There are two major watersheds within the boundaries of Wrangell-St. Elias, the Copper River drainage which drains into the Gulf of Alaska and the Yukon River drainage which empties into the Bering Sea. For the most part in Wrangell-St. Elias we find similar species in each watershed except: northern pike are indigenous to the Yukon River drainage but not the Copper River drainage, steelhead and rainbow trout are indigenous to the Copper River watershed but not the Yukon, and there have been no salmon species found in the Yukon River drainage portion of the Park. Steelhead and rainbow trout are the same species, Oncorhynchus mykiss, but are called rainbows when they stay in a freshwater system all of their lives and steelhead when they are anadromous and migrate between fresh and salt water like salmon. “Steelhead” grow much larger than “rainbows.”
A freshwater fish survey was done in Wrangell-St. Elias in 2001-2003 (this report contains information from Denali National Park and Preserve and Yukon Charlie National Preserve as well as from WRST). This survey documented fish present within the park’s boundaries. The survey is still ongoing. In 2006 the fisheries crew captured and documented northern pike in the park for the first time. So far, we have documented 21 species of freshwater fish. For a complete list of these fish, click here. There are still several species of fish that we expect to find but haven’t yet.
Sport fishing in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park offers many opportunities. Arctic grayling, dolly varden, lake trout, rainbow trout and steelhead, cutthroat trout, sockeye, coho, chinook salmon are widespread. Nothern Pike chum and pink salmon are also available in select areas. Local residents catch burbot, rainbow trout, and round whitefish through the ice in the winter.
Each year the park installs a fish weir on Tanada Creek to monitor salmon as they return to spawn. Click here to watch an underwater video of salmon swimming up Tanada Creek.
Did You Know?
The Alaska Blackfish is unique because it has a modified esophagus capable of gas absorption, which means that it can exist off atmospheric oxygen. The Blackfish can live in oxygen-deprived stagnant tundra or muskeg pools and can also survive in moist tundra mosses for extended periods of time.