There have been changes to the salmon regulations regarding the Susitna and Yentna River drainages for 2014. I see all of them as being positive especially for those who are seeking only to catch some of these most beautiful and strong of all the salmon species. For the local crowd many of whom are strictly looking to catch and kill the season limit the new regulations may not be so attractive.
In previous years the department of fish & game has delayed setting harvest ratios until they had determined that the fish were in trouble as far as the numbers of returning fish go. In my opinion the delay allowed for many of the precious stock to be caught & killed before there was a closure. Not true for 2014; my home river will begin the season with the rule set to harvest allowed only on Saturday – Sunday and Monday. All fishing will be single hook, to quote from the F&G website; [" Only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure is allowed. Single-hook means a fish hook with only one point. Treble hooks and more than one single-hook are prohibited. The use of bait is also prohibited."]
What this means to a fly fisherman / Spey caster who is looking for the challenge of the kings is that there will be virtually no one fishing the rivers on days when the killing of king salmon is not allowed. Myself, I have stopped taking this species three years ago and prior to that time had never killed the 5 fish limit allowed by law. The most damaging facet of the harvest is that when the use of bait was allowed it was the hens which were the most sought after of the species. This was so that the eggs could be taken and cured for use as bait for the taking of more kings……….. Is it just me or does that sound a little short sighted?
My experience last season with rivers during the ‘no kill catch & release’ regulations was that I was virtually alone while fishing. Very few if any boats out and just me and the fish. It doesn’t get much better than that. My best day resulted in hooking and releasing 8 king salmon inside a 4 hour period and all were unharmed to the best of my knowledge. If you would happen to end up fishing with me as your guide I have stocked a good supply of the fly that has proven for 4 straight seasons to produce and produce multiple fish.
The regulations are also affecting the commercial fleet which fishes Cook Inlet with the big nets. Due to the restrictions of the 2014 commercial fleet we may see a dramatic increase in our salmon returns on all species. As soon as our ice goes out and travel is safe on the rivers and creeks I will begin scouting new destinations.
The new destinations will be the result of a new means of transporting fishermen to remote stretches of our waterways. This ‘new means’ does not have a dramatic impact on the price of guided trips and can be discussed at length with any and all people who contact me in regarding setting up dates. There are still some windows open for scheduling but they are filling quickly. I know that a real time calendar showing available dates would be helpful but I have not found one that works for me at this time. The easiest way to determine availability is a simple e-mail request and I will be happy to either call or reply via e-mail as to weather I am open during your trip to Alaska.
In a nutshell the king salmon season is looking good. At this time we are behind on snowpack throughout this region of Alaska. This may result in some of the best water conditions seen in years for the early season June – July. There is always a chance of three foot falling between now and the breakup but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. A deep snowpack results in high and discolored waters with the warming weather. As fly fishermen and women you know that a river running at normal of just below normal levels is a very desirable thing as opposed to the other……….
I’m ready to fish
I tie many fly patterns some of which are my attempts at creativity, an artistic expression of sorts. Because I live here and fish whenever I’m not guiding others to those fish, I have the time to experiment. Wild rainbow / steelhead trout will take almost any fly I can tie, if you have the time to work a pattern until a fish gives it a go. You on the other hand may be coming here on a short stay or perhaps a do it yourself road trip and you need to know what works. The 2 flies I’m going to start this off with are the ones I tie on; one for Kings and the other for Silvers. This is not to say that they will not take other species but I have found that there are very few days when a salmon does not hit these patterns.
Beginning at the end of May and continuing through June the Kings enter the rivers and they are an aggressive fish. A king salmon can range from a 3 pound Jack, which is an immature fish who has returned way too soon, to a 45 pound giant that will test your skills at landing a fish. This region sees runs whit fish of every size represented and when I go fishing for kings I reach for the same fly year after year.
Hook: Gamkatsu standard salmon size 2/0
Tail: Hot pink hackle fibers
Butt: chartreuse green chenille
Front of body: Hot pink chenille
Collar: Pink UV Polar chenille
Wing: White Polar Flash or any white poly fiber material with good light reflecting qualities.
Hackles: The wing is set on top of the Polar Chenille then the hackle, Hot Pink is wound full in front of the wing and tied back.
You’ll notice I use full long hackles on my flies. Our waters are often swift and can be colored by rain or snow melt. I believe in having a lure with size and for it to be visible so I put the feathers to them. This season will be the 4th year for fishing this pattern as the Go To king salmon fly. In the previous 3 seasons the fly has caught many kings. If you are a fly tier then this will be a simple one for you to whip up, I would bring at least a dozen with so that you are ready. Size 2/0 seems fair because the fish can be large. If you want to mix up some different sizes you could make a few in a size one but not much need for any smaller.
For Silver Salmon I have tried many flies and seem to end up reaching for a standard pattern for consistent results. The Skykomish Sunrise is I believe the fly I have caught the most silvers with. It has also gotten me all the other species of salmon as well as rainbow trout so it is an all round fly to have along here.
These are also a simple fly to make and what I reach for most often. I do make them smaller than a king fly, tied to a Gamakatsu standard salmon #4 hook works well.
Tail: 2 bunches of hackle fibers, one bright red and one yellow
Body: I am dubbing them with bright red Hairline dubbing, you can see how bushy they get if you pick the dub out a bit
Rib: Medium silver oval for flash and to hold the dubbing fast
Wing: White hair, these are made with Arctic Fox but any white hair will do, calf tail is a nice change up and very bright
Hackles: First a bright yellow then a bright red. These are schlappen hackles because I like long hackle.
