These two fundamental principles are the essence to all successful fly-fishing, and we refine these skills each time we go out fishing.
The month of July in Southeast Alaska is the ideal time to practice these two crucial skills of fly-fishing for this is the month when our local watersheds become active learning centers with the arrival of schools of fresh pink salmon.
Pink salmon, often called humpies or simply pinks, are the smallest of the five species of North American Pacific salmon. They are also one of our most abundant, and that's great for fly-fishers.
Like locusts, during the months of July and early August, they invade our coastal streams and on good return years their sheer numbers not only clog watersheds, but also cast a continuous amoeboid shadow along river bottoms.
Built like little tuna, saltwater pinks lack the characteristic "humped back" of their fresh water counterparts and are aggressive little demons that will readily pounce on a passing fly offering.
While in the salt or fresh from the salt, pink salmon are wonderful quarry for lightweight fly gear. They are strong for their size - 3 to 7 pounds - and usually good for several solid runs.
In addition, their extreme abundance offers numerous opportunities for anglers to refine fundamental skills, explore various techniques or new fly patterns and practice presentations all with immediate feedback in the form of "grabs" from aggressive fish.
The ideal fly rod for pink salmon in Southeast Alaska is a nine-foot for a six-weight. True, many anglers may choose to use lighter fly rods when targeting pink salmon, but if one's primary objective of the day is to "catch and release," then the use of lighter rods many times results in over fighting and increased duration of hookups that can leave fish too exhausted and taxed to be released safely without injury.
Because of this, I strongly recommend six-weight fly rods. They are light in the hand and can be comfortably cast all day with very little to no fatigue at all, and they have plenty of reserve power and backbone to curb even the meanest little pink fresh from the sea.
Fly reels should balance your rod and because of the omnipresent briny conditions here in Southeast Alaska, they should also be anodized.
The reel should also be equipped with a smooth, fully adjustable drag system. Most of the reels on the market today satisfy both of these criteria.
During the past decade, there has been a steady increase in the production of large arbor fly reels. Large arbor reels offer several advantages.
First, the large arbor design facilitates rapid pick up of line - an important feature when pursuing fast swimming fish. Second, the design requires minimal startup inertia.
This prevents sudden tippet break-offs during quick erratic runs common when fishing for salmon or steelhead. And lastly, large arbor reels tend to maintain loser coils of fly line on the reel and this feature assists in shooting line during the cast.
Pink salmon are aggressive grabbers and no other salmon species in our area will accept a fly as readily as pinks will. Because of this inherent behavior, proper fly line selection is not as important when fishing for pinks as it is when targeting other salmon species.
In contrast to other salmon, the line one chooses for pinks can instead be associated with a specific fishing condition or a particular approach in presentation.
For example, when pinks are holding in moderate flowing runs at depths of two-to-three feet, I enjoy fishing a full dry line while skating poppers.
The excitement of watching a gaping jaw following a skating popper will electrify any fly anger - beginner or advanced - and will quickly addict them to top water popper fishing.
On the other hand, when pinks are schooled up in deep holding pools, sinking lines of appropriate sink rates (are the rule) fished in a traditional quarter-down and across approach.
Once again, it is their willingness to grab flies that makes them ideal tutors of fly-fishing.
I enjoy this favorable characteristic of pink salmon because it allows me to practice and develop various techniques and presentations that I would like to refine and also employ for other Southeast Alaska game fish, specifically silvers, that will be soon be arriving in the months to come.
It's been repeatedly stated that pink salmon are gluttons for flies, and for the most part this is true.