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Something to acknowledge in this first sentence is that I am not a fisheries biologist. I do seem to have a fair grasp of sciences and so try to relate my observations to others. These ideas are taken from years in the field combined with my understanding of theory and known facts.
I grew up fishing the mountain streams of North Central Pennsylvania, not here in Alaska. In my area trout were to some degree migratory because during the 20′th Century that region of the Mid Atlantic had what I would call real winter conditions. In those conditions there were prolonged periods of cold and water levels dropped significantly beneath the ice that very often covered many of the freestone streams and also the rivers & lakes into which they flowed. I was well into my 40′s before I understood and witnessed what ‘anchor ice’ was and the effects it had on some of my favorite fisheries. The brook trout which had been populating those waters since the Wisconsin Period Glaciation or Ice Age, (which had only ended some 11,000 years prior) had evolved into a species who knew when to move about the streams and thereby avoid being trapped in areas which would become solid with ice by January nearly every season.
So what exactly does all this have to do with what I may or may not understand about Alaska and its trout, char and graylings? To a certain extent I was conditioned to streams that became almost uninhabitable to the resident fishes long before moving to here. The differences are that these fish have been dealing with this harsh environment for way more than 11,000 years. It took me a while to adjust to the idea of trout in some watersheds traveling as much as 50 miles to winter over and in some cases all the way to Cook Inlet for the winter…………… At this point I am becoming a little too wordy and so I will provide some pictures and then try to break this post down to a quick point by point of what I think I know about the habits and migratory patterns of the trout and their friends. In short; other than very deep pools and lakes, we have no actual resident fish that you can count on season after season. The big rainbow that you caught by the logjam in June may or may not take up residence at the same spot next June.
By winter the rivers that I drive my jet boat on become the highways to the Interior and they look like the picture below.
That crevasse to the right of the snowmachine is what is called ‘an open lead’ and in this case there is not much water there at all. I was doing some learning on my own when I took the picture and discovered that much of this very wide river had receded into a few deep channels. This leaves much of the area under the ice either very shallow, or dry gravel bars. Seeing this made it easy to understand what happens to the smaller waterways and larger rivers alike as the nights become colder in September. For the fish these conditions dictate that they move or die.
The trout, and for all accounts the other fish we seek, char and grayling, are all wedded to the salmon. For the sake of writing I will refer to trout but it is assumed that we are talking about the three species from here on. Because of the extended cold which can last into June and return as early as September we have low to poor aquatic insect populations in the higher elevations. Of course that affects the entire food chain, therefore the salmon are ‘the’ source of nutrition for the large part of time that the waters are ice free. With those cold September nights the runoff from marshes and snow packs is stopped by freezing. The creeks and smaller rivers drop very quickly and this signals the trout who have returned from their deep water wintering hides with the salmon that it is time to leave. These fish come in beginning with the first kings to return, the trout will be following closely behind. As each successive specie of salmon comes so do the fishes who depend upon the food that the salmon supply.
In late fall the ice begins to extend over the river channels until they are covered. At this time or as the ice covers the rivers and creeks the fish are moving downstream or have moved to deep pools where they survive for six long months of ice locked winter. On the larger or main stem rivers like Susitna, the fish may either pool up or make the trip on toward the Inlet and winter in the brackish environment there, thus producing our ‘Rainbow / Steelhead Trout’ here in the Valley.
While the fish seek food and better oxygenated water the river slows beneath the ice. Depending on how fast the melt takes place in spring you may have a very small window of time to fish the places where rivers have confluence with one another, or they may become quickly soiled as seen in early June 2012 below.
When the ice goes out the streams transform quickly from narrow channels to roaring flows.
When that ice clears it is only a few short weeks before the trout and other species are gathered in the lower sections of most streams. Some will begin to migrate back up, the Rainbow and Grayling are both spring spawners themselves and by mid May they are busy with propagating another generation. Many of our streams are not open to trout fishing until June 14 or 15th in order to protect the trout. Grayling can be pursued during spring as well as Dolly Varden Char.
