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Posts Tagged ‘Fly Fishing Tips’

Salmon Parr and Smolt for Alaska Fly Fishing: Part 3

This is the third part of my salmon cycle outline for Alaska Fly fishing.  This is not an in depth how to, but rather a sampler to get anglers thinking about ways to approach Alaskan trout throughout the season.

Salmon Parr are available to trout and Dolly Varden somewhere on a year-round basis.  During their first year, the little salmon are called fry.  Those that remain in a river or lake for more than a year are called Parr.  Each salmon species has slightly different requirements.  Sockeye fry typically migrate to lakes and feed on plankton and develop into larger Parr.  Coincidentally, many rainbows and dollies migrate into the lakes for the winter months.  King Salmon typically spend their youth in the main-stem of their natal river.  This makes them a target for larger trout throughout the summer.  Silver salmon behave like Kings their first year, but then often move up smaller tributaries and back waters where they will spend from one to three more years in relative safety.

The most obvious physical trait of salmon Parr are the vertical bars they exhibit called Parr markings.  These markings are important to note when creating streamers meant to imitate them.

Note the wounded (white spots) Parr.  They won’t last long…chomp.

Every spring, an amazing transformation takes place within the juvenile salmon.  The process is called smoltification.  Its a good word to know when one of your buddy’s starts spouting off the Latin name of some stupid bug.

“You see those terns diving? I’m guessing smoltification is in full swing.  The way they are pounding those aggregations suggests I should tumble a cripple off that shelf.”

Smoltificaiton is the internal metabolic process which enables the juvenile parr to adapt from fresh to salt water.  There is some kind of kidney function reverse osmosis thing going on.  At the onset, they become less territorial and begin forming aggregations, grouping themselves by similar size. During smoltification they will lose the dark vertical bars on their sides (Parr marks or river camo) and develop their metallic sheen (open water camouflage).

Salmon SmoltOutgoing smolt migrations generally occur in spring and early summer.  The window tends to get later and more concentrated further north in the salmon’s range.  In large rivers, outgoing smolt can concentrate in balls similar to saltwater baitfish such as herring.  Birds and hungry trout will not miss this opportunity and finding a smolt ball can lead to some very exciting fishing.

While smolt may rest in slower waters, it is important to understand that in the main current, smolt are moving downstream.  A deep swing across the current with a smolt fly pattern (steelhead style) is not the best way to imitate the migration.  Casting up and across and stripping with a downstream angle will be more realistic.  In fast water, it is often best to just drift your pattern as these little fella’s are going with the flow.

Kenai River Alaska June Rainbow

Smoltified Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Up:  When the Adult Salmon Return

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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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In waters where it is legal to fish two flies, it is often the norm when nymphing to do so.  Should one always fish two flies?  The Pros are many.  Not sure what the fish are taking? You can experiment with two choices instead of one. You can also fish two stages of an insect; cover two zones of the water column, use a larger attractor and a smaller natural; the list goes on.  There are some definite cons however.  Last week I found myself in a situation where losing the dropper fly quickly paid off.  Before I go into it though, let’s look as some obvious problems with double fly rigs.

Wind / Tangles – Sometimes the wind is just too ugly to allow casting with a double fly rig.  Experienced anglers can usually pull it off, but it can be more trouble than it’s worth to fight physics.

The Drift – In some situations, such as tight pockets or swirling currents, two flies can compete against each other.  In slow water, a double fly rig can look out of place.  On picky fish, the double fly rig can be a red flag warning.  You also need to factor in the drifting location of two flies instead of just one.  This can be difficult around structure.

Snags – One fly often snags weeds or bottom and ruins the drift of both flies.  Snag the top fly on structure, and you just lost two patterns instead of one.

The Hook-up Ratio – Often, when fish take the top fly, the leader can impede the hook or bounce off the fishes nose, resulting in a missed hook-up.  At some point, the misses negate the value of the second fly.

Snagging Fish on the dropper – This sucks.  This can happen frequently when fish are taking the top fly and missing the hook as noted above.  When the angler (me) sets the hook, the first fly misses and the dropper often snags the fish on the way by.  I hate this.  It’s time to cut the dropper off.  I can’t be the only one who has this problem.

Ok, so here was my situation.  I was working down a good run of about 200’ on the Missouri River.  On the first pass, I missed 3 bites from which 1 fish got snagged on the dropper.  On the second pass, I missed 4 bites from which 2 fish got snagged on the dropper.  I managed to straighten the hook on 2 of the 3 snagged fish, but had to drag one in sideways.  I hate that.  Of the four fish missed cleanly, it is possible that some were on the dropper, but it was clear my top pattern was getting attention.

Missouri River Rainbow

It only takes one.

On the next pass, after cutting off the dropper, I had eight bites, hooking and landing 6 fish and snagging zero.  I was done dropper fishing for the day.  I was throwing a confidence pattern the fish were taking.  I did not have to worry about the wind, which was blowing straight into my cast.  I was able to concentrate on fishing the one pattern and getting the best drift possible.  I took another pass to verify my choice.  Then I picked up my spey rod to test the fishes mood toward a streamer.

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