Tag Archives: sockeye salmon

What it Takes for a Perfect Photo

This was just sent to me and is worth sharing…  Dominica holding a deep red buck for a perfect photo:

Dominica Schaaf1

Beautiful sunny day,  big buck in spawning colors in the upper river.  But what did it really take to get this?

Dominica Schaaf2

We have all been there-done that…  Fish flopping all over kingdom come right when you snap the shutter.  They had a great trip with a variety of weather (including a rare sunny day) and loads of fresh fish.  Here are a couple more of the keepers:

Thanks Dominica for sharing these and sharing the fun moment with us.

Another Commercial Week on the Akwe

The kids and I are back from our commercial fishing opener on the Akwe.  We are having a slightly above average run this season (after last year’s total disaster run),  but certainly nothing record breaking.  Caught our first two silvers this week,  along with several chum and 4 kings (3 jacks).  We set the gear at 6am Sunday and started our week catching about 1/4 humpies.  At that rate,  we’d expect to switch over to majority pinks next week (we only get paid 25 cents per pound for pinks,  so hard to justify fishing for them financially).  Then Monday and Tuesday the pinks dried up and we were almost exclusively sockeye.

River is low and we were having outboard challenges.  We ended up putting on a new outboard right in the middle of the high tide we were supposed to be fishing,  so missed out on a lot of fish,  but the new (refurbished 20 year old Yamaha) outboard runs so much better.  60 hours of fishing with few breaks is getting harder to do as I transition to fat old man and lose all my youthful energy.  Thankfully I have Tanis to pawn off as much work as possible.  He laughs at me because I ask to sit and rest,  but get so frustrated watching him slowly pick fish that I’m back up in about 20 seconds to get the fish out of the web.

Weather has been consistently crappy – fog,  drizzle,  etc.  Perfect fishing weather.  Not so perfect flying weather.  Was grounded a couple times I needed to haul fish to town due to the zero visibility.  Now I’m just exhausted and in need of a nap.  Thank you for your patience with Teen in the fly shop and with our Sunday/Monday closure.  The season has only one more week for us out there – possibly two.  Then we hit the August humpy lull before all heck breaks loose for silvers.

Kings have Reached Lower Goal

As of this morning,  the king escapement on the Situk has achieved ADF&G’s lower escapement goal of 450 fish.  They have 466 large kings through the weir so far.  This is a huge relief,  since we have been consistently missing this goal for several years.  ADF&G has had to take drastic (dare we say draconian) steps to make sure the kings reached that goal.  Now that we have reached the minimum goal,  they said they are thinking of some short-term changes,  but wouldn’t specify.  I did ask if that meant opening the Rodeo Hole and that was a no-go.


Photo by Pat Robbins of http://www.fishitalio.com

Next year’s parent year was the last time we exceeded the escapement goal,  so I’m hopeful we’ll have a bit more flexibility in our fishing regs.  That does NOT mean they will open kings for retention,  but at least we should be able to fish sockeye in the whole river!  Speaking of sockeye…

We are just shy of 62,000 counted fish,  so we’re close to doubling the limit.  I’d expect them to make that decision over the next few days.  It is apparent the Situk’s run was early and not extremely strong…  Odd because out on the Akwe,  the run is a bit above average,  but right on time.  East River is a good fly-out option as well,  since they are seeing an OK run out there too.


Yes, sockeye feed!

The Situk’s run has just been weird this year.  And the pinks are starting to come in in big numbers,  making sockeye fishing at the lower end more and more challenging.  Few people have been fishing the upper river because there is a predominance of blushed fish up there,  but with the additional closure below and now humpies galore,  it is getting a lot more pressure up higher.


You don’t hook em here by flossing…

OK,  my annual rant…  Had more than one new visitor come into the shop this season to complain about the other lodge guests badgering them immediately when they got off the plane about how you can only catch sockeye by snagging them…  I guess it is one thing for you to abuse the run and fish illegally because you don’t know what the $#@% you are talking about.  It is yet another for you to rag on people who DON’T want to fish illegally on the Situk.


