Each spring, the estuaries and river mouths of Southeast Alaska bubble with excitement as hundreds of thousands of salmon fry instinctively begin to swim and migrate downstream towards the salt. Fly-fishers who commit themselves to monitoring the timing of the spring salmon fry drop out can usually expect to enjoy some of the hottest, most blistering fly-fishing that Southeast Alaska has to offer.
Story last updated at 3/11/2009 - 10:58 am
Alaska is widely recognized within sport fishing and travel circles as the primary angling destination for anyone wishing to intercept salmon on fly gear. Each summer Alaska's countless rivers and streams become the center piece of attention as salmon - pinks, sockeye, chum, cohos and kings - return to their natal waters like clockwork to spawn and die, completing an ancient cycle as old as the mountains that cradle their birth waters.
But during select weeks preceding summer - specifically during spring - it's not the return of salmon that changes the complexion and identity of our Southeast Alaska watersheds. Instead, it's the downstream migration of salmon fry and the frenzied angling opportunities that this biological smorgasbord unveils that capture the attention of fly-fishers, from ardent locals to adventure-bound anglers from around the country.
Each spring, the estuaries and river mouths of Southeast Alaska bubble with excitement like uncorked sparkling wine as hundreds of thousands of salmon fry instinctively begin to swim and migrate downstream towards the salt. This seasonal parade of juvenile salmon, vulnerable in the current, attracts the predatory eyes of opportunistic Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout. During these times, famished Dolly Varden and cuttys feed like hungry jackals, carelessly gorging themselves beyond satiation until their bodies are so distorted they more closely resemble footballs or maracas than fish.
Fly-fishers who commit themselves to monitoring the timing of this highly synchronized ecological event can usually expect to enjoy some of the hottest, most blistering fly-fishing that Southeast Alaska has to offer.
The exact timing of salmon fry dropout migration is often difficult to predict. This is because the event is tightly synchronized to our local spring weather conditions that unfortunately vary from year to year. Specifically, dropout migration is dependent upon water conditions and ice-out in particular. During years where we experience an early spring, or a mild winter, dropout conditions tend to take place early. In contrast, when winter conditions have been extreme or when cold weather tends to linger well into the spring months much like last year and this year, one can assume a much later dropout period. The lesson here is to monitor your local weather.
Although spring dollys and sea run cuttys feed like chowhounds on dropout fry, they can also become very selective in their feeding behavior. During these stifling times, proper fly selection can be the difference between a day filled with refusals, or a day filled with unlimited action. Although most any realistic fry pattern will work, give particular attention to the size, silhouette and color of the fly pattern you are offering. Personally, I try to match my fly pattern to what the fish are preying upon on that given day. I have found this to be crucial as dropout fry grow rapidly and their colors change once they reach the salt water or estuary areas. Commonly used patterns are various themes of alvins, small marabou leeches and Clouser minnows.
Spring dropout offers some of the finest angling opportunities that Southeast Alaska has to offer. As spring weather slowly creeps into our neighborhood, and local watersheds begin to slowly ice-out, it's time to review our local weather patterns and break out the waders. Now is the time to take full advantage of this remarkable stage of the angling season and make every day an angling "Fry Day."