The Rainbow Troutis one of the most sought after sport fishes in the world and attracts serious anglers from around the globe. The attractions are obvious if you have ever had the privilege to tangle with one and witness its raw power and undeniable beauty. To a great many anglers the Rainbow remains one of the most majestic sport fish in which to pursue.
The Rainbow Trout swim naturally throughout Alaska and offer the angler many options in which to choose. The many clearwater streams and lakes provide perfect habitat for both wild and hatchery trout alike. Many lakes are stocked with Rainbows and provide excellent opportunities to catch a bragging size Rainbow and more times than not you just may have the lake all to yourself. Some of these areas are catch and release so check the regs for verification.
Early spring means warmer water and the awakening of the Rainbow from its long winters nap. The Rainbow will slowly make its way into shallower water to prepare for spawning. It is at this time that the Rainbow Trout devours any morsel of food that comes near it. I don’t have to say this is a great time to be on the water.
The Rainbow becomes very active as the water warms and hits a range of between 52 and 60 degrees dazzling anglers and spectators alike with its arm numbing runs and spectacular arial displays. This time frame could range from mid April to mid June.When the water temperature reaches a certain level the female will fan her tail to clean away sediment leaving a nest or redd of clean gravel. The redd can be from 4 to 12 inches in depth and 9 to 16 inches in diameter. The female may deposit anywhere from 700 to 7,000 eggs. The eggs are then fertilized by the male and covered with gravel where they remain unattended from a few weeks to four months depending on the weather that season.
The newly hatched Rainbow fry emerge from the gravel and seek stream debris or protected lake shores for shelter. There, they will remain, for two to three years, feeding on plant materials, small insects and their larvae. Finally, the few that survive move to more open areas in their habitat in order to feed on much larger items such as small fish, leeches, insects and even rodents who find themselves occasionally in the Rainbows feeding lane.
The Rainbow Trout is among the top rated sport fish in the world today. Alaska Fish and Game do their best to protect and preserve this much sought after species with conservative bag limits, catch and release and seasons which are closed on some Alaskan waters during peak spawning. If your intentions are to enjoy the great taste of the Rainbow trout please consider one of the many stocked lakes in the area. There are usually more fish which are often easier to catch, fight just as hard and taste just as good. If you are like me once you lay your eyes on a native Rainbow, with its magnificent colors, you just might agree that these fish should be released to fight again so that generations to come might have a chance to see one of God’s true gifts to us all.
The Arctic Grayling is a non-anadromous salmonid fish which inhabits subarctic and Arctic region streams of North America and Europe. Grayling emerge from their winter homes to spawn in early spring. Three and four year old Grayling move into shallow water to spawn as the males take on a brilliant display of colors in order to impress the females. Grayling do not build nests for their eggs, instead the male wraps his huge dorsel fin around the back of the female as she drops a few thousand eggs into the water. The male releases milt and the fertilized eggs are carried by the current to the bottom of the stream and buried in the sand . Incubation is two to three weeks. The newly born Grayling eat algea and very small aquatic insects throughout the summer reaching a size which will allow them to survive the harsh winter.
Grayling prefer clear water streams and during the short summers, feed aggressively on aquatic and terrestrial microinvertebrates. Grayling have been found to occupy the same section of stream, for this short feeding time, year after year. This behavior is believed to be due to the fact that searching for other places to feed would expend too much energy and time and so they return each summer to essentially the same feeding lanes.
The Grayling is an excellent sport fish. However; even with its beauty, acrobatic displays and its willingness to aggressively take a dry fly, the Grayling tends to wane in popularity among its many peers swimming within the same waters. This is actually good news to the angler who wants to enjoy a peaceful day fishing with little or no competition from other anglers. Here are a few noted observances by anglers and biologist that could be of interest to you.
