Story last updated at 1/23/2014 - 11:35 am
With the holiday season behind us we now find ourselves at the start of the New Year. January in Southeast Alaska isn't a month that fly-fishers typically welcome with open arms or even an optimistic casting twitch. Our lakes in January are frozen like glass, streams are void of salmon and local angling opportunities are still at least three months away. So most people, myself included, shift their efforts during the winter to designing and tying flies for the upcoming angling season. Tying flies during the winter months is a wonderful way to spend a social afternoon or an evening with friends. In fact, fly clubs and outdoor organizations, like 4-H, highly encourage it and have organized meetings to promote it. Finally, you'll be surprised at how fast your once depleted fly boxes from last season will become replenished and ready for the upcoming season even after just a few fly tying sessions.
Fly patterns for Alaska come in a wide variety of styles, sizes, colors and profiles, so you'll never get bored tying flies for Alaska sport fish. Some of our patterns are designed specifically to resemble key food items such as insects, salmon roe, crustaceans or small baitfish. Such patterns are commonly referred to as "naturals". On the other end of the spectrum we have fly patterns that do not resemble any specific food items at all. These particular patterns referred to as "attractor patterns" by fly tiers are designed specifically to elicit and trigger a predatory strike response by the fish. Attractor patterns are usually brightly colored or garnished with hints of flash to advertise their presence whereas naturalistic patterns tend to closely mimic specific prey items while also complementing both their coloration and general profile.
Currently on the market, there are well over a thousand different fly patterns commercially advertised as "Alaska Flies". This figure is extremely conservative, because most of these patterns are also available in a variety of different sizes. However, in spite of this prodigious number of available flies, most if not all Alaska fly patterns share some integral design characteristic. The most prominent characteristic of all flies for Alaska is color. Generally speaking, the primary colors for Alaska flies are: pink, red, orange, white, black, purple and chartreuse. Virtually every fly tied for Alaska contains at least one of these prominent colors. Understanding this simple relationship of color, will not only help you in designing your own particular fly patterns, but it will also assist you in choosing appropriate flies while in the field. For example, many times it is not the specific fly pattern per se that is enticing the fish to strike, but instead the particular color.
Another feature to consider that is vital when designing and tying flies for Alaska is an understanding of the fish species you intend to be casting at and targeting. Generally speaking, sport fishing in Alaska can be described as feast or famine. In other words, when fish are present and the summer salmon runs are in full swing, angling is usually blistering hot. However, when rivers are barren and void of fish, the day might be more wisely spent at home doing domestic chores around the home front, gaining spousal points that you can later cash in for a day a stream when the fish are present. The key point here is to know the local run timing of the specific waters where you intend to fish. Although there is always some degree of variability with respect to precise run timing among watersheds in Southeast Alaska, the following outline can be used as a ruler, or guideline to suggest what fish might be present during our first opportunities to cast a fly this spring in Southeast.
Spring - March, April and May
The months of March, April and May open the doors of angling opportunities throughout the region of Southeast Alaska. The season begins with Alevins, hatching salmon, as they quietly emerge from cobbled gravel beds of most Southeast rivers and creeks. In spite of the cold water, the sight of wiggling Alevins quickly attracts the attention of hold over Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout and kick-starts their appetites. As weeks pass and ambient temperatures continue to warm, fresh run off and increased river flows stimulates the commencement of the spring salmon fry downstream migration. For most anglers this is the true start of the angling season. During this period when salmon fry are migrating to the salt, Dolly Varden and coastal cutthroat trout binge like hungry Jackals on vulnerable salmon fry. Also during this time, usually in April, select watersheds will note small numbers of steelhead returning to their natal systems to spawn. As we enter the month of May, sand lance, a small, ribbon-like baitfish, coalesce to spawn by the thousands in sandy estuaries or sand bars situated along river mouths. Such massive congregations of spawning sand lances attract prodigious schools of hefty Dolly Varden and aggressive feeding spring king salmon. The flies of choice for this time period in spring should accommodate and address these characteristics: small fry or baitfish imitations; estuary prawns and steelhead attractors like leeches or comets, and lastly full sized sand lance patterns or large baitfish imitations for example; Clouser Minnows or ALF patterns for salt water kings and large estuary Dollys.
The winter months in Southeast Alaska offer an ideal time to design and tie flies for the upcoming season. Tying flies for Alaska is no different than anywhere else. To ensure yourself the best opportunities for success, you must first understand your target species. In Alaska, this means knowledge of specific run timing. With a thorough understanding of what fish might be available coupled with information on the water types and conditions you might encounter; you give yourself invaluable insight into what you should tie so that you can fill your fly boxes before you venture out. Good Luck Tying!