Story last updated at 3/25/2009 - 10:58 am
It's a calm morning - cold and crisp - and the flooding tide is rapidly engulfing the estuary. The sound of mussel shells cracking like brittle sheets of ice beneath my mud-covered boots warns a flock of wary gulls of my presence as I patiently stalk the rocky shoreline.
The smell of the estuary is laden with brine, but it's a joy to be out with a fly rod after many months of fantasy fishing. The estuary is so glassy you can easily see tiny fry dimple the surface as they dance like strands of holiday tinsel tossed in the wind. Suddenly, thirty-five feet at 10 o'clock, a loud pop is heard followed by a swirl then just a tip of a fin catches my eye.
"Dollys," I say to myself as I hastily begin stripping line while positioning myself to prepare for a cast.
My cast is a good one - up and across from the swirl that is now drifting as the tide begins to fall. Raising my rod high while extending my arm my line begins to tighten then bows in the current. My fly, an Airhead Popper, no longer dead drifting in the seam, begins to accelerate as my rod is lifted and continues to skate while dragging across the surface, carving a pronounced "V-wake" in the glassy estuary flows.
Then without warning there's a pop followed by a reckless crash by a Dolly Varden that nearly submerses my fly. Immediately I lower my fly rod and mumble, "Come to Poppa." No sooner have I finished mumbling my morning mantra than my line becomes heavy with a steady thumping from a nice estuary bright Dolly Varden that fell for my top water popper.
Generally speaking, most fly-fishing in Southeast Alaska involves fishing below the surface with sinking lines or sink tips. Unfortunately, the joys of traditional dry fly and top water action are left for trips down south. But there are a few select times in Southeast Alaska when conditions do cater to top water angling and one of them occurs during the spring salmon fry drop out. In fact, this window of opportunity in the spring is probably the best time to engage in wild and explosive top water fly-fishing.
Although there are many styles and types of top water fly patterns, I prefer Airhead Poppers. They are light, durable and create a large attractive wake for fish to key in on. When fishing poppers, many of the takes come as full-on explosions with fish fracturing the surface as they hit the popper.
Many anglers have a difficult time when fishing top water because of the added visual of seeing the fish. This added visual and excitement usually makes them a bit trigger-happy. The result is more often than not a missed grab, because anglers tend to set up too early and simply pull the fly away from the fish.
It takes discipline to calmly sit back and watch the fish burst through the surface of water as it intercepts the popper, and then to wait for just another second before setting the hook. With a little practice, however, and several missed strikes, you'll soon learn to be late on the take when popper fishing.
Good luck and tight lines!