When the first salmon show up the trout have finished their breeding and radially follow the various species of salmon on up the streams to their ancestral breeding grounds.
A breeding king who is taking on color Followed closely by Sockeye Salmon
Wherever those fish are active there will be trout waiting just behind the salmon to collect any stray eggs.
This is when swinging streamer flies is such great sport and is the best time to catch a beautiful trout or char on a real fly!
By August the game changes as the silver salmon are arriving. While you may still be thinking Trout, it is very likely you can strike silver or…..red, once they change I call them Coho.
I guess what I have tried to say without being too technical is that fishing trout and all other species here revolves around the salmon. The salmon are the primary source of food for all species. Trout eat the fry and fingerling salmon when they can. They eat as many salmon eggs as they can catch floating down the creeks. After the salmon begin to die off by early August the trout eat the decaying flesh from the salmon and will continue to be sustained on this well into the winter. I should also note that along with the spring thaw, many salmon carcasses which have been conveniently locked in the ice & snow since October & November, are set free. Just one more way that the trout and other game fish are linked to the salmon. It is the silvers who provide this early ice out bounty because many of the late run fish are still in the head waters when the winter comes.
It is this bond between the trout and the salmon which makes this the most challenging trout fishing I have ever done. it is truly a game of hunting for them and of course knowing where best to look. This area where I am is not the Kenai or Russian Rivers, we do have trout but we must work for them. One thing I don’t have to deal with here are ‘Combat Fishing’ conditions.
I appreciate all of you who are stopping to read these pages greatly. As the title implies, I will write tonight about what I have learned regarding the seasonal movements of our various indigenous species here in South central Alaska.
Thank you for bookmarking this site!
If there is one thing I have been very bad about that would be documenting the pike fishing here. There are several reasons behind this short coming; one is that I have never been a rabid pike fisherman and secondly they are viewed as a problem in my area not a sport fish. Never the less the lake where our cabin is at has more pike than we or the department of fish & Game would prefer to see there. The Ideal number would be zero or as close to it as we could get.
In Hewitt Lake Alaska the pike are an invasive and they have taken a heavy toll on the trout & salmon. However, there is perhaps an upside to this for the time being, if you enjoy feeling or seeing a fish grab hold of a fly this is the perfect venue for you during June & July. Those 2 months the fish are easy to locate and access to their hideouts is still an easy thing. As the summer goes into August the weed growth in the slough’s and creeks will make navigating difficult at the least. The creeks in the immediate area of the lake are flowing at……….well, lake level and therefore they are slow moving and prone to vegetation.
This is the place for a 9 or 10 foot single hand rod in 7 – 9 weight. All you need are a floating line and I’ll bring the Whitlock Sculpin’s . If you are familiar with shock tippets and have them bring them with. If not, I’ll have some on hand. Although the bite wires are the very best I don’t like the way they can get kinks in them. I get by almost all the time with a 14″ length of 30 – 40 pound mono as a tippet. while there are all sort of good pike fly and I have those too, the Sculpin in size 2 is extremely effective and so are bunny leeches of about 4″.
I have had action with a couple large pike and what seems to be an ongoing theme is holding true with this species also, the big ones got away. I’m talking about the kind of pike that eat ducks when I say ‘big’, there are plenty of 27 – 30″ fish caught and now and then a 36 or larger but there are a few around that are truly large. I don’t insist that there are a whole bunch of 44 – 50″ pike out there but I’ve seen enough to know they have the unicorns outnumbered in a big way.
Because I am fishing flies, and not concentrating on the pike I am not taking as many and perhaps not as large of fish as the gear guys but On a good day there can be pretty much non stop action with fish between 18 – 30″ in size. The down side of these days is that this is what we call ‘A Terminal Fishery’. This is an invasive species that is threatening our salmon stocks and every fish caught is killed immediately. For many, myself included this is a tough game to play but if you choose to do a little pike fishing here, that is how it ends for the fish. Of course the killing of a dozen or 2 pike is not the end all for the plight of our salmon & trout, but you and I can rest assured that those killed will not fill their stomach with juvenile salmon when dispatched.