The Grayling is a very aggressive feeder and will chase anything that looks like food. Smaller Grayling, due to severe competition with other Grayling, will actually leave the water to grab an unsuspecting flying insect. The larger Grayling, on the other hand, has little competion as he controls his feeding lane. In order to conserve energy the large Grayling will move as little as possible to allign itself with the food drifting its way and rarely chases its food like the smaller fish. Keep this in mind when looking for trophy Grayling as the action provided by the smaller Grayling in the more shallow open water may be enough for you to forget the large fish lying in the deeper pools waiting for your offering. Small flies and spinners work great for Grayling. Almost any color will do. Be aware of the Grayling roll when dry fly fishing. When taking a bug on the surface the Grayling will first roll over the bug, or fly, in what seems to be an attempt to drown or just submerge the morsel before devouring it. Just keep this in mind as you will tend to set the hook on the roll before the Grayling has the fly in its mouth resulting in a miss and a duck as you try to miss the fly whizzing back at you at super sonic speeds.
Although the Grayling is not the most popular fish in Alaska it is only because there has to be a favorite and with the many different species available in Alaska the Grayling just happens to be one of the least sought after. So if you want to get away from the crowds and enjoy some fast pace action, look for the Grayling to fill the bill.
MARIBOU MUDDLER OLIVE
Spring is fast approaching the great lands of Alaska and spring is synonymous with fishing in Alaska. Many cold dark months have been spent dreaming about the end of winter, the break-up of ice and the emerging fry from the many streams across Alaska. Emerging fry in Alaska means feeding frenzies that can test the nerves of the most seasoned angler. These frenzies occur in many different types of watersheds but for this article we will focus on estuaries where a river or creek meets the sea and where Dolly Varden come to feed.
Estuaries throughout Alaska become fish magnets as the snowmelt fills the rivers. Often times rivers and creeks are tough to fish this time of year because of this increase in water flow. Inquisitive anglers, who tend to rush the season a bit, found long ago the opportunities provided by this natural occurrence so vital to the life cycle of so many fish, birds and other animals residing close to these rivers and creeks but don’t expect open conversations about these early spring haunts as they seem to be some of the last remaining secrets among anglers. I do not intend on giving away any spots in this article but I assure you there are more than enough to go around in Alaska and some that get little or no pressure from other anglers.
To understand the reasons for the great fishing at these estuaries one must first learn why. Throughout the summer, salmon move up stream to lay eggs. These eggs provide the Dollies with much needed protein to survive the long winter months but that is for another article. These eggs hatch into what is called an alevin, which is a small salmon with its egg sac still attached. The content of the egg sac is consumed as they begin to grow into fry. Most of the fry and alevins remain in the fresh water for a few seasons with the exception of the Chum salmon which journey to at least the brackish water provided by the estuary where they will reside until mature enough to journey to the open ocean.
The Snow high in the Southeast Alaska mountains begin to melt in March through early May, depending on the season. The run-off from this snowmelt creates higher flow rates within these watersheds causing even more difficulties for the immature salmon trying to survive. This cycle begins the angling season in Alaska and anglers should be there to take advantage of this great opportunity. The action seen at these estuaries are second to none and occur well in advance of the on-slaught of tourist that flock to Alaska each summer.
Dolly Varden are aggressive and willing to attack anything resembling a young salmon. Anything from streamers at the end of a fly line to spoons on a spinning outfit will work great for these tenacious creatures, which are a member of the char family. My weapon of choice has got to be the fly rod. With a fly the angler can vary the presentation on every cast. Variations of the presentations will help the angler entice many more strikes than with a spoon or spinner. Let us look at the reasons why.
With a spoon or spinner your presentation is pretty much cast and retrieve. The weight of the spoon or spinner limits your ability to vary your presentation throughout the retrieve. In order to keep your presentation up in the water column, where the Dollies are and the bottom feeders aren’t, you must perform a fast retrieve throughout the presentation. Rests assure you can and will catch many Dollies in this manner but the fly allows for various presentations even within the same cast. Here are some of the presentations allowed by the fly.
FAST STRIP: The fast strip retrieve is a good presentation to start with in your selected estuary or stream. A fast retrieve is performed by completing the cast and immediately beginning the retrieve with a long strip with the only hesitation being the brief moment it takes to move your stripping hand up the line. This retrieve will present the fly on or just below the surface of the water and can entice some tremendous strikes so be ready and check your nerves at the truck. The reason this technique is a good one to begin with is that it entices the more aggressive fish first. These may be the only fish of the many below that will attack a fast stripped fly on or near the surface. This is important and can allow you more productive fishing time in one spot. If you were to use one of the following presentations what you would see is the aggressive fish taking the fly but running off the less aggressive fish in the process and possibly running those fish to another area, which could be out of your range even with spinning gear. So keep the less aggressive fish nearby by targeting the aggressive fish on the surface where there is little or no competition from below.
