Story last updated at 8/28/2013 - 2:58 pm
The river 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, "90 percent of the fish are caught by 10 percent of the anglers" and now you are experiencing this first hand. So what are these select anglers doing differently than you that continually keeps them in the game of "catching" while all the others 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. The late-Jimmy Green, famed Golden Gate tournament caster and fly rod designer, is credited with the concept and birth of specialty lines, specifically the shooting head system for fly lines. This break though in fly lines enabled anglers to make prodigiously long casts with relative ease and also allowed them to quickly change lines (or heads). North Coast steelhead and salmon anglers would now 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 for example in estuaries or in tidewater, the best choice is a slow, intermediate sinking line - one that sinks gradually like a falling leaf. And lastly, when the demands call for distance casts to reach remote lies, out come the distance shooting heads. It was 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 just beginning to blossom within fly-fishing circles. However, this awareness is growing rapidly. 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 from local fly shops or over the Internet.
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. Cohos offer fly rodders the complete package. Silvers are one of the more aggressive salmon, 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. It's my opinion from chasing silvers for over two decades in Southeast Alaska, in order to fully maximize your silver fishing experience over the next several months and better yet, to be productive, you'll need to evaluate the conditions of where you are fishing and specifically match these water 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 30 to 40 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 30-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 put on the graduation caps and say, "good-bye" to the 90 percent group of spectators and enter the 10 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, or those same pools where you fished for pink salmon earlier, 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. Good luck and happy coho fishing!
Rich Culver is a fly-fishing freelance writer and photographer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.