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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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