Hooked on the INSIDE of the li facing the fisherman, not the outside facing away as would happen with most flossings.

Do sockeye feed?  They don’t grow to 6 1/2 pounds by absorbing their nutrients through their skin (like their hooks).  Sockeye feed on zoo plankton and invertebrates in the ocean.  They don’t generally chase down other little fish like all the other species of salmon.  They don’t hit Pixees and Dolly Llamas,  so they get a reputation for being “uncatchable”.  Bull crap.  You just have to duplicate their regular food source,  which is some small twitching little speck.  Thus small and sparse (for salmon flies).  And you have to totally deaddrift to them.  They food isn’t high enough on the food chain to escape,  so any swift movement (either by stripping or swinging) is a turn-off.

I have no idea why anyone would spend thousands of dollars to fly to Alaska to snag fish.  This time of year,  it is the majority on the river.  My most frustrating time of year,  but also the most rewarding when I do get someone to do it right and they start outfishing everyone around them.  Including spin guys outfishing the fly flossers when they rig it right and get the drift down.

OK,  rant is over.  Thanks.

Our Subsistence Week on the Akwe

The Fish and Game biologist decided to close the Akwe River by emergency order last week.  We closed the shop and went out anyway!  Gorgeous sunny weather to start the week,  then it turned foggy and drizzly for when we needed to fly out.  So opposite of what we’d want – drizzle when fishing and sunny when flying…


Not many fish in the confluence hole, just a few about 100 feet below.

I dropped the kids off the day before,  then Teen and I flew out late Saturday.  Tanis and Eden had much of the chores done.  Someone had borrowed our ATV sometime last fall and didn’t put it back under cover,  so a bear ate the seat ad the fuel tank was full of crud and water.  We spent most of Saturday getting the carburetor and tank cleaned out and the Honda running again,  followed by getting the boat on wheels and the outboard running again too Sunday morning.


What is left of our Honda seat

Sunday noon,  we were ready to take the boat from the Italio to the Akwe.  Launched it,  went upstream to set a subsistence net and take a look at the river and fishing holes.  The week before,  the biologist flew the river and didn’t see any fish at all.  This time,  we saw a few from the air Friday and many more by Sunday from the boat.  We set the net in a pretty crappy spot – wide,  shallow and flat with less than 1/3rd of the channel blocked.  Went back to the cabin for lunch.  An hour later,  the kids went out to check the net and found 83 sockeye waiting.  We only wanted 30…  OOPS!

We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning and icing the catch.  Monday,  the weather was terrible,  so had to wait till 3pm to fly back to town with the girls and gear first,  then Tanis and fish last.  Didn’t get ready to start canning till about 6pm.

Cleaning and icing the fish,  with a school of baby salmon eating their aunts’ guts…

We put up 9 1/2 cases of jarred sockeye.  We haven’t canned fish for a few years,  so this will be nice to have through the winter.  Subsistence is a vital part of rural Alaska life.  It is so expensive to ship food in by air or boat that our local seafood and moose are our primary staples.  We dropped off half the fish at Glacier Bear and had them vac-pack and freeze them.  Saved one to bake fresh fir dinner.  And found a 5 gallon bucket of frozen moose meat in the chest freezer that was intended for grinding for burger,  so we canned it in chunks.  2 1/2 cases of pints in a 5 gallon bucket of moose meat,  in case you need to know for the future…

Took two days to process all the fish,  but we’ll have protein through the dark winter months this year.  I would have rather fished through the entire weekend and sold my catch,  but they are opening us this week.  Hopefully there will still be a good run ahead,  even though the Situk seems to be slowing down a bit.

A side-by-side comparison of raw and cooked sockeye.  That brilliant colored meat is what they try to dye the farmed fish to look like (and fail).  Cooked…  not so spectacular.  But it tastes incredible and is naturally packed with all that Omega 3 fat we’re supposed to be taking in pill form…  Good to have a full pantry.

And a boring video of Tanis and I cleaning fish…  You have to cut the dorsal fin off subsistence fish,  so it can’t be sold to the fish plant.  The boat was tilted and the seat very slick.  Hard to do anything with the slimy fish in that seat…  I don’t think the videos show for those of you on e-mail subscriptions.  Sorry.

