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.
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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…