These are a trio of small fish taken on one of the creeks flowing from the wetlands adjacent to the lake.
This group (below) were taken right in front of the cabin along the lake shore. I took the picture because these fish were cleaned and filleted because they were a good size for that. I neglected to place the rod into the picture for reference but the fish were sized between 27 and 30 inches. I keep track of sizes for the research team from Cook Inlet Aquaculture who are conducting a 4 year pike assessment and advisory study for the state on Hewitt & Whiskey lakes.
So what do you do with all those pike? That’s what I meant when I said I did a poor job of documenting all of this! You feed the fish to the two pair of Bald Eagles who raise young out there on alternate years. There’s always a nest with a couple hungry babies in it nearby. We have many fox who patrol the lake shore daily and their finding a meal of fish every so often does its part to spare the Spruce grouse and Snowshoe Hares who call the land around the cabin home. When there is a pile of fish to be disposed of they are transported to the back 40 where brown bears will find and eat them. No fish are discarded near the cabin and to date I have no bear problems there at all.
2014 will be a season when I will be much more careful about photographing pike as they are taken and posting the results of fishing here. I already know that I have a couple people coming in late June – July1st to fish for pike as a targeted species so there will be fish. I will return to this post and add any more pertinent information as I think of it but this is a start.
Outside it is -6* right now and I have hundreds of photographs and information about fishing and Photo Touring here in Alaska to get posted. It’s been a summer filled with fishing and work at the cabin and now it’s time to bring this web site up to date. I hope you’ll look through the various pages and please be sure to scroll down through the blog posts to see older entries. There are some posts in which I have put pictures of the flies that always catch for me here.
Stay Tuned………… I keep finding all these great fish that I met this past season . Here are a few more just to get things started in the right direction.
A June Rainbow and an August Pacific Silver
This little fella came in the late fall close to home
Although this fish was not large I was playing with a new camera and just loved the result.
Be sure to scroll down to see all the titles of the entries here on the blog page please. The web site was just put up in April 2013 and with all the work over the summer building content here suffered a bit. I’ll do my best to post more stories and plenty of pictures. I’m going to do one that is dedicated to the fantastic landscapes that I live with here and especially when I travel the rivers.
Thank You for taking time to visit this web site,
When I am not with people who are here to salmon fish you will find me trout fishing. While finding a true steelhead deep in the Interior rivers flowing to North East Cook Inlet may be a long shot, there are plenty of beautiful wild rainbow trout who will hit a swung fly. I fish the trout on medium size waters with my Hardy Marksman 2 T rod in a 13 foot #8. This rod is fun for all species and in my opinion not at all too heavy for trout fishing here.
The fish will average 17 – 18 inches with smaller ones around a foot and the larger running 2 feet and heavy bodied. There is a picture of me holding one out of the water that was really a heavy trout of about 24″. I feel I should say that I am a big guy with hands that can still palm a basketball, because of that even the larger fish I handle look kinda small when I see pictures.
If you like trout fishing you might enjoy fishing where I do it, there are fish caught every year that are pushing the 30″ mark but I have not been that fortunate in my ten seasons here yet. I have of course hooked and lost some fish that I really wish I had photos of………….
Always Click to Enlarge – Back Arrow to return to page
As a point of reference the net seen has an 18″ X 13″ hoop; all photos are of different fish to the best of my knowledge.
They were caught on one day and the evening of that day.
I forgot to add these earlier, the fish were caught on this Dee fly or on one of my Sculpin patterns. The fellow I was fishing with was using my Sculpin fly and caught an unknown number of fish, unknown because it was a bunch.
The Sculpin patterns were this one.