PAUSE STRIP: The pause strip is a great retrieve and has really brought many Dollies to hand. The pause strip retrieve can be performed in many fashions. One may make two fast strips immediately then pause or one might wait a few seconds to allow the fly to sink to a certain depth before beginning the pause strip. Whether fast strip then pause or slow strip three pulls then pause, it is all up to the angler to try different variations in order to get a strike.
SLOW STRIP: The slow strip is the best finish up retrieve for a certain spot. In the off chance that the bite slows while using the other strips and variation of those strips the slow strip just may entice a few more strikes and often times they can be the largest fish in the area as the same holds true for many of Alaska’s sport fish as the larger fish will refuse, with good reason, to expend too much energy chasing a meal that may not even replenish them with the energy burned to catch them. So, as your nerves begin to settle back to normal and two or three fat Dollies are in the creel for supper it is time to relax and meticulously cover the area with the slow strip retrieve. The name is self-explanatory but there are several variations of the retrieve worth noting. The slow strip retrieve may begin with two lightning fast strips followed by a countdown then the slow strip that may include a pause or two on the way in. The important thing is to remember that the majority of the retrieve should be slow. This allows the fish to decide if it wants to expend the energy needed to take your presentation, that decision is based on how the fly is moving through the water. There are many more strips out there to try but these three and the many variations within can be more than enough to provide many hours of fish fighting fun
.One question that is brought up in angling circles is which fly line to use. Well I have to say I personally have refused to allow the many hundreds of fly line types to interfere with my sanity and so I have one spool of floating and one spool of sinking. Add a weighted fly or a split shot to either the floating or the sinking line and you have several different presentations at your disposal. Now having said that there are times when a special situation presents itself and you may be forced to purchase a special line for that particular circumstance. Often times, in those situations, you may be introduced to a line you did not even know existed and unless you are going to fish that same locale later on you may never find a reason to purchase that line again but you know its out there.
Flies for Dollies can really vary throughout the season but during early spring only a few stands out. Remember, during early spring Dollies are feeding on fry and alevins. Streamers are the most effective during this time as the fish are somewhat aggressive and hungry and tend to focus on the most abundant forage at the time, which are these young salmon. One important factor to consider is color. Dollies have been known to prefer a certain color not just from day to day but even hour to hour. So fill the fly box with several streamers of different colors and take advantage of this early season and crowd less, angling opportunity.
The Northern Pike, also referred to as the Water Wolf, is a formidable fish for rod and reel of any type. Torpedo like, the Pike will come from nowhere and before you are able to figure out what it is it has slammed your lure or fly. By the time you think to set the hook the mighty Pike has set it for you with a screaming run that will leave you flabbergasted at times even if it isn’t your first Pike. With these attributes the Pike has become a common target for conventional as well as fly gear.
Around May Pike migrate from their winter domain and seek slow and shallow waters to spawn. This migration is usually not too far. The choice spawning grounds consist of shallow water with mud bottom and suspended vegetation. Interestingly the female Pike contains large ripe eggs as well as immature eggs that will ripen the following year. Depending on age and size a mature female Pike may contain anywhere from 2,000 to 600,000 eggs. The eggs are deposited in the water to find their own way to the bottom and/or suspended vegetation utilizing the sticky film that surrounds the eggs. The eggs are on their own and receives no parental care or protection.
Once the eggs are deposited and as long as the water remains cool the Pike remain in the spawning area and enjoy a feeding frenzy that may scare the novice angler as they watch a muskrat disappear in a frothing swirl of water left by a who knows how long a Water Wolf. One may wonder, at this time, whether a float tube was the best choice for this endeavor.
The Northern Pike has been discussed around Alaskan native fires long before any crazy angler decided they would catch these monsters with a stick and a line. “Devil Waters” was where these monsters lived according to Native legends and these waters were left alone. The natives left these fish alone for thousands of years but as soon as an angler heard the legends and tales they were off in search of the very “Devil Waters” they were warned about. They searched these waters for the fish they were warned about and found them. The Pike now provide anglers with great angling adventure whether stripping a super mouse across a slack water oxbow or retrieving a giant spinner these fish are sure to smack whatever is offered and the angler best be holding tight to their rods.
