When to go dipnetting
The first season opening period on the Copper River begins between June 7th and 14th. ADF&G sets the times and dates for fishing periods based on run strength and their projections for the salmon run. See our fishing information page or the ADF&G schedule for up to date information on the weekly schedule.
Ensure the fishery is open before coming to Chitina! The personal use fishery is managed by "emergency openings". The openings are typically scheduled at least a week in advance. There could be occasion where an opening is cancelled, even part way through the scheduled times/dates though that is rare/has perhaps never happened. Check the schedules listed above for times and dates.
In recent years, the Copper River king salmon run has been weak, forcing ADF&G to curtail or severely restrict the harvest of the one king allowed in the Chitina personal use bag limit. It is recommended that if you are interested in harvesting a king, plan your trip early in the season. If the king salmon season is shut down, all kings finding their way into your net must be returned, unharmed and with as little stress as possible, to the water. That means, among other things, no selfies with your out-o-season kings! ADF&G will announce when kings are closed and CDA will relay that information on this website.
The first factor to check when planning a trip is the salmon run strength. You won't catch much if the fish aren't in our fishing area! Check online forums or with friends to see if people are catching fish at Chitina. Check the fish counts at Fish and Game's Miles Lake sonar station. Salmon take between two and three weeks to travel from the Miles Lake sonar to the personal use fishing area. If you see a big bolt of fish coming through the counter, two or three weeks later they should be in the Chitina area. The Chitina Dipnetters maintain historical copies of the ADF&G sonar data and has graphics available for comparison between runs over the years.
Your second factor to consider, is the level of water in the Copper River. River level greatly affects river fishability. Not only is high water more difficult to fish in, the fish tend to not travel as much, so the few fish that are caught are not being replaced by new fish coming upstream. The two primary influencing factors on water level are precipitation and heat. Heavy rain anywhere upstream of Chitina will cause river–levels to rise quickly.This is only magnified where the river narrows in Woods Canyon. The CDA Graphs page will help you keep an eye on river level at the Chitina Bridge. The second factor is heat. Hot, sunny days melt snow and glacial ice, causing river levels to rise. Four or five days of hot, sunny weather usually blows out fishing until cooler weather prevails. Finally, very occasionally, a back-country glacial ice dam breaks, releasing vast quantities of water resulting in very quickly rising water levels without warning. This occurs infrequently, but fishing is blown out for a day or two after until the water recedes.
What to Bring
The Copper River is cold, swift, and unforgiving. It's essential to bring a strong sense of personal safety, as there are few second chances if you fall into the river.
License and permit
A sport fishing license and Chitina Personal Use dipnet permit are required. ADF&G sells them online or they are available at various sporting good vendors around the state. Make sure to print and carry your fishing license and dipnet permit while fishing or transporting your catch. Dipnet permits cost $15 and are issued per household, not individually! Permit holders are allowed an annual bag limit of 25 salmon plus 10 salmon for each additional household member.
You'll need to bring the normal Alaskan adventure gear: warm clothes, boots, rain gear, and a place to stay (camper, tent, motor home, or rough it). Local lodging may be available in and around Chitina, but be sure to reserve in advance if that is your plan. Groceries and restaurants are not always available in Chitina, so either bring food and cooking equipment or know that an establishment will be open.
The fishing portion of the adventure requires, at absolute minimum,
Chitina PU dipnet permit
Alaska Sport Fish License
You'll almost certainly want a number of other items to make your fishing trip much safer/ easier/less frustrating, including
strong tie-off ropes and harnesses in case you fall in the water
smaller line utility
backpack or buckets to carry fish to vehicle
Folding table or other surface for cleaning/filleting fish.
If you intend to fish from challenging sections of the shoreline, safety ropes and harnesses to tie yourself to shore are highly recommended. Some fishing areas are inaccessible without climbing ropes. Do not bring kids or dogs that might jump in the water!
The Town of Chitina
Chitina is a small town. Businesses come and go every year. Sometimes gasoline, groceries, ice and other supplies are available; sometimes not! We try to keep a list of active businesses on our website but cannot promise the list will always be up to date. Kenny Lake, 26 miles back towards the Richardson Highway, pretty reliably has all services.
After you've finished catching fish, you need to get them from your fishing site back to your vehicle. If you took a charter, the charter company will help you manage your fish back to the road. If you're on your own, you might have some work cut out for you!
Five or fewer fish is a reasonable number for most people to carry back to their wheels. Some people clean or even fillet their fish before carrying them to their wheels, especially if it's a long or difficult carry. A backpack lined with trash sack can ease the carrying process.
It is essential to properly clean, cool, and process your catch in a timely manner! If you don't clean/fillet at your fishing site, a popular cleaning area is O'Brien Creek. Bring a table or table-like surface to work on. A piece of plywood works well if you don't mind squatting down or propping it up on rocks/a tailgate. Commercial cleaning/fillet facilities and services may be available at O'Brien Creek depending how busy the charter company is. Your cleaning area MUST dump fish waste into the mainstream Copper River. Be bear aware - never clean fish on the trails, roads, lakes or other areas where waste cannot be carried away! If you clean fish at your fishing site, make sure to toss all waste into the river and wash the area down when finished. A five gallon bucket is a must here. Cleaning and filleting salmon are beyond this already long tutorial, but numerous videos and tutorials are available online.
Heat is the enemy of fresh fish! Be sure to sufficiently ice your fish ASAP, particularly if driving more than an hour or two. Ice is usually available in Glennallen, but they have been known to run out at the height of the fishing season. Ice is inexpensive enough and it is worth bringing a supply with you from Fairbanks or Anchorage instead of risking no local availability. Unless you have flake ice, put your fish in coolers and pour ice over the top. If bagged ice cubes are frozen together, break them up to better cover the fish.
Many people freeze their fish, but smoking and canning are other options. Most commonly, people use a FoodSaver or other vacuum packing machine to seal fillets in air-tight pouches before freezing. Chamber type vacuum machines may not have the capacity to seal a full-length fillet - but don't despair - simply cut the fillet in half, fold the two halves flesh-side together, bag and seal. Always clean the mouth of the bag or pouch before sealing to ensure a good seal.
Be sure to spread your fresh fish around the freezer. A big, thick mass of fish could take several days or longer to freeze. Spread your fish out in the freezer so they freeze more quickly. Afterwards, rearrange the fish for storage.
Canning & Smoking
Canning is a time-honored way to preserve your catch. Canning fish is more time consuming than freezing, but you don't need a freezer, or even power, to keep your fish edible for up to two years. Canning in jars or cans is not difficult, but does require some special equipment. It is also essential to follow USDA and State guidelines to safely preserve your food. See the links below for more information.
The fish smoking techniques most people use are more for flavor and texture than for long-term preservation of the catch. Smoked fish can be frozen or canned for long-term preservation.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service has a number of publications to help you with canning and smoking your catch. CDA president Chuck Derrick has a smoked canned salmon recipe that's pretty tasty.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has an excellent four part video series on the basics of dipnetting.