line. It won’t take an expensive setup to land these fish – they don’t look at the price tag when they hit with enough force to make inexpensive rods quiver with energy. Reels, spinning or bait casting should be capable of holding at least 125 yards of quality monofilament.
Fly rods in the 7 to 10 weight class work well and cover the range of light to heavy for these heavy-bodied coho. 10-foot sink tip lines work best for Cordova coho.
Seasons & Limits
Prior to wetting a line everyone should be sure to check the local regulations as they can change from year to year. The total dailycoho limit is six fish, of which only three may come from fresh water. In other words, if you catch a three fish limit in the river, you can catch three more fish in saltwater.
Many of the charter providers, including Fishing and Flying Service provide incredible opportunities to fish for native coho. When fishing for native stocks anglers should remember to conserve their catch in an effort to help ensure the future of a special breed of coho native to Prince William Sound. With so many hatchery fish to catch and keep in the area, anglers can catch and keep more than enough fish to provide plenty of meals.
Alaska Fish & Game, Prince William Sound region. (907) 424-3212
Alaska Visitor’s Association www.travelalaska.com
State of Alaska Homepage www.state.ak.us
Alaska Marine Highway System (800) 642-0066 www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/index.shtml
Cordova Chamber of Commerce http://www.cordovachamber.com
Fishing & Flying (907) 424-3324
Chinook Auto Rentals (877) 424-5279 www.chinookautorentals.com
Whiskey Ridge Trading Company (fishing tackle) (907) 424-3354
Hotels & Lodges
Orca Adventure Lodge (866) 424-6722 http://www.cordovafishing.com
Alaskan Hotel (907) 424-3299
The Cordova Lighthouse Inn (907) 424-7673
Laura’s Suites (907) 424-3144 http://www.lauras-suites.com
Prince William Motel, (888) 796-6835
Reluctant Fisherman Inn (877) 770-3272
Bear Den Cabins (907) 424-7168 http://www.bearsdencabins.com