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Posts Tagged ‘Alaska Salmon Life Cycle’

This is part 2 in a series on understanding Alaska Fly Fishing, starting with the Salmon Cycle.  Alevin are not hugely important for most anglers, but are part of the complete picture.  As Alevin transition to become fry, their likelihood of becoming fish food for predators increases.

During the winter, the salmon eggs that survive are mixed within the gravel.  As time goes by, the eggs develop and hatch.  Alevin are the first stage.  Alevin are incomplete little fry still emerging from their egg sack.  In fact, some people refer to them as sac fry.  They are carrying their food supply (egg sac of yolk) attached to their bellies.  They generally do not leave the protection of the gravel until the yolk is absorbed.  However, trout sure seem to recognize alevin fly patterns, so a few must get washed around the stream bed from time to time.

While salmon alevin are primarily available to trout in late winter, the pattern can be effective well into June.  Beyond salmon, trout (which are basically resident salmon) have their own alevin stage.  I have found alevin patterns to work for both brown trout and rainbows on Montana waters in the spring.

An alevin is basically a pair of eyeballs with a yolk sack and slender body.  They are relative in size to the egg they are forming from.  They are capable of wriggling, but not able to swim quickly.  They are somewhat similar to nymphs in their ability to move.  As such, they are best imitated by dead drifting with either an indicator set up or sink tip.  Fish will also take them on a tight line after a good drift and on a moderate swing.

Kenai River Alaska Rainbow Trout

I eat salmon.

As spring unfolds, the alevin absorb their egg sac and begin to resemble a small fish.  They have now entered the fry stage.  With the exception of Pinks and Chums who migrate directly to the ocean as fry, the other salmon typically spend one or more years developing in fresh water.  This means that they are always available to trout and other predators in a variety of sizes.

When fry first emerge from the gravel, they seek the surface for a gulp of air to fill their swim bladders.  For this brief time, they are vulnerable just like emerging nymphs.  Because they are not yet strong swimmers, they stay to the edges and calmer waters.  Fry can often be seen in small clouds like baitfish in the ocean.  They are easy targets for trout and birds.  Fry patterns can be fished on floating lines and sink tips.  Drifting is best in moderate currents and strip retrieves along the edges of seams and even in slack water areas can be effective.  A simple productive fry pattern is the good old thunder creek.

On the next series post, we will be looking at salmon parr and smolts.  These larger morsels get serious attention from trout and dolly varden.

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Since this is firstly a blog titled Alaska Fly Fishing, I am going to run a series of posts about Alaska fly fishing, focusing on some tips for the uninitiated.   When fishing the waters where big wild trout exist, salmon play a key role in their habits.  The salmon supply the bulk of the food and impact the location and migration patterns of trout throughout the year.   So first we are going to look at the life cycle of the salmon, so we can better understand how the trout are eating.

Spawning Sockeye Salmon

Spawning Sockeye Salmon

Which comes first, the salmon or the egg?

Without getting into an impossible debate, let’s just say the egg comes first, because for anglers, this represents the most important ingredient to prime time trout fishing in Alaska.  When salmon spawn, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden are never far away.  How close depends on the volume of eggs.  Early and late in the spawn, chances are they will be nosing right up to spawning pairs.  When eggs are plentiful, they will search out prime feeding locations where there is less concern about salmon harassment.  There is no free lunch in the fish world.  Aggressive spawning salmon will chase and attack other fish (trout/dollies) around their territory.  You can tell which trout are feeding right in the thick of things, because they will often have tattered fins, missing scales and even some serious bloody wounds.

What makes this trauma worth the price when eating eggs?  Eggs are packed with protein and they can’t swim away.  Trout are hardwired to eat them.  It’s in their DNA.  While individual fish show variables in feeding preferences, eggs are the big show in Alaska.  Salmon eggs are the premier Alaska hatch or the hatch before the hatching (all the following salmon lifecycle stages).

When it comes to matching the salmon egg hatch, it’s really no different than matching bugs.  Focus on color and size and dead drift your offering where the fish are eating.  Eggs can be matched with glo-bug (yarn) flies, chenille eggs, glue gun eggs and even claymation (baked clay) eggs.  Without question, plastic beads have become the norm and are arguably the best choice for most anglers.  They can be purchased in suitable sizes and colors and be doctored with various coatings to look very much like the natural eggs.

What do the real eggs look like?

Sockeye Salmon Eggs

Sockeye Salmon Eggs

Eyed Salmon Eggs

Eyed Salmon Eggs

Each salmon species has a somewhat unique egg in terms of size and color.  It is important to know which salmon you are fishing through, in order to match the naturals.  When eggs are first dropped, we call them freshies.  They are fairly bright in color and translucent.  In the water, they gradually become more opaque and milky pale in coloration.  Once fertilized and developing, they again brighten and become translucent, with the eyes of the developing salmon visible within.  While some anglers have literally hundreds of colors in a variety of sizes, most anglers will do fine with a few freshies and few opaque options in the suitable sizes.  Sockeye eggs are typically close to 6mm, Silvers, Chums and Pinks, close to 8mm and King Salmon eggs, closer to 10mm in size.  These are the three sizing choices most commonly used and available.

On a later posting, I will focus more specifically on imitation.  This will be the first in a series starting with the life cycle of salmon and I’m just going to have to see where it take me.  On the next post, we will look at Alevins.

Pick the correct salmon related food item and you just might hook a trout like this.

Egg Eating Alaska Rainbow Trout

Egg Eating Alaska Rainbow Trout

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