I really enjoy fishing with 2 hand fly rods and a large percentage of my personal fishing is done with them. I have rods ranging from 11.5′ to fifteen foot 10 weight bombers and enjoy every one of them.The salmon here are no doubt a major focus for visiting anglers, however there are some wonderful trout fishing opportunities here in The Mat Su Valley drainages. I am able to guide fishing from the rivers in the Denali area all the way down to the Kenai Peninsula so there are an extraordinary number of possibilities for species other than salmon. For trout – char & grayling fishing I rely on conventional fly rods that I have been using for a long time. I use the same flies as I do on the 2 handers but on small streams I like light rods.
The photos I provide here will show you some typical trout water and fish from a July day.
There are a couple streams that are my favorites and the size is what you see here. I fish these using rods ranging from my six foot six inch Orvis fiberglass to a 7′ 9″ Orvis Far & Fine. The Glass rod is a 1968 Full Flex that will cast a 5 or 6 weight line equally well and the Far & Fine is a #5 rod. Just because I can, I’ll add the rods to the pictures here too.
The old fiberglass is really fun for these creeks. You will catch fish between 10 and 20 inches and when you need to deal with 18 or 20 inches of jumping & running rainbow on a light rod it brings all your fish playing skills to the surface real quick, This type rod is able to land small salmon if you accidently run into one of them here but I make an effort not to when fishing for trout.
Click to enlarge & back arrow to return to page;
I use a number of different reels on the light rods and on this day had a CFO IV on my old Full Flex so I would have the rim to apply drag when needed. I have an old Martin MG-7 that is a good fit with the rod but it does not have the exposed rim and so isn’t used as often.
If we were to talk fishing and tackle it would be impossible that I wouldn’t turn the topic so that I could talk about my Far & Fine rod. I bought this in 1979 at the Yellow Breeches Fly Shop in Boiling Springs Pennsylvania. At the time when I got it I had been fishing flies for almost 11 years but had only ever dreamed of owning an Orvis rod. There were no Orvis franchises in my part of Pennsylvania back then and the nearest was Yellow Breeches. The trip was about 125 miles one way and I knew the way because I had already been fishing the Letort Spring which is very close to the Springs. After buying the Far & Fine I used it exclusively until I began fishing Great Lakes King salmon when I bought the big brother a 9′ 9 weight made by Orvis. In all the years of service the Far & Fine has caught species as varied as Atlantic Salmon to Pacific Silver Salmon and everything I ran into between those 2 oceans including Northern Pike. To say I love this rod would be accurate.
A couple photos of my most favorite fly rod;
The reel on that rod is a Hardy feather weight that I bought a couple months in advance of the rod. I found that for 65 dollars and bought 2 extra spools for 40 more. When is the last time you could have done that? It’s been a while and it’s been the greatest man / tackle relationship of my life as a fisherman.
Here is a better look at the reel sporting all its wear and scars that reflect years of faithful service. They were a pair made for a fisherman, feather light in hand and strong enough to handle anything under 25 pounds. But then I started this article to talk about trout fishing small streams, not battling a salmon on light tackle. I should however ensure the reader that even with that rod, equipped with a 12 pound leader, I can bring sufficient pressure to bear on a fish so that the fight is ended quickly. I have caught enough large fish to have become efficient at doing it.
Back on point now; The streams here are different than any I have fished anywhere else. Because of the extreme conditions in Alaska and the short summers, there is not a large and diverse aquatic insect presence. There are May Fly and Caddis; Stone Flies and Dragons & Damsels……….. But not in such number in my region that you expect to dry fly fish. Even when surface activity is evident I continue to swing my streamers and Dee flies because the large fish will always take them.
That fly is my rendition of the old European pattern, the Jock O’ Dee. I tie that down as small as size tens but I believe the picture is of a #6 fly on a Partridge Bartleet hook. Between that pattern, my Ard’s Nine Three, and various Sculpin patterns, I can be a real pest to the trout here. I fish these flies using a ten pound Maxima Ultra green leader tippet. In the course of a few hours fishing they will get you some dandy trout.
