|DREDGING SCULPINS VS FLOATING SMOLT: Two "FishNerds" weigh in on their Favorite Techniques|
Catching Spring Rainbows on Sculpin Patterns
by Mike Cole
Meet Cottus aleuticus and Cottus cognatus, otherwise known as the Aleutian and Western Slimy Sculpins. Many locals know them as Bullheads or freshwater Irish Lords. These are the two most common species of freshwater sculpins found in Alaska. C. aleuticus is found from the Aleutian Islands up the Alaska Peninsula and into Bristol Bay. C. cognatus is found from Southeast to Southcentral Alaska. These sculpins are scavengers, hiding in all the nooks and crannies of the river and lake bottoms. And unlike Michael Phelps, they suck at swimming. Maybe this is why bows love to hit a sculpin and leech patterns at the end of the swing when the fly slows down and hangs.
A Slimy Bio
Slimy sculpin are typically brown to olive in color and have mottled backs and lighter bellies. This helps them blend into their surroundings. They can be gray or light tan in color too, depending upon the color of of the river or lake bottom. Back to the original question: why does the black leech seem to work everywhere? Well the answer may lie in this next tidbit of info. Slimy sculpins are spring spawners and both C. aleuticus and C. cognatus males turn dark brown to black during the spawn. They average 2-3” but can grow up to 4”. Now that we know what they look like in the spring, it is easy to see why a 3-4" black sculpin or leech pattern is so effective. Patterns in brown, tan, and olive should also be in your fly box just in case the river bottom calls for it.
A Slimy Guide's Point of View
Growing up in Southeast Alaska, I've known about freshwater sculpins since I was a kid. In the summer I used to run around the local stream with a goldfish net that I swiped from my parents' fish tank. Yes, I terrorized everything I could catch and slimy sculpins were on the list. Back then I thought they were ugly as sin and just another scavenger trash fish. Little did I realize how important sculpins are to a trout's diet. I learned this during the five years I guided in Bristol Bay. Every spring my clients would swing leeches and sculpins and hammer rainbows. At night the other guides and I would play around with the existing patterns, tweaking them and stringing them out, like a MOAL Leech, to see how big and obnoxious we could go. It seemed the bigger, the better and we ended up throwing patterns up to 5 inches in length that the bows couldn't resist.
This spring when you hit the rivers, be sure to bring some sculpins along. And think about our dear friend Mr. Slimy. You just might save his life and let old Slimy live to see another day.
Surface Anglers Like It On Top
Floating Flies for Spring Trout and Char
by Mark Hieronymus
What to Look For
The conditions needed to present a surface fly to trout and char aren't that hard to find if you know what to look for and where to look for it. The first thing to look for is the signs of trout or char actively feeding on salmon fry on or near the surface, a noisy, splashy affair that can often be witnessed at lake inlets and outlets, as well as the estuarine flats where rivers meet the sea. In these locations, the trout or char can lay in wait for their meal to be carried to them as the salmon fry are washed downstream with the current. As the fry attempt to escape the unwanted attention of the larger predator fish, many often swim right at the surface, unwittingly offering themselves up as easy targets. The splash of feeding predator fish is a sure sign that the opportunity to fish surface flies is present.
How to "Git 'r Done"
The most common type of presentation using floating fry imitations is the strip-retrieve. In this method, the fly is cast to a likely section of holding water and immediately stripped back in short (6 to 18-inch) pulls at the rate of between 60-100 pulls per minute. In faster-flowing water, shorter pulls at a higher rate are the key to keeping your offering in the strike zone, while slower moving or still water requires a slightly longer pull at a slower rate to mimic a disoriented salmon fry. By varying the retrieve rate and pull distance, you can home in on the presentation that the fish are looking for.
Putting it All Together
The next time you are out in search of spring trout or char, keep an eye open for signs of surface activity and have a slider or other surface fly handy in case the need arises. When casting to a holding spot, remember to swing or strip your fly from above the fish so they get a good look at your fly as it skitters across the surface towards them. Also, when the moment of truth arrives and you see the surface boil behind your fly, remember to wait for the pull of the fish to set the hook. Trout and char have the habit of short-striking or missing altogether when it comes to surface flies, but they also have short memories and will often strike at a fly 2 or 3 times before being hooked. When you feel the pressure of a fish, raise the rod firmly with a grip on the line...no need for a Bassmasters hook-set as most fish hook themselves, and if the fish misses the hook you want to keep your offering in the water so they can have another go at it.
Gear We Like
Sage Z-axis 691-4
Sage Flight 7100-4
Redington CPX 5106-4
Nautilus FW 5+
Ross CLA 3
Abel Super 5N
Sage 4560 CF
SA Sharkskin GPX
AirFlo Compact Scandi
Deerhair Shineabou Shiner
Neil Creek Slider