PUBLISHED: 2:33 PM on Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Lining up for silvers

Photo by Lee Leschper
  Chris Angelica and Jason Troupin with a silver salmon. Silvers are an aggressive fish. They are built for speed, are highly acrobatic, moderately sized and are a culinary delight on the barbecue.
The scene is a familiar one, one that every fly angler has witnessed at some point in time during their fishing days; the person next to you is catching fish and although you are using the same fly you continually come up empty.

It's that old familiar saying, "ninety percent of the fish are caught by ten percent of the anglers" and now you are experiencing this first hand. But what are these select anglers doing differently than you that continually keeps them in the game of 'catching' while all the other anglers around them (yourself included) remain confused spectators?

More times than not, the key to these anglers' success rests in the lines that they use.

Nowhere is the application of specialty lines more widely used and depended upon than along the North Coast of California during the winter steelhead and salmon season. These North Coast anglers carry and employ a wide variety of lines to accommodate a full spectrum of specific fishing conditions. For example, during times when water temperatures plummet and fish soon become bottom huggers, out come the fast sinking lines. At other times when fish tend to be suspended in the water column, the need for a slow sinking line, one that sinks like a falling leaf, is the better choice. And lastly, when the demands call for distance casts to reach remote lies, out come the shooting heads. It was here among the foggy redwood river canyons of the Pacific Northwest where hybrid and specialty lines were both pioneered and born, primarily out of necessity.

In Southeast Alaska, however, the application of specialty and hybrid lines is still early in its ontogeny, but its presence is growing, albeit slowly. This will change rapidly in the next several years for the following reasons.

First, fly-fishing in Southeast continues to grow in popularity and second, fly line manufacturers are now increasing their production of specific application fly lines, or "specialty lines."

No longer will Southeast fly rodders be forced to spend long winter evenings sitting up late with measuring tapes, grain scales, braided loop connectors, bobbins and Softex in order to construct their own home brew fly lines. Instead, they will now be able to readily purchase them commercially.

In order to fully appreciate and understand the specifics of specialty and hybrid fly lines, one first needs to know the basics of fly line construction.

Rich Czulver photos
  Targeting cohos in the salt requires fly lines that will not only drive your fly to depths of thrity feet or more, but will also pierce gale force winds common in Southeast Alaska during the fall season. Below: Cohos are fond of pools with slow moving currents, known as soft water. During these periods, a slow sink is in the line of choice. Here the author displays a nice silver taken on a slow sink line.
Generally speaking, all fly lines are comprised of two basic parts-the belly (which carries the weight) and the running line (which serves to shoot). By modifying any part of these two integral components, the overall casting and presentation characteristics of the fly line are also altered.

What we must remember is that in fly-fishing, we are simply casting a fly line and that the fly is simply there "for the ride."

It is the fly line that we use that ultimately delivers the fly to the fish.

Without the proper fly line that matches the characteristics of both the water conditions (at hand) and fish that we are targeting, we will likely be out of the game in spite of being directly over fish; a term commonly referred to as "in them, but out of them".

The next several months in Southeast Alaska will be a magical time for fly rodders as our annual run of silver salmon begin to trickle into area waters. With very little debate, silvers are the highlight of the season for Southeast fly anglers. Silvers are an aggressive fish, and they enjoy grabbing flies! In addition, they are built for speed, are highly acrobatic, moderately sized and are a culinary delight on the barbecue.

In order to fully maximize your silver fishing over the next several months and to be productive, you'll need to evaluate the conditions of where you are fishing and specifically match these conditions with the appropriate fly lines. For example, if you choose to fish for silvers early in the season, your fishing will more than likely concentrate on saltwater techniques. The fly lines that you'll need will be those designed to drive your fly to depths of thirty to forty feet in fast currents. Not only this, but you'll also need a line that will turn over big and often times heavy flies in windy conditions. Fortunately, there are several manufacturers that offer such lines built for the brine.

The next staging area for silvers will be our estuaries. Silvers in estuaries are not holding but instead are either found milling or "on the move", so the line that you choose should take these features into consideration. You should select a line that offers a uniform sink rate and one that is also designed for distance casting. The extra distance will allow you to cover much more water in order to hopefully intercept silvers on the move. The suggested lines here will be shooting heads and these lines come in two styles-independent thirty-foot heads that are attached to running lines and heads that are manufactured directly to running lines. The benefit of the former is that you can easily change entire heads to match specific water conditions.

When silvers finally enter their natal streams, they tend to rest and mature in slow moving pools or deep runs. Once again, the line you choose should match and meet these conditions. During these times, sinktip lines and in some cases heads are the rule. Sinktips, like heads, come in a variety of lengths and sink rates. They usually have a floating belly section that facilitates mending during the drift while sinking the fly. Slow sinking heads in contrast are better suited to deeper pools with gentle currents where a uniform drift is the desired goal.

So it's time to graduate from the ninety percent group of spectators to the ten percent class of catchers. Silvers will soon be here, if they aren't already. Take the time now to reflect back to last years' silver fishing, re-read your logs and think about the water conditions that you fished and then match these conditions with the appropriate fly line.

With this approach you'll definitely be into much more fish, and that usually translates into more hookups.