And a few small grayling on this particular day;
The stream shown here does not have its source at a glacier, it is fed of course by snow melt but much of the runoff enters after being gathered by a large system of wetlands and small tributaries which flow from bogs. This can give the water a dark tannin stain during periods of high rainfalls but it takes a lot to make it actually muddy.
Spots like the logjam are pretty much what you would suspect, there was a really nice one in that deep water and……………. As you also may suspect he managed to get me tied around an old tree limb that is out there in that deep dark spot. Yeah, that’s about 7 feet deep right over by the pile and yeah I could see the tethered trout. You’ll have to talk to me in person or comment on the blog to get the rest of that story.
On the day I did well with maybe a dozen and a half nice fish caught. No new state records but we didn’t see another soul and that is another part of why I like this so much.
As always, I fished and Boss watched over me. If you come to fish with me as your guide you will have both of us watching out for you. I count on his ears – nose and keen eyesight to provide peace of mind while I concentrate on fishing.
This small silver salmon was part of the days catch also, maybe a 3 pound fish it was a surprise when he came charging from behind a mid stream boulder and slammed the fly.
All told, it was a perfect day to trout fish Alaska and a good time was had by man & dog alike.
Funny thing, no matter how a season goes, by November when I think back it always seems that it could have been better. Then I start looking through the pictures and I think………… Wow, did that all happen? Where to start is the question.
I should start in the spring with some trout, or maybe a few Kings……July was great for trout, then came that hoard of pinks and they messed everything up. August, yeah that was good, silvers.
click to enlarge / back arrow to return to page
That fellow above was one of several people that I guided for an eight day run at the salmon in August. He kept that 15′ Sage rod bent every day and he and his friend but did very well on the silvers. I will cut the small talk and post some pictures.
No doubt the guys got some beauties and a lot of them. All fish were released unharmed, a quick hoist for the trip album and then released to spawn. We didn’t catch any monster fish but there were enough to make up for that. On some days it would be slow, better put, dead. No fish, not a touch and the fellows were wondering if we should move to another area. I’ve dealt with this before and did my best to encourage them that we were in the best place to swing a fly for salmon on the river and we must stay and keep swinging the flies. They did and every day the fish would come. Sometimes just three for each rod and other days half a dozen or more. We had tough conditions, rain almost every day and for 3 days the river bordered on ‘unfishable’. We spent one day pike fishing at the lake while the river got back within its banks. In some of the pictures you can see the color in the water and the rain on the camera lens glass.
The real beauty of it was that this is how they fished; alone.
That’s Alex above patiently swinging his fly.
Below Terry works a long run alone, the boat in the shot is mine.
This action Occurred August 8 – 14th 2013, a good time for silvers here.
One last set of photos before I end this post, this is Alex after having a solid hit on an Egg Sucking Leech pattern.
These pictures were taken in a pretty quick sequence and as you can see the rain had not yet colored up the river.
All combined the guys caught 56 silver salmon, countless pink salmon and a good number of trout. We were rained out for 2 full days because the river came up so high it was unsafe to fish. Once it dropped we were able to connect to the salmon but not as well as if we had clear water to fish. The fellows were happy and they are both superb salmon fishermen.
I am a creature of habit, fly fishermen who came up through the late sixties through the 20th Century and into this new age are like that I think. I’ve been very aware of changes going on around me for 20 years but I saw no need to hop aboard the band wagon because what I do seems to work just fine. However, you can only live in the past for so long before the risk that you really are missing the boat becomes an overwhelming thought.