Bob, Stop Procrastinating!

OK,  here is a fishing update at last!

Sockeye fishing on the Situk has been OK over-all,  but not great.  Feels like the run is a bit late.  Looking back over the past 4 years,  we have 6,430 fish counted through the weir as of yesterday.  5,596 last year as of the same date,  but 15,602 in 2014 and 39,012 in 2013.  The river has been pretty low,  but rain this weekend should bring more fish into the system.  There have been good numbers down in the estuary,  with 20,000lbs of commercial catch on the opening day of the season last week.

We already have more than 15,000 sockeye counted in the East River,  so if you are heading there,  the run is going gangbusters already.  Not so much for fish in the Doame though.  Akwe has been a bust so far.  There are a few kings in the Akwe,  but the sockeye have yet to arrive.  Last week,  fishing for sockeye on the New Italio was pretty good for that early in the season.  Chris had been out there with friends and they did pretty well in the stretch in front of Ryman’s Cabin.

Speaking of rain and flows…  Tanis and I were blown off the Akwe for our opening commercial fishing week due to the flushing of moss out of the river.  It just loaded up the nets and we didn’t catch a single fish.  Apparently the Akwe and Italio received a lot more rain than the Situk,  since the Situk is only flowing 177 CFS and still below the average for this time of year.  It is dry today,  but supposed to turn back to rain in another day or two.  It has been VERY dry.

Humpies, Humpies Everywhere

Boy,  you fall silver fishermen are getting restless!  Lots of anxious calls and e-mails,  wanting to get a fresh fishing report.  Well,  all we really have to report is that there are a TON of pink salmon in most streams.  Everything from the East River to Akwe to Situk and Tawah Creek are plugged.  Yesterday I flew a scenic flight over Hubbard Glacier and coming back to town over the bay,  there were areas around small streams with the bay black with salmon eager to squeeze up into any and every trickle of fresh water.  Lots and lots of humpies.


Not to say that’s all we have…  still seeing 1,000 to 2,000 sockeye through the weir every day – although yesterday saw nearly 4,000!  I talked to a group who floated the Situk yesterday and they had no trouble through most of the float hooking into sockeye.  Last weekend for Tanis and I on the Akwe,  the ratio of pinks to sockeye dropped significantly,  so the sockeye continue while the pinks (at least out there) are already slowing.


No sign lately of any early silvers for us on the Italio or Akwe.  NONE caught since June in our nets.  I have heard of a couple here and there being hooked in the Situk,  but not many.  We still have a couple weeks to wait for them to start showing in earnest in the fresh water.  Out in the bay,  the charter boats are getting into a few nice ones though.


That’s about all I have to report fishing-wise.  I’ll be better with the reports as we get closer to the silver run’s arrival.


Sockeye Ending

Unfortunately this year’s sockeye run is coming to an end.  And I only made it out a couple times to fly fish for them.  My favorite fish unfortunately runs in the middle of my frantically busy time.  Between the fly shop,  summer hangar construction,  museum tours,  Saturday Markets,  commercial fishing on the Akwe and everything else,  there just isn’t enough time in the day even with nearly 24/7 daylight.

Comet dead center on the tongue.

Comet dead center on the tongue.

Jim Pook from down in Arizona sent me the link for a nice sockeye article on the Alaska Outdoor Journal.  The writer “gets it”,  although our preferred techniques are not the same.  Same basic results though…  From the fly shop perspective,  the sockeye season is the most rewarding (and frustrating) season.  Helping to educate anglers – both fly and spin – to entice these incredible fish to bite is a lot of fun.  Having them come back in through the shop giddy about outfishing everyone else on the river is as much a thrill for me to hear as it is for them to actually do…  Frustrating though to deal with people who will never get the incorrect notion that “sockeye don’t bite” and “you have to line ’em” out of their noggins.