These fish start life like most others as an alevin feeding on the contents of their egg sacs then on zoo plankton but soon their diet shifts to fish. The eggs and fry sustain a 99.9% mortality rate. This may account for the tenacity and angry mood displayed by these great fighting fish as they become the predator and devour anything that could have possibly been responsible for their ridiculous mortality rate.
For many years the Pike has been considered a nuisance and not fit to eat because of its many bones. Recently they have been gaining popularity on both accounts. The willingness to take lure or fly as well as their great numbers throughout Alaska helped with the popularity and once anglers learned to clean the Pike, leaving only boneless fillets, its popularity soared.
Several lakes in the MAT-SU valley is home to these Wolves of the water. Large flies and at least an eight -weight rod. Floating line works well in the slow shallow haunts of the Pike. The tippet should be 12-20 LB with the last six inches to a foot being wire leader due to the Pike’s needle sharp teeth. Nearly any bulky fly stripped viciously through the water will trigger a strike. A good choice would be the dark Polar Shrimp or Black Matuka.
LAKER ON THE FLY
The name Lake Trout lends a slight misnomer to the actual species of this incredible fish that is actually not a trout at all, but a char. The Lake Trout resides in some of the most spectacular places on earth and the trip that spurred this article is no exception.
The Newhalen River, near Iliamna Alaska, is where this trip took place and the intention was to land some nice early season Rainbows. Although Rainbows were indeed landed the Lake trout took center stage as they fed in frenzies on the tiny smolt that were venturing out into the currents for the first time.
The first feeding frenzy we spotted drew much attention as we expected huge Rainbows were cruising the shallows. Not one person expected what happened next. Wham! The Marabou Muddler was engulfed as it was stripped quickly through the rising pod of what turned out to be Lake Trout.
Lake Trout, for the most part, tend to elude most fly-fishing lore and go unnoticed. The depth at which they dwell and the difficulty in locating a group of fish to target within the parameters of the fly angler all contribute to its lack of attention, however; there is an exception and that is early spring just after break-up when Lake trout, usually in the 20 to 30 inch range, journey from the big lakes and cruise the shallows of the rivers that enter and exit them. So while Rainbows, Dollies, Coho and Kings steal the lime light, the Lake Trout still continue, unmolested, gorging on the many salmon fry that struggle in the currents as they begin to learn the perils of life as a salmon.
It is during this time that fly anglers can easily locate and entice Lakers into taking their fly, even on top. The Lakers can be located by the many swirls and splashes as they travel in schools. They remind me of my younger days when we used to go to the lake before school in hopes of catching rockfish “in the jumps” and hopefully catch one without being too late for class.
Once the frenzy is located the angler must quickly introduce their fly into the frenzy and utilize a fast strip-stop retrieve to get the Lakers attention. The takes are no joke and I have found the quicker you retrieve the more attention you get. One may want to hesitate for just a second after a few feet of retrieve before resuming the fast strip technique.
Any fly pattern that imitates a small fish should do the trick but I can only speak for the maribou muddler as I found no reason to change while the Lakers continued to slam them with reckless abandon. There is one note of interest you might want to know. Just because of the hard takes don’t think the Lakers are a pushover. For some reason the Lakers are hard to hook. It seems they strike haphazardly at the fly but I think nerves played a huge part of the misses I encountered.
If you have ever had the opportunity to fish Northerns or Musky on top water you are familiar with the torpedo wake as the fish ambushes your fly or lure from behind. With Lake Trout you get the same visible approach which can unnerve an angler as they try to predict when the strike will occur as the Laker dips under the fly before coming from under for the take. Often times I would set the hook too soon, missing the fish entirely and sending him searching for a new prey as I duck to miss my fly.
The Lake Trout may not get too much attention but that is quite all right with me. I will be glad to have these dwellers of the deep to myself and will also enjoy the Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden and Arctic Grayling in between. If you are like myself and prefer less crowded angling you should try early spring in Alaska and remember the Lake Trout. The forgotten Lake Trout just might be an added species found in your journals of your trip of a lifetime whether you expect it or not.