Flies for Salmon & Trout; that’s what I’m talking about here. I grew up dreaming about catching these species in the traditional ways, drifting and swinging feather wing streamers and fancy salmon flies to waiting game fish was my goal. I’ve managed to live the dream pretty well, I’ve caught trout and salmon all over the country using my traditional ties but this year, this year was different. A friend sent me a box which contained some of the most amazing flies I had ever seen. Tube flies and Intruder styles tied on shanks. To those who have been onboard with these pattern types for years this may sound strange but I never saw the need for much more than a Skykomish Sunrise for catching fish. Granted, standard salmon and trout patterns on a salmon hook will work pretty well but……. I tied the first AK. Assassin tube fly to my leader and promptly caught 4 really beautiful wild rainbow trout on a total of 6 casts. That, that makes an impression on even the most dyed in the wool – I don’t need that stuff, people in the world maybe. It changed me for sure.
Within a couple months I was busy learning the ropes on how to build articulated Sculpin flies and as soon as I started throwing them into these rivers and creeks they were producing some really beautiful fish. The post here in the blog titled ’Surprising Catches While Trout Fishing’ demonstrates very clearly that King Salmon will grab a Sculpin when you aren’t even targeting them. Trout, well they love these things and pike will come running for a simple Whitlock Sculpin tossed near the shore.
It didn’t stop with the Sculpins’, I began tying on shanks made from some vintage Mustad salmon irons of which I have a good supply. On these shanks I have learned to tie Intruder style flies or as I think of them ’round’ flies. I like this style, I like it for more than appearance, the concept of the short shank trailer or stinger hook keeps fish on until you land or net them. (most fish) I have a huge amount of fly tying materials and a long Alaska winter ahead of me so I will have enough articulated Sculpin and intruder flies for you if you don’t tie.
Without further yacking I’ll stick some pictures of flies that have worked along with notes. I’ll be making a post filled with pictures of fish caught very soon also.
Some of the First Generation Sculpin ties;
Click on image to enlarge / back arrow to return to blog
All of those flies have been used and most were handed out for others to try. I believe every fly caught fish and as promised I’ll do a fish picture entry soon. I will need to get a little more particular with my photographs so you can see the designs clearly but at this time I’m posting what I have. Many of you viewing this will no doubt be better at making these than I am but here we go…..
As soon as I started this type fly I decided that I didn’t like the look of the lead dumbbell eyes. I answered that in several ways, using foil bodies and copper ribs seems to work to sink them, as well as other methods. I quickly figured out that since you use dubbing balls or other materials to provide support for the long flowing hackles and feelers, I can stash a few wraps of lead wire under them. This provides a good sink rate and leaves you with something that resembles a salmon or steelhead fly.
I’ll show these as they came from the vise but some have been used by the time I took photos.
Some of the first, having lead eyes;
Rendition of the AK. Assassin
The hidden weight being perfected and combined into a ‘Food Color’ pattern.
In attractor flies purple and black as well as blue & black have been good for me here.
The attractor colors are great for trout / steelhead trout from mid June through July. By that time next year I’ll be very well stocked if you need any flies. Interesting fact; thus far I have not lost any of this type fly and only one Sculpin. The Sculpin was lost tragically when a really big trout took it into and under a submerged tree. The fish tied himself off and when I went in after the fish it bolted and snapped the 10 pound leader knot………………….
Watch for a fish post as well as some shots of happy customers.
Spring of 2013 brought with it trepidations regarding the king salmon run strength. 2012 and the preceding year saw the broadest fisheries closures in our history. In facing the dilemma of dwindling returns the Alaska Department of Fish & Game along with a host of other agencies and organizations have mobilized in a concerted effort to find the causes for the declines. In spite of the obvious, that being that numbers are down, there is reason for hope and no real need to not consider fishing for the Kings on a trip here. The department of F&G has instituted Catch & Release fishing for the Alaska King Salmon and this no doubt will be helpful in mortality for fish once in the river systems. The Board of Fisheries will be taking a hard look at regulations for commercial fishing in Cook Inlet also. This past season saw closure of some set netting and drift netting during the king returns and that’s a first since I took up residence 10 years ago. I will go on to explain why I reserve hope for this wonderful game fish in the following paragraphs.