I don’t lose many flies because I fish these without weight on the fly. I do however use a sinking leader and will be working tonight on an article to post here outlining the best system I’ve found for getting my flies deep enough to catch salmon.
Just for fun I’ll show what I meant by artistic flies that I like to tie and use.
I really enjoy my time fishing for trout and there is a simply wonderful thing about fish who will take my wildest creations. Every winter though I must tie the salmon flies for the coming season, I take time out to create some things that will be fun to fish. The flies here are just that, my way to have fun fishing.
I seldom fish double hook flies but enjoy tying them so I made this Red Butt Fitch to add to my doubles collection.
I tied so many of the Thunder & Lightening variants that I made some into intruder style flies. The weight is lead wire hidden in that orange dubbing at the hook eye. I don’t like the dumbbell eye look………..
My tying area isn’t elaborate but is efficient, it’s in a really large room so I don’t feel trapped when I’m working at the flies.
One of the most important data items to both the fisheries management department and the sport fishing community alike are the fish count numbers. Counts are conducted by various means, some rivers are done using a combination of sonar devices and netting to assess run strength. How this system works (in some locations) is that the submerged sonar will detect numbers of fish passing a given point in a river. In order to assess what those blips on a data screen are nets and sometimes fish wheels are employed to take a sampling of the traffic associated with the electronic results. By this means the sonar records numbers of fish passing and the net samples help to identify the species. Of course given the size of rivers and the time lapse between the sonar readings and the actual nettings there is some margin of error in absolutely proclaiming what fish was actually counted.
Some rivers experience a great deal of overlapping species traveling at the same time such as both king salmon and sockeye moving in mid June. Other rivers have a much more defined run of each species at any given date. On smaller rivers the ‘picket Weir’ is employed to impede free travel up river by the salmon and these weirs direct the salmon to just one passage point. On these ‘hand count’ stations there is less error in identifying what species and the exact numbers which pass the count area.
Click the image below for a good look at a picket weir, back arrow to return to the page.
In that image the platform where the fellow is standing is the side where the fish will follow a funnel like structure on the downstream side which will effectively corral them into the count box. This ‘box’ is what it sounds like, a chamber that all fish must pass through to reach their upstream destination. While the water in the chamber may be deep, the gate that allows passage is but a foot beneath the surface so the fish are clearly visible to staff as they make their passage. These stations are remote and are supported with an on site base camp complete with a wireless hookup so daily counts can be sent in to the department of fish & games offices for tabulation. Count is done using an analog device for which a button is actually pressed for each of the five species of salmon identified in passage.
Below you have a view as would the staff of salmon in the passage chamber. The second picture of the lone fish it that of a silver salmon who has found the gate to upstream closed. This fish will be netted for measurement and for tissue sampling to be done.
The tissue samples help to age the specimen and to determine it point of origin to see whether it is in fact a natal fish returning or a wanderer from another watershed running with the pack. While we have been conditioned to believe that a salmon will almost without fail find its exact place of birth for reproduction it is becoming increasingly evident that this is not always the case. This among other reasons makes the genetic tracking of fish important.
In the sequence of images below the trapped silver has been netted and is quickly measured, and a single scale tissue removed. All of this in an amazingly short time and the fish gently set free above the weir to continue its journey.
Naturally if that silver was born in this river it will locate the proximity of its origin and breed there if it does not fall prey to either man or eagle before spawning. In most rivers here there are very few good fishing spots for brown bears because of the relative depth of the waters. Places like the Russian River down on the Peninsula are host to many bears because they are shallow and make the fishing very much in favor of the bruins who live in the area. That shallow water is I believe what draws so many fishermen to that river also. When I first came to Alaska I fished there but soon determined that what I was seeing and experiencing was not salmon fishing. it was more of a terminal harvest area where a thousand men were elbowing one another to fish in water sometimes not more that 14″ in depth. As you read my postings here you may begin to think that I don’t think highly of ‘The World Famous Russian’ and you would be correct. It is a beautiful creek but hardly a river and some of the behavior I have witnessed there is….. well, reprehensible.
Getting back on rack here, the weirs are equipped with an electric wench which operates a boat gate as seen below.
When lowered it allows just enough draft for a jet boat to skin its way over the framework and pass. If you look closely at that picture you will see a large chum salmon who had first decided to rejoin his friends below the weir by going over the boat chute and at the last moment before plunging down he wanted back upstream. I am told by staff that the chum are the most common species to do this. other fishes like kings and silvers tend to get on with their travels while the chum linger about the weir. I ask about the number of fish going back and if they were accounted in the daily figures and was told that if they are witnessed they are not counted twice, in other words one fish gets a free pass for each that slides back.
On the day I took these pictures there were some nice specimens sampled in my presence as seen below. I was at the time shooting wide angle and the fish didn’t fit in the first frame shot.
I hope you have enjoyed this visit to a count station with me, the purpose of these posts is to inform and also to hopefully build confidence in that I am not only a fly casting fisherman but a student of what is happening around me. The more I know, the better it is for anyone who chooses to go fishing with me. Fishing, I very well know is never guaranteed. On any given day things may shine or they may not, I am simply doing everything I can to try putting the odds in my favor