When is it the right time to use flesh flies? Some years it seems you can use flesh from opening day in June and continue to use it all the way through October. But on the other hand, some years I never pull out my flesh-fly box. I have this constant struggle when guiding trout fishing on the Kenai River, wondering what is going to work best. I am going to go over a few things regarding when I think it is appropriate to use flesh…or not!

Early season flesh fly.

When to fish flesh flies

The years when we consistently use flesh flies generally happens the year after we had a big pink-salmon spawn. Here on the Kenai River, though pink salmon return every year, we have HUGE numbers of them on even-numbered years. Therefore, the odd-numbered years are good years to start out with flesh.

Typically, salmon carcasses that washed up on shore in the fall and get preserved over winter from the cold and snow. Then in the spring, the water comes up, rehydrates the salmon carcasses and washes them downstream.

Fly color and size

flesh flies

Mid-season flesh-fly assortment.

Generally, since these are old, bleached carcasses, you’ll want to use more washed-out colors with whites, grays and some tans in your fly. I like to tie them in different sizes and fish from my smallest size up to a fairly large fly. You can be pretty consistent with these colors from the opener in June until mid-July when the second run of sockeyes show up.

I am basing all of this on fishing the middle Kenai River, below Skilak Lake. If you were fishing in the upper Kenai River, you would want a more-colored flesh fly because the first-run sockeyes are mainly Russian River fish and smaller, more colorful flesh flies up there would work better than larger, paler flies. Note that the upper Kenai receives a big influx of “fresh” flesh—orange-colored flesh from people filleting and cleaning those first-run sockeyes.

flesh flies

Next season trout food.

Many factors to consider

When the second run of sockeyes arrive in July and August, they are mainstem spawning fish, meaning most of the run stays in the Kenai river to spawn, rather than in the smaller tributaries. When fishing below Skilak Lake down to Bing’s Landing, I generally target high-traffic areas where anglers are fishing for sockeye salmon from shore, and I also target areas where those same anglers are cleaning sockeyes. A fresher-looking flesh fly generally does much better for me during this timeframe. A fly tied with light oranges, whites and a touch of red makes a killer color. Some days it seems bead fishing can keep up with the flesh fly or even do better, but flesh will always catch some pretty big trout from mid-July through the third week of August.

Late fall flesh-eater.

Once that third week of August rolls around, you should probably put the flesh fly away and focus on fishing the salmon spawn. You might catch a few nice trout on flesh, but they are keyed in on eggs for the next three-and-a-half weeks. You could probably fish a bead for the rest of the season and would be just fine.

Flesh flies in the fall

On odd-numbered years, I generally will fish flesh from mid-September through the end of the season. If it is an even-numbered year (with huge numbers of pink salmon spawning) I will not fish flesh until the end of September through October. Generally, a semi-fresh flesh fly will work great in the late fall, with some light oranges, whites, grays and tans mixed in. Most of the trout you catch that time of the year will be pretty healthy because they have been feeding all fall on salmon eggs and flesh.

Small flesh, big trout.

When fishing flesh in late fall, you want to focus primarily on where the salmon carcasses are washing through or piling up. A slow, dead drift with a nine- to ten-foot leader, an indicator, and a couple small split shot 24 inches above your fly, is what I like to fish through the whole season.

Just to clarify, this is how I fish my clients throughout the season. You could probably fish flesh every day and catch fish well, just like you could with a bead or any other pattern. There is always some sort of flesh present in the Kenai River. Because of this, never rule out a flesh fly when you are trying to catch trout on the Kenai. It is always on one of my rods for the day.

Nigel Fox has been co-owner/guide at Alaska Drift Away Fishing for close to two decades. He is a lifelong Alaskan and has been fishing on the Kenai River since he was a young boy, and each year he learns more about the intricate world of catching trophy salmon and trout on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.

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