From the time that the ice goes off the rivers I try to get to as many of my fishing spots as possible throughout the entire season. It is during these travels that I keep a careful eye for any and all things that regard fish. Due to C&R regulation on the rivers I fish I was able to notice increased numbers of paired spawning king salmon working their redds all the way into August. Although the breeding activity of 2013 will not be realized by a return for 5 to 6 years the past 2 years have seen more successful spawning than the preceding 3 seasons did. I will not delve into actual numbers due to the fact that they can be somewhat deceiving. One river may see 18,000 kings return while another only 2 or three but the fishing may actually be better where the 2 thousand fish came through. Remember this from a fishing standpoint, more fish = more fishing pressure. So long as we have enforcement of C&R fishing for the kings the numbers, although somewhat important, are not the end all for fishing.
Beside what I could see for myself on the rivers I spent some time with researchers where the fish data ‘rubber hits the road’, so to say. What you see here is a fish wheel. The capture devise is just part of an elaborate floating workstation. These research stations are transported by river barges every year to some of the most remote study sights in America.
Fish wheels are used for conducting salmon census along many rivers here. The fish use historic migration routs that are near the shore line and this is where you find the wheels and mini weirs. A weir is very much like a picket fence that is constructed from the shore to the floating platform where the fish find an upstream passage. The large baskets that are mounted to the armature which is revolving dip into the river every few seconds and then scoop fish up and dump them into a holding pen so they can be sorted and in this case, radio tagged.
In this image Charlie is netting out a salmon and will transfer it to the work station for tagging.
Once the fish is out of the hold it is measured and if it meets length requirements qualifying it as a returning adult king, it receives what I learned is called an ‘esophageal radio transmitter’. Since it is accepted by fisheries biologists that once re-entering fresh waters salmon do not actively feed in an effort to sustain themselves, radio transmitters are inserted down the throat and lodged into the esophagus of the fish. The fish is then released to continue its journey to the natal waters.
A transmitter being inserted;
I must tell you that this procedure, when considered from a human viewpoint looked as if it may be a little discomforting. However, it is the new way to track fish movements within their range. All along the tributary rivers and streams that flow into the Yentna River there are receivers located. These receivers mark each of the esophageal transmitters with a distinct digital tag which in turn identifies the fish that had that radio in its gullet. By compiling the locations where the fish are recorded along with biological materials collected from the individual during the tagging process the researchers are able to draw distinct profiles for each genetic strain of returning king salmon. The tagging also aids in determining the estimated survival rate of each run and their ability to reach natal waters for reproduction.
The following photos demonstrate fisheries researchers measuring the salmon and collecting tissue samples for use in the bio tracking I referred to above.
In these next 2 photos I attempt to show the antenna and a fish ready to go.
The entire procedure takes about a minute and then the fish is placed back in the river to complete the trip to its natal stream. Just this past November 13th & 14th 2013, I attended my second Mat-Su Salmon Science & Conservation Symposium here in the Valley. This is a gathering of every research and conservation agency and organization operating in this region. I am able to net work with state, federal, and contract researchers and I do my best to learn so that I can share with others. Thus far the tracking program is a success, fish are now able to be pinpointed both as they transverse the rivers and streams but at the terminus of their trek as well. I did not catch any tagged kings myself this season but the lodge I guide for at times reported 3 fish caught & released with transmitters. Obviously the fish will still take a fly or lure even with the radio on board!
So how do I feel about the 2014 King season? After being here and fly fishing for this species for 10 seasons I know that there is a lot more to it than numbers. While we can look ahead positively for a decent return and for protective regulations and research to further those returns into years to come; the weather and water conditions are the unknown factor. I’ll be out after salmon soon as the ice goes out and if you come here to fly fish for the King, maybe you’ll consider fishing with me as your guide.
Although my home river is host to all 5 species of salmon it also has a few trout. Of those trout there are some whose size approaches that of a salmon and it those trout that captivate my imagination. Over all the years that I have been fly fishing I’ve caught many trout and some that measured up to 27″ but after seeing rainbows that surpass 30 inches it’s hard to get them out of your mind.
