Story last updated at 8/12/2009 - 1:16 pm
Generally speaking, a fly fisher's goal is to match the hatch, usually an insect or some stage of an insect during its life cycle. In Alaska, however, this is not entirely the case.
In our watersheds, we tend to follow the guidelines of "match the snack." This is especially true during the waning months of summer when our coastal rivers and creeks become clogged with spawning pink and chum salmon. When this occurs, the fly patterns of choice are "egg patterns." These basic, yet highly effective patterns vary in their colors, materials, sizes and styles, yet they all share a simple, common theme and that is to imitate the grand caviar of spawning salmon.
When spawning salmon are at their peak, egg patterns are without question one of the most deadly fly patterns available in Alaska. But using an egg pattern, however, won't always ensure fantastic fishing (or even a hookup) in spite of the fact that fish are carelessly gorging themselves on freshly spawned eggs. In order to ensure yourself the best chances of hooking fish that are haphazardly feeding on spawned eggs, you must present and drift your egg pattern to them naturally. This is critical. A naturally drifted fly is one that shows no influence of drag/tension from the fly line and as a result, drifts and tumbles freely in the current. To effectively fish egg patterns, it is imperative to drift the pattern "naturally" in the flows of the current and as close to the bottom as possible. While doing this, you must also be able to quickly detect - and almost instinctively set up on - subtle strikes commonly associated with egg fishing.
When fishing egg patterns, I use two different techniques, and I fish both methods using a full floating line. The first method is the standard "high stick" nymph technique. I use a 9 to 10 foot leader, a few BB-sized split shot (depending on the flow and depth of the water I am fishing) and a single egg pattern. I position myself directly across from my target/suspected fish and cast my fly to my secondary target - an imaginary point in the stream, usually up and across the flow of the river, which allows for my fly to drift directly in line with my primary target or suspected fish zone. This method is ideal when fishing in tight conditions with tricky currents, like those found when pocket water fishing.
The second method I employ requires the application of a poly yard indicator. Although many anglers view the use of the poly yarn simply as a "strike indicator," this is not entirely the case when I fish them. Instead, I prefer to view them more as depth adjusters or dead drift maintainers and a strike indicator secondly. In other words, the poly yarn suspends my egg pattern (or fly), at a depth where I know, or believe, fish are lying. And it also allows me to constantly observe and modify my drift in order to maintain a fly offering that is drifting as "natural" as possible. And finally, with a multi-colored poly yarn indicator, I can readily detect even the most delicate strikes by noting a simple shift in indictor color.
Now that the majority of our summer salmon have returned to the riffles where they were born, and the architecture of river and creek bottoms has been deeply cupped and grooved in preparation for egg laying, fly-fishers should begin to think egg patterns. Remember to dead drift these patterns as close to the bottom as possible and although the takes might be subtle, the action can be electrifying!
Good luck, and tight lines!
Rich Culver is a fly-fishing freelance writer and photographer and member of the Scott Fly Rod Company's Pro Staff. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.