Meet the Fish: Sockeye Salmon
The second most abundant salmon in Alaska, the sockeye is also referred to as the "red salmon" due to its distinctive fire truck-red spawning coloration. Sockeyes are found in lake-fed river systems from May to September, with the best fishing to be had in July near the mouths and lake inlets of their spawning streams. Most abundant in the Bristol Bay region, the sockeye is also available in Kodiak, the Kenai peninsula, and to a lesser extent Southeast Alaska. Tipping the scales at 4-8 lbs with the occasional brute going 12lbs or better, the sockeye is an exceptional fighting fish, known for its blistering runs and tremendous leaps.
Gear and Flies
The word that best describes the fight of the sockeye would be "explosive". Capable of ripping off high-speed runs liberally sprinkled with meteoric leaps, the sockeye demand the use of a 7 or 8wt rod to handle them. Reels with a large arbor and a good drag are a must-have to be able to keep up with the sockeye both coming and going. Effectively fishing for sockeye means putting the fly right on their nose. Depending upon the method of presentation, fly line choices include sinking tip fly lines or a weight forward floating line with a long leader and plenty of split shot. Perhaps the most "lock-jawed" of all the salmon, these plankton feeders often respond well to small, sparsely dressed flies such as Sockeye Lanterns, Sockeye Brassies and Red Hots.
Often the prefered weapon of choice for sockeye is a 9-9'6" 7wt or 8wt. These rods should be stout due to the sockeye's uncanny ability to kick butt. Sockeye are also a great match for the Switch rod. Here anglers can forego the heavy Skagit line and sink tips and change over to a straight floating line. If sockeye are the main fishing target, having a back up rod is highly recommended as they are known to blow rods into splintered pieces of graphite. Because sockeye tend to run in close to the bank, most Spey anglers will either change over to a single hand rod or a switch rod when targeting reds.
Many anglers consider the sockeye to be, pound for pound, the hardest fighting salmon. A reel with a solid drag that can slow down a speeding missile is mandatory. Large arbor and plenty of backing is also a must.
Most sockeye fishing is done with a nymphing technique. Lines should be weight forward and able to handle throwing split shot and indicators. Most of the fishing is done in close, so longer belly lines are not as important as they would be in a trout or steelhead situation.
As previously mentioned, sockeye feed on zoo plankton during their ocean cycle. Because their food source is the smallest of the small, sockeye tend to eat flies that are small and sparse. Often flies in the size #4 - #8 tied on stout salmon or saltwater hooks are the best. Check out our sockeye fly selection to see some examples.