Chartreuse Crazy Charlie out in the tip of the nose - I like how this fly glows in UV light

Chartreuse Crazy Charlie out in the tip of the nose – I like how this fly glows in UV light and both sockeye and kings love this small shrimp imitation at tidewater

So… here is a nice article and fly recipe for you to peruse:


He recommends split shot and bouncing the fly along the bottom as though you are drifting a Glo Bug to steelhead.  I prefer fishing a heavy sink tip with only about a foot or two of leader – short leader so the sink tip drags the fly down with it – but off the bottom.  But the principles are the same – dead drifting little brine shrimp-looking flies into a narrow strike zone.

The typical sockeye flies I use when fishing down in the intertidal areas for fresh ocean-behavior fish

The typical sockeye flies I use when fishing down in the intertidal areas for fresh ocean-behavior fish

I describe the behavior like this:  Sockeye primarily feed on zoo plankton and invertebrates in the ocean.  1) they are small and sparse and 2) not high enough on the food chain to escape.  Sockeye usually don’t chase down their food,  instead just lightly slurping the freefloating/twitching little speck.  Put a lot of movement into the fly and they won’t be interested.

INSIDE corner of the mouth

INSIDE corner of the mouth

Except…  the longer the sockeye are in fresh water,  the more they move away from displaying ocean feeding behavior and change to a territorial/defensive behavior.  In the upper river and/or in the lake,  sockeye will chase down larger streamer patterns and fish-like flies.  Last year up in Italio Lake,  the two best flies were a grey saltwater Clouser and dark blue Egg-sucking Bunny Leech.  The big bucks would chase after these flies threatening their territory.  Active strip in the lake was a necessity,  with no current to add movement to the fly.  In the upper river,  you have a lot of salmon fry and trout looking to feed on sockeye eggs.  The sockeye will snap at anything as they get closer to spawning.

Best Italio Lake patterns

Best Italio Lake patterns

Last week in the Upper Situk,  our best flies were kind of on opposite ends of these scales…  We fished a black and chartreuse Bunny Leech with success,  but also the smaller Red Hots,  Money Bugs and Mega-Prince flies.  All of them had good reactions with the combination of bright fresh and dark red sockeye we had in front of us.  Dead drift was most successful still,  although we had a lot of rainbow trout chasing the stripped flies down.

Another "Hot" hook-up,  green hook with FL Orange flash

Another “Hot” hook-up, green hook with FL Orange flash

We inadvertently hooked three kings over two long days of fishing…  I had this discussion on the phone with ADF&G and even had some criticism from the Forest Service for fishing the upper river last week…  The upper river is closed to the “taking” of king salmon after June 30th.  Fishing a large deep pool with about 50 kings,  500 sockeye,  100 pinks and 200 trout,  who are you “targeting”?  It was implied that because I used a large fly,  I must have been targeting the kings and not the sockeye.  Let me be perfectly clear in case the trooper is reading this – I have never hooked a king with a big king fly.  Only with little sockeye flies since I learned to fly fish 15 years ago.

One king was hooked on the bunny,  one on the red hot and one on the money bug

One king was hooked on the bunny, one on the red hot and one on the money bug

I couldn’t keep the rainbows off the Mai Tai in a shallower stretch above the deep pool,  but had three king follows with it as well.  I yanked it away from the king to avoid hooking up in among the branches and snags.  In the deep pool,  you had a lot less control over which species,  since they were all mixed up together.  Hooking three dozen “they never bite and you have to line ’em” sockeye and three “they hit big flies” kings means we targeted which species?

Sockeye on a Coho fly

Sockeye on a Coho fly

Although that grey Clouser that looks like a small herring would definitely be a “King fly” in my opinion,  the Bunny Leeches are Silver flies.  Last year in Italio Lake,  I was targeting kings obviously (even if it isn’t possible for a king to get over Italio Falls and none were counted through the Forest Service weir that was in last year).  That’s the fly I used.  Whatever.  This would be a fun ticket to fight.

OK,  I have a headache and am obviously a little crabby…  Maybe I should refrain from posting this…  Too late!  🙂  I definitely need to wait for my head to feel better before posting the results of our assembly meeting…