Trip Report: Willow Creek (July 13, 2017)

A Morrish Mouse fooled this Willow Creek rainbow trout. Photo: Ben Rowell

Dark skies moved over the Talkeetna Mountains and into Wasilla, bringing thunder, lightening, and heavy, but brief, rainfall. Not exactly the weather conditions that gets one excited to drive north to bushwhack into a lightly pressured section of Willow Creek. But knowing  there are protein starved rainbow trout waiting for the king salmon egg drop was enough to ignore the weather. Besides, it was time to throw some mice! 

Amateur meteorologist Ryan McCormick predicted the weather would be much better up north and he was right. The roads were dry and the skies were bright with a little bit of haze as we drove through Houston and into Willow. We were excited about exploring a new section of water as we search for a good place to leave the truck.

Hey bear! Photo: Ben Rowell


Willow’s discharge was around 500cfs, which is about average for mid-July, but can provide difficult wading conditions when moving from hole to hole.

With mouse patterns tied to short leaders, we worked our way downstream, casting at fire engine red king salmon and submerged root wads pushed up tight against the bank. The heavy amount of debris is Willow Creek is great fish habitat but can quickly drain a fly box of nymphs and streamers. Even the occasional mouse fly ends up snagged on branches dangling just below the surface.

Casting at debris to lure out the lunkers. Photo: Ben Rowell

While fishing a streamer may have produced more fish, it wouldn’t have been as much fun as spotting trout, skating a mouse over their nose, and watching them chase and rise for the kill. This played out about thirty times over the course the two and half hours we were on the water. It was fast paced fishing with a lot of hooting and hollering after each hit.

Crystal clear water allowed us to spot trout suspended in deep holes waiting for a meal. Photo: Ryan McCormick

By now the storm that rolled over the Talkeenta Mountains three hours earlier spiked the discharge up to 750cfs – a noticeable increase when wading in a small stream. More bushwhacking and navigating with Apple’s Maps app had us back to the road by 11pm – cut off time for fishing on Valley streams.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at Jul 14, 2017 11.03.04 AM

There appeared to be much fewer king salmon in Willow Creek at this point in the season compared to the previous two seasons. While I could spot 2-3 kings in the deep holes, I expected these holes to be stacked. Fewer kings in these deep holes made it easier to fish, but hopefully it’s not a sign of a struggling king salmon run getting even weaker.


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