Story & Photos By Jeremy Anderson
One of the coolest things about rainbow trout fishing in Alaska is the opportunity to catch fish on many different flies and beads. The diverse bio-system that Alaska’s rivers have to offer includes flies, larva, smolt, eggs, salmon flesh and even the occasional mouse. As fishermen it is our job to “match the hatch” and find the right fly or bead for the day. Having an arsenal of flies and beads to throw at Alaska rainbow trout is essential. It allows you to be ready to throw something new when your go-to option isn’t working, so it’s critical to have the variety pack when traveling to new water.
Each type of fly we use for trout fishing fishes differently: There are topwater flies, mid water-column flies, and flies that stay deep along the bottom. Remember when you go to pick your first fly for the day, know what part of the water column you are targeting.
Fishing topwater for rainbow trout is explosive! As a fly fisherman I always have a variety of dry flies for fishing the surface of the water. When a bug hatch starts happening you will see trout come out of nowhere, smacking flies as they hit the water. Read the water and watch the fish. When you feel ready, hop in the mix and drift your dry fly through the strike zone. Make sure to bring some fly floatant so your fly keeps floating, as it will tend to get soaked and sink eventually.
Mid water-column flies for trout fishing can be fun. Your goal is to get your fly under water and keep it in the middle half of the water column. Making sure your fly gets down into the strike zone but not too far towards the bottom is critical. If I am buying or making flies for the mid-column I look for the fly to absorb water to help it sink. In terms of the flies weight it is important to have a little weight to help the wet fly sink but not too much where you feel it hitting the bottom easily. Finally, make sure you let that fly swing, as it gives it real good action.
Flies that dredge the bottom are there for a reason. When the fish are down deep you need to get your fly to the fish. You are going to want to use a fly that sinks quickly by using a weighted head on your fly. When you cast the fly in a river you need to make sure you cast straight out or slightly upstream. If you cast too far upstream with a heavy fly it will get stuck on the bottom. To be productive the fly needs to have a consistent tick our bounce on the bottom. This method goes for a size 14 nymph or a 3-inch Egg-sucking Leech.
There are clear and opaque beads that come in many sizes, each resembling a different part of the egg cycle. As you are deciding what bead to tie above your hook narrow down the possibilities by understanding what eggs are in the water and why.
The color of a bead represents the color of the eggs that are underwater. There are fresh eggs in the river that you can see through and older eggs that have been in the water for a while that are opaque. Then there is every egg in between. The eggs in the river are like a story; they evolve over time. As you pick your bead color for the day make sure that you know what is going on under the surface of the water. If people are salmon fishing, you have a clue. If there are salmon spawning, you have another clue. When all else fails throw a Hail Mary and go out on a limb.
The size of the bead is important to consider as well. Salmon eggs vary in size and the beads we have to replicate eggs with range in size from 4mm to 16mm. I like to compare the size of the salmon egg to the salmon itself. The king eggs are the biggest and the sockeye eggs are the smaller ones. If you know what species of salmon is spawning then you have a good indicator of what size bead to throw. If the size of bead you think should work isn’t then upsize or downsize and see what happens.
Each time of year has the perfect fly or bead that will get your rod bent. It is your job to figure out what the trout is eating and where the food is. If you can do this your catching rate will go up dramatically. There is a perfect place to throw a dry fly, but only at the right time of year. Some days there are lots of eggs flowing down river but only one bead that do the trick. As you find yourself immersed in the trout mind game funnel your trout energy into experimenting and being creative, while using the clues you have gathered. If you can do this you will get to enjoy the many ways in Alaska to catch a native Alaska rainbow trout, which is hard to beat.