Story last updated at 1/16/2013 - 2:16 pm
With the holiday season behind us, fly-fishers in Southeast Alaska, whether they admit it or not, anxiously transition into another calendar count down. This count down leads to the upcoming angling season and the first opportunities to wet a line. But until then, folks must battle the short days of winter in Southeast Alaska that are some of the most difficult times to endure, especially if you're a fly-fishing enthusiast. With no place to go to actually catch fish, aside from possibly a family ice fishing outing, enduring the short days of winter and their eclipsing effects of cabin fever, can be challenging to even the most seasoned and patient fly angler. Fortunately, fly-fishers have historically always been known to be very resourceful in what they do and enduring the long dark nights that engulf our days during the winter months is no different. A good number of Alaska fly-fishers, myself included, tie flies during these drawn out times in order to endure the winter, and you should too.
Tying flies during the winter months is an ideal time to replenish your fly boxes with flies for the upcoming season. It's also a great venue for social gatherings, a fly-tying barbecue for example, or participation in fly tying events with local fly clubs. But what flies you should tie to get ready for the season is often a stumbling question. Choosing what flies to tie for Alaska, however, is no different than anywhere else. A full box of flies - regardless of how beautiful or how meticulous they are tied - is absolutely useless if the flies that you have are not specifically suited for the fish you are targeting. To ensure yourself the best opportunities for success in Southeast you should first, know your target species and second, have a thorough understanding of its run timing and finally have a thorough understanding of the types of water that you will be fishing. For example, a fly tied for silver salmon feeding in the salt will certainly differ from a fly tied for silvers that are ripening in fresh water. Both of these flies are tied to target silvers, but in the former case, a Clouser pattern with heavy lead eyes tied with chartreuse and white buck tail or some other synthetic material of similar color and structure would be the ticket whereas a marabou or bunny leech pattern in black, purple or hot pink would be the best bet when targeting late-season silvers in fresh water. Once again, the key point to remember is know what species you are targeting along with its specific run timing and the type of water or environment in which you'll be fishing.
As we all know, flies for Alaska come in a wide variety of styles, sizes, colors and profiles. If you're interested in designing your own flies for Southeast, generally speaking, fly tiers base their designs around two common themes. Some flies are designed specifically to resemble key food items such as insects, crustaceans, fish eggs or small baitfish, and these patterns are commonly referred to as "naturals." On the other end of the spectrum are fly patterns that do not resemble any specific food items at all. These patterns referred to as "attractor patterns" are designed specifically to elicit a predatory or aggressive strike response. Attractor patterns are usually brightly colored or garnished with hints of flash or tinsel to advertise their presence whereas naturalistic patterns tend to closely mimic specific prey items while complementing both their natural coloration and biological profile. Each time you look at a fly whether it is in a book or at a fly shop, take a moment and dissect it mentally then ask yourself, "Is it an attractor, or is it a natural pattern, or some hybrid or variation of the two particular themes?" Just by doing this, you will quickly educate yourself to the underlying themes that are essential to creative and effective fly tying.
Tying your own flies is one of the many self-rewarding features of fly-fishing. It's also a great way to mitigate the effects of cabin fever and the mental necessity of needing to fish. True, the pleasures of fly tying often fall short from the euphoric sensation that inundates your body as your line suddenly gets heavy from the tug of a chromer, but it does offer some degree of mild relief. Plus, it replenishes your exhausted fly boxes and readies them for the upcoming season, which is, about three months away the last time I checked. Happy fly tying!
Rich Culver is a fly-fishing freelance writer and photographer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.