Rainbow trout are often caught with size 22 dry flies and near microscopic nymphs, fished under an indicator. Delicate presentations are often thought to be the most effective. Stealth is the key to success. This is especially true in small streams. When fishing for rainbow trout with a mouse fly. Not in Alaska. Rainbow trout swim up high mountain streams by the hundreds, ramming the sides of spawning sockeye salmon to knock loose their eggs. They follow closely behind the female salmon and gulp down eggs as fast as they can. Brown bears line the riverbank and tear into the salmon, scattering pieces of flesh into the water, creating feeding frenzies for piscivorous trout.
To add to the intensity of the situation, the high grass on the riverbank is teeming with small mice. Red-backed voles, to be more precise. Voles are a very common tiny rodent that regularly tumble down the riverbanks into the jaws of opportunistic trout. This is why fly fishing for rainbow trout with a mouse fly can be so effective.
Rainbows On My Birthday
For my birthday, my wife rented a remote cabin in the Chugach Mountains, right on the bank of one of these streams. We hiked 11 miles. We were greeted by a beautiful little wooden house. A 10×10 cabin outfitted with bunk beds, a table, and a wood stove. The cabins are managed by the state of Alaska. Rented out to hikers, fishermen, and hunters. The guest book inside is full of previous guests’ tales of bears and fish. We quickly unloaded our backpacks and headed upstream with fly rods and bear spray in tow.
Salmon swam past our feet in groups of about 40. The schools of fresh fish were mostly silver. Bright red fish spawned in pairs in the shallow rapids. It didn’t take long to locate trout. I casted a foam and rabbit hair mouse into a small pool directly behind a pair of spawning sockeye. As I stripped my fly toward me, a silver bullet shot across the river from the far bank and a rainbow trout crushed the mouse fly imitation. He didn’t get hooked and he turned into the current and charged again. It was his third attack when the hook finally grabbed him. It was like watching a great white shark jump out of the water with a seal in its mouth. The trout flew into the air and shook to kill its prey. I fought it to the net and squealed with excitement.
Rainbow Trout Mouse Flies And Bears
What followed will forever be remembered as one of the most exciting days of fishing I’ll ever have. My wife and I walked the banks of a mountain stream casting for trout, our bird dog watched us fish intently. Brown bear scat and tracks littered the water’s edge. We spoke loudly and sang to the dog so that we would not surprise any bears.
The tactic we settled on was to cast the mouse 45° upstream and twitch it as it floats down. Short fast strips seemed to trigger more bites than long slow ones. Also, when a fish hits the mouse fly and doesn’t get hooked resist the urge to retrieve and cast again. Instead allow the mouse fly drift down as if it is stunned. The trout will return to consume it.
The video below is a fishing montage my wife made of me catching trout after trout on these foam mice. You will notice the foam is torn from rainbow trout teeth by the end of the video.
Mouse hunter on the prowl painting by the author Benjamin Stevens
Check out more at Ben’s website
Watch video of catching rainbow trout on a mouse fly somewhere in Alaska
en·to·mol·o·gy /ˌen(t)əˈmäləjē/noun the study of insects.
The definition of entomology in the fly-fishing world is the understanding of the insects that offers a meal for fish. With this definition narrowing down the webster’s definition to insects that feed fish I would like to add an important food for Alaska’s rainbow trout. The vole or shrew. While there are mice in Alaska most of them reside in populated areas. It is the vole or shrew that provide food for trout and is the mammal that fly fisherman should focus on.
These little mammals offer the perfect morsal for rainbow trout when they are available. Mammals go through cycles everywhere. These cycles are more prevalent and observable in Alaska. Population cycles for the vole and shrew comes in 2–5-year cycles. Knowing when the population is at its peak can help you decide on throwing a mouse fly and target those creeks and streams with tall shoreline grass and over hanging tree limbs where the rainbow trout will gorge on these little mammals. Some biologists suggest that the uptick of the voles and shrews is vital for long-term survival of these fish. Source from a great article written by by coauthors Peter Lisi, Kale Bentley, Jonathan Armstrong and Daniel Schindler called Episodic predation of mammals by stream fishes in a boreal river basin in the Ecology of Freshwater Fish Journal.
As a fly fisherman for 20 years. Most of which was spent traversing and fishing the state of Alaska. I always wanted to learn more about the entomology in the last frontier. Although interested I never really explored entomology to any degree even though I tied flies and sold them through B&B’s and my website. It just seemed that with all the other options that Alaskan trout had to eat that learning entomology never became important enough to study. Besides that tying a fly that resembled a bug of any kind seemed to work in Alaska.
The trout in Alaska are less pressured. This lack of pressure that the trout in the lower 48 experiences makes the trout less skittish. This, coupled with the absolute need to feed during the short season in Alaska means that the need to perfectly “match the hatch” becomes less important. The common insects are known and will work to entice a strike from Alaska rainbow trout. Gnats, mosquitos and one of my favorites the leech all are easy to replicate with a good fly recipe and produce strikes. In fact, I caught my first rainbow trout in Alaska on the Kenai River. I was casting a tiny Griffiths gnat to a rising rainbow trout. It took the gnat on the first drift after fishing several other larger flies to the rainbow perfectly visible below.