Dates for Floating the Gulkana
I have floated the Gulkana from Paxson Lake over the 4th of July, and am looking to do the trip again. Does anyone know any good source of information for water levels? I am looking at going the first weekend in June, and would like to know if the water level will be high enough to float a decently loaded 14' raft without getting hung up on too many rocks.
If it is a late break-up, the ice on Paxon Lake may or may not be out by then. I'm sure someone who knows when Paxon usually goes out will chime in before too long. Did that same float this past August (last week of the month) and had a great time. It seems by that time of the year you can pretty much have the river to yourself. Water was a little low on the top end, but not too bad overall. Fishing was decent, definitely had to work for them. Nice float overall.
Here's a link to real time flows at the USGS gage at Sourdough -- you can get real time data and historical statistics by surfing around from this site.
The NWS river forecast center also reports current and forecasted stage at Sourdough (along with flows for other rivers), but only in the ice free season, here:
NWS has correlated river difficulty (class) vs. stage for several popular rivers, including the Gulkana, here:
This is part of a NWS program (started and possibly still run by Larry Rundquist for over 20 years) to correlate difficulty and stage based on boater feedback. A review of the Larry's program is here:
I appreciate the work NWS has done over the years for many of these rivers, but in the Gulkana's case, there is more specific info from a 1988 study by BLM (that I had the pleasure to work on -- my first in AK). Here's an edited version of a blurb I wrote in response to a thread a year or two ago about a spike in Gulkana flows that happened mid-summer (the original poster was wondering if the spike might hurt fishing). It summarizes the main points from that study --
"Mean annual flows for the period of record are about 3,000 cfs in May, 2,500 in June, 1,400 in July and 1,300 in August and September, so today's flow about 1,800 cfs is really just like a typical mid-June flow. High for this time of year, but not extreme. The NWS River Forecast Center is forecasting that flows will go to about 7.0 feet this weekend, which is just "medium" flows on their cheat sheet (7.0 feet on the gage is probably about 2,000 cfs -- I wish they would "think" in cfs, but you can eyeball the USGS graphs to do the translation).
In a study for BLM in the late 1980s, we estimated that you need about 1,400 for a "clean" run in a loaded raft, and that good whitewater happens at flows above 2,100 cfs. So I guess I'd say don't despair -- there is likely to be some good whitewater at least, even if the river is a little turbid. And it's quite possible the grayling or rainbows will like the higher flows after being parched for the last month.
On the low end, things may have changed over 20 years since that study (I know I personally run smaller and lighter boats in general, and have a greater tolerance for low flows and technical boating), but I'd guess it still takes 1,200 to 1,400 cfs to have an enjoyable float on the Gulkana. I heard about a recent trip in the recent low water period (when it got down to 600 cfs), and even skilled canoeists were having a hard time picking their way through the 8 mile Class II section below the canyon. I've personally seen 1,100 and thought that was doable, but I was in a large but light cat (just me, a dry bag, and a dog)."
The other early June problem is a potentially frozen Paxson Lake. Depending on sun, recent temperatures, and wind, I believe it has been frozen as late as mid-June. BLM will have better info about the specifics -- but its a year by year decision.
Many people have crossed the lake on rotting ice -- cats and canoes slide and I've heard that some rafters have built make shift sleds out of 2 x 4s for rafts -- but you need to wear a dry suit in case you misjudge ice thickness and end up in the drink. Once you get to the river, the current will have opened up things much earlier...
Being first or early on the Gulkana can be a good deal -- no camp competition like over the fourth, and probably good fishing if the flows have not come up too much and become turbid. You'll may still see jetboats below the West Fork though, if the early kings start coming in (but I think in general that doesn't happen until later, peaking over the fourth). I prefer low water, low density trips in early August, when a hot spell can sometimes even allow semi-enjoyable swimming.
Great Data Doug!!!! Thank you for posting that.
Doug stated it is a year by year and that is spot on. You more than likely will not be able to accomplish that float till after the first weekend in June. We have run it as early as the 8th but normal ice out and clear sailing for planning purposes look to start about 10 June. Sometimes it is a little muddy on the shore and a tad shallow but doable. Last year we were suppose to start on the 12th of June had a slight issue with Freezing temps and snow down to the launching site at Paxon Lake however with all the rain the water was up just enough for a decent float in fact we did it in 3 days 2 nights and still had lots of fishing time. Was nice to hit the early stone fly hatch which actually made for some wonderful early season fishing. Normally not all that and a bad of chips on the early fishing i.e directly after ice out unless you stay at the outlet and East Fork.
Any Who! Enjoy! Keep your eye on the weather! Nothing like getting Rain, Snow and Sleet for 4 days early season!
Tight Lines and best wishes.
The first week in June will be fine, and without he crowding becoming so common on the river. Water level in early June? Low!
The water level is always low. Everybody always says it low. Never has anybody reported high water. After doing the river about nine times i was at the rapids section talking with a 16 year old boyscout. I was wineing about the low water expecting this kid to simply believe me because, hey, he is a kid and I'm a big expert (LOL). This kid looks me in the eye and says that in the last four years he had done the river twelve time...and the water lever was currently "avarage, average high/low". Looking back, he was correct.
Anyway, funriver. Inexpensive. I might add it to this summers list for a solo float.
USGS Real time water data
National Weather Service River Forecast
A friend and I floated it in a 16' cat the first week of June in 08. The water level was not too low, and we did not have to drag. We were the first group to register going down that year (others may have went and not registered). In the canyon there was a log in the last rapid with sneaks along both sides. I believe a couple of Blue Moose's guides removed it a few days later. Besides that there was not any significant wood in the river although that probably changes year to year. It was super cool to be on the river without any other people.... or their leftover waste. There was no ice on Paxson.
Yes the Log Tom, Man Child and 6Xleech with Family! Iceballs fell and fell and fell! 6X is the man by the way! I still like going after the 10-12th time frame allows for a little more insect action :-)
During the first week in June, the time that NO TREES will be rafting, with the Gulkana have any red salmon or king salmon?
King's actually start on normal years as early as the first week of June on the lower river i.e. below Sailors Pit. Not hot and having fishing by any means but still fishing. Reds run a little later. If you go to the ADF&G web site or type in Gulkana Sonar counter you will see the first Kings Make it up above the forks "few" and "far" between as early as June 12th some years.
To be more specific No as a general rule.
If you happen to be lucky enough to hit the early stone fly hatch with the Caddis fishing for Bows, Grayling and White Fish can be productive. Being that the river has a Steelie Run you might be lucky enough to hit a couple fo those as well however check the regs on your limitations to fish for them.