Story last updated at 8/20/2014 - 8:50 pm
Fly fishing has often been labeled a decision-making sport. Each time we go on the water, we're confronted with an array of choices, and the outcome of these decisions ultimately dictates our angling success.
For example, one major decision we make - right from the start - is fly selection. In the Lower 48, this usually involves choosing a pattern (a fly) that most closely resembles or mimics an insect or a particular stage of an insect during its life cycle. In Alaska, this is not entirely the case.
Here, in the land of the Last Frontier, where daily life is governed by the axiom "eat or be eaten," we tend to follow a different set of guidelines. These call for anglers to "match the snack," and 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 but effective patterns vary in their colors, materials, sizes and styles, yet they all share a simple, common theme: imitating 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 for taking trout and char. As simple and as straightforward as this fly selection might sound, simply tying on an egg pattern and tossing your line in a stream will not always be a recipe for success, even when fish can be seen in riffles and runs carelessly gorging themselves on freshly spawned eggs.
In order to ensure the best chances of hooking fish that are feeding on spawned eggs, you must not only present and drift your egg pattern naturally, you must choose one that is of similar size (diameter) and color to what's happening in nature. 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 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. Furthermore, your egg pattern should closely resemble the natural eggs tumbling and drifting in the gravel.
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) that allows my fly to drift directly toward 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 and liquid silicone. Although many anglers view 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 first, and strike indicators second. In other words, the floating poly yarn suspends my egg pattern (or fly), at a depth where I know (or believe) fish are lying.
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. With a multi-colored poly yarn indicator, I can readily detect even the most delicate strikes by noting a simple shift in indictor color.
When fishing egg patterns, it's always wise to have a full assortment and variety in your fly box. Fortunately for the fly fisher, egg patterns are not only easy to tie, but also are readily available commercially in a wide assortment of styles, sizes and colors to accommodate almost any angling condition or location.
Over the years, egg patterns have taken on a different twist with the introduction and use of plastic beads and hot-glue shaped and colored eggs. These "bead eggs" have inundated fly boxes in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest due to their extreme effectiveness.
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!