King salmon are probably the most exciting large freshwater species that can be taken on the fly. We are usually fishing from shore or wading from gravel bars to pursue these giant fish. Casting a fly to kings requires proper gear and technique.
Kings run early in the season when river flows are high and the water somewhat turbid. These conditions require heavy shooting heads and large weighted flies for proper presentation. Eleven to twelve-weight rods are generally necessary to cast these lines and large flies. Later in the season when river flows are down, or when fishing from a boat, 10-weight rods usually will suffice.
Two-handed spey fly rods, first used in our area by European anglers, can be very effective in fishing for king salmon, particularly in larger, faster areas of the river. The ability to roll cast heavy sink-tip fly lines effortlessly can be fully appreciated by those of us who have fished for years with conventional rods. We now find that many more of our clients, both American and international, are using 9 and 10-weight spey rods of 12 to 15 foot length. Additionally the longer rods have increased fish fighting power as well as the ability to easily cast a wide variety of sinking fly lines.
Fly reels for king salmon should be large (3.5-4” spools) and preferably should have a sturdy mechanical drag system. Popular saltwater models such as the Fin-Nor #2, Sage 5500 or Billy Pate Bonefish are ideal. Many others, such as the System 2-1011 or Lamson 5 work well as long as the drag system is operating properly. Backing capacity is not as important as the necessity for a strong drag and an exposed spool rim for palm control. One hundred fifty yards is usually plenty of line capacity for kings. Leaders for kings are usually short, consisting of a single section of 15-25# mono of only 3-5 feet in length. We often fish from shore and are not able to chase king salmon with a boat so a large fish should be turned upstream as early as possible… Easier said than done.
Fly Fishing July/August
Silvers, Chum and Pink Salmon
Anyone who has fished Alaska in late July and August will attest that the Silver Salmon, Pink Salmon and Chum Salmon can provide just about the fastest fly rod action that can be experienced anywhere. Seven and 8-weight rods with floating or 10’ or 13’ T-2 Type III sink tip lines are ideal for the silvers and chums, while pinks can be fished effectively with 5 or 6-weights. Silvers usually will give lots of aerial action and are strong fighters. We usually fish silvers in sloughs or backwater pools just off the main river current. They are often in nearly still water that might not be much over a foot deep. In these conditions, use a floating line and a sparsely tied and lightly weighted fly pattern. In faster or deeper pools use larger and darker patterns weighted appropriately and fish a 10’ sink tip line or a 13’ steelhead tip line in Type II or Type III densities.
The venerable egg-sucking leech is the favorite pattern for silver salmon and chums, tied in a side array of variations to match river conditions. We use small ties, about #6 (with a total length of about 1”) in clear, smaller water, and larger ones up to about 2 or 2-1/2” length on #1/0 with cactus chenille bodies and flashabou dressing for turbid water. Lots of other fly patterns will take silvers, including flash flies, egg imitations and coho streamer variations in all colors. Ask anybody who fishes for silvers, and you will hear about as many favorite fly patterns as you have anglers. Silvers or chums that are found in good numbers in very shallow water will often take a large dry fly or a deer hair mouse on the surface. Try a natural colored bomber or a small gray or brown mouse any time you see a lot of fish near the surface or fish that are taking wet flies very close to the surface. Silvers don’t take dry flies often but they do take them when conditions are right, and they have the inclination. Needless to say, taking an 8- or 10-pound silver salmon on a dry fly is very exciting angling.
Fly Fishing Alaska Rainbow Trout
When salmon are spawning in Lake Creek and its tributaries (king salmon in late July, pinks and chums in August,) rainbow trout begin their annual feeding frenzy. Their anticipation of salmon eggs soon to appear in the river causes many large rainbows to venture out into the open river, often in shallow water. In late July, and early August, king salmon hens begin digging nests in coarse gravel in relatively fast water. This activity disturbs rocks on the bottom, releasing hundreds of caddis and mayfly nymphs and other aquatic insects. The flood of insects is eagerly consumed by rainbows waiting for the eventual escape of eggs from gravel. During this early spawning phase of kings, we fish nymphs such as the bitch creek or a large stonefly nymph or large woolhead sculpins. Occasionally a big, bushy stimulator dry fly will take nice rainbows behind these kings. When pinks and chums are spawning in large numbers, we just start out fishing egg imitations in the spawning areas, particularly the chum beds, usually resulting in almost non-stop rainbow action. In shallow riffles, particularly behind chums, the rainbows will often eat dries readily.
Fly Fishing Arctic Grayling
Grayling can be found throughout Lake Creek all season with the best concentrations found in the upper river above the canyon during summer and in the lower river near the lodge in fall. These scrappy fish are primarily insect feeders and will take most dry flies nearly any time of the season. Our recommendations for fly selection is to carry three patterns in 2 sizes: a gray fly (mosquito), a black fly (black gnat) and a tan fly (adams or elk hair caddis). I usually carry size 10-14. If the grayling aren’t liking dries, nymphs or emergers will take them. Just fish some generic patterns in natural colors, size 10-14.
Area Northern Pike on the Fly
Northern Pike inhabit many of the small lakes in our area and often, for a change of pace, we’ll either fly or boat into these lakes for some pike fishing. We usually fish for pike with 7-9 weights and floating lines. Fly patterns usually are large minnow imitations like Lefty’s Deceivers or other tarpon flies, about size 3/0 to 5/0 and 4 or 5 inches long. Deer harir mice and bass bugs fished near weed beds or next to lily pads also are very effective, and pike often strike savagely at surface presentations. Leaders should be 8-12 pound class tippets with either a wire or heavy mono shock tippet. A simple leader setup we use for smaller pike is a 30# section of about 12” knotted to the class tippet with an Albright knot. For larger fish over 15 pounds, use a tarpon type bimini twist tippet with a light wire shock section. Pike on the fly is fantastic sport in the Lake Creek area with about a dozen lakes to fish within 15 miles or so. Mid-summer most of the pike we see are 3-10 pounds, but in early spring we often see fish of 12-15 pounds.