On July second I left early for the boat launch and on arrival found the place deserted. You see, Tuesday through Friday there is no retention of king salmon allowed at this time and therefore I was completely alone. Peace and quiet are always welcome to me and I was thrilled. I took my time and rigged up 2 rods, my 13′ Hardy Marksman 2, T series #8 and a 15′ Winston #7/8. The river offers some runs where you can put the 15 footer to use and I enjoy casting with it so I got it ready.
Upon reaching my first stopping point I decided to change the hardy rod from a Max Canyon fly to something new I’m learning to make. These flies are bunny fur and deer hair Sculpin patterns tied on the new Senco Shanks with a bunny strip attached to a #4 Gamakatsu hook. The hook is then attached to the shank via a short piece of fly line backing and they swim like a little fish. Another component of the pattern is two little plastic eyes which are glued together (I don’t know why they are not attached when they are made) and the gluing is a bit tedious to say the least. Once I have a set of eyes the fly is built and although plastic is new to me I have to admit I like the look.
Here’s a look at the fly I used after I unhooked the first fish of the morning.
They are pretty fishy looking and because they have no added weight they are easy to cast. Once I got into the perfect position to swing the fly right through the deepest current against the far river bank I had a tap but no fish. I made a second cast identical to the first and had some weight on the fly as it crossed the strike zone. because of the depth and current in this very spot it takes a few seconds to figure out what you may have hooked up and I lifted on the rod. Whatever I had was pretty big but didn’t react like a trout. It stayed deep and I could feel every twist and movement through the marksman rod. Within a few more seconds it came at the surface hard and I knew right off I had a salmon on my Sculpin.
After a quick scuffle during which I stayed in control of this fish I brought it into shallow water where I could tail the fish.
At times like this I often think of the original Dirty Harry movie when the Scorpio Killer told Harry to remove his gun and toss it. Callahan pulled out the 44 Magnum and the crazy man said “My, that’s a big one”. That is exactly what I said when I got a clear look at this fish as I pulled and guided him from the deep water into the shallow stuff where I could see the catch, ‘My, that’s a big one’.
As you can see the fish are beginning to turn a bit but they were still beautiful to touch. I was of course alone (you shoulda been there) and I unhooked them and took snapshots never removing them from the water. I say “them” because I caught 2 additional salmon in the next 4 casts. All together my trout run produced 3 Kings on 6 casts. That’s a batting average of 500! Pretty good but after the third fish I decided to continue on up river to look for my big rainbow.
Here are some pictures of the other two salmon, there were 2 males and 1 hen.
In this shot the Sculpin can be seen in the upper jaw. Interestingly all three were hooked in nearly the same spot on their jaws.
This is the female, she was perhaps a bit longer than the others and obviously swelling with eggs as they mature in her body cavity.
She was never out of water, I took that picture after unhooking her in the deeper water just in front of her head here. After the hook was free I gently pulled her backward as I leaned back trying to get all of her in the picture. As you see I missed the fish somewhat but I then gave her a nudge to the deeper water and away she went.
If ever you come to fish with me I believe you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can land a salmon after being coached through your first. I have heard all my life, men talk about “fighting the fish” and how long it took. the truth is that the longer it takes, the less the chance of the fish surviving. I use a 15 pound tippet for all salmon and 10 pound for trout. Grayling and char are caught using 8 & 10 pound tippets. With enough leader strength and a good technique you can land fish quickly. This quick landing results in better mortality for the fish and more fish caught for you. Go figure; if one guy takes 25 minutes to land a fish and the other fellow takes 5 or 6, the guy who lands his in 5 has a better chance of catching a second fish in the next 20 minutes………………
I will be doing an entry to this page that details my leader design. It is quite different and very effective. I do not use sink tips, Polly leaders, T 11 or any other T materials. What I do make is a leader that will take un-weighted salmon and trout flies down to where the fish are and I’ll get this posted soon.
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