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AOJ References ADFG Regulations Book
ADFG Regulations Book
MATCHING THE HATCH - Tactics
As a flyfisher moves from novice into the intermediate skill level, a transformation begins to take place as another factor starts to carry much more weight in the educational process. Anglers begin to realize that the term "matching the hatch" in Alaska goes far beyond merely selecting a fly pattern which resembles the bug of the day. In Alaska insect hatches play relatively small roles in the fly fisher's success equation. Here in arctic climates, fish must rely on large intakes of protein and carbohydrates to literally fatten up for the coming winter. And for a fish such as the Dolly Varden who's life frequently changes from a saltwater environment, to a freshwater stream or lake, and back to saltwater....sometimes several cycles in a single year....the angler must recognize that their choice of fly selection can be as variable as the location of their quarry.
The Anchor River flows into Cook Inlet, and due to the extreme tides, the tidal influence in this river can extend quite a ways upstream. Realize that Dolly Varden just entering the stream from saltwater have been feeding primarily on translucent shrimp and small baitfish in the ocean. Shrimp in their diets can be one contributor to the pink flesh of some fish. The baitfish they feed on are called sandlance or needlefish. These tiny fish are from one to two inches long on average...an ideal size of food for nearly any ocean fish 6" long or larger. These little fish swim in huge schools like their larger counterparts the herring, and provide easy pickin's for dollies, salmon, pelagic rockfish and mid-water feeding halibut. No doubt sandlance are a major component of the Dolly Varden's saltwater diet.
Anglers fly fishing the tides at the mouth and in the brackish calm water of the high tide zone should focus on fly patterns which resemble shrimp or small baitfish. Salmon fry, alevin, and smolt patterns fall into this category and resemble baitfish. Even after the tide has gone out, fish holding in this lower zone of the river are still in a "saltwater food supply" frame of mind until they begin to move to permanent freshwater. They may remain in this intertidal zone for some time, working a "double-edge" food supply, feeding on what the high tide brings into the river mouth and then what the river supplies as the stream current is re-established at low tide.
More Education: Let's really get down to some unknown details when it comes to successfully fishing dollies in the tidal zone. I mentioned dollies feed on shrimp and sandlance which are the two major components of their diet in saltwater. Sandlance are available throughout the day in the ocean....but shrimp only migrate up from the bottom depths around sundown to feed in the surface plankton zone. Dolly Varden cruising the bays are wired into this cycle like clockwork. Each evening as the sun nears setting, shrimp become the main course of feeding fish, and this pattern continues until first light in the morning when these shellfish head to the safety of the bottom again...and sandlance become the primary prey. When an angler is fishing early morning or late afternoon/evening tidewater, consider shrimplike patterns...and fish the baitfish imitations during the main part of the day. It just might "turn the tide" for the angler and his/her success that day.
Dolly Varden eventually move out of the intertidal zone and into the runs, riffles and holes of the stream. The longer they remain, the more adjusted to a freshwater food supply they become. They have entered the river, behind the king salmon run and expect those salmon to provide an abundance of loose eggs to feed on, and eventually the salmon's flesh as it breaks apart from decaying carcasses. So the angler fishing this zone, and later into August will want to chose fly patterns such as single and small egg cluster patterns. AFO's Fly Tying Bench section has some real dandies to tie up.
These fish, as they become more and more adjusted to a freshwater lifestyle become opportunists in their feeding habits. Its at this late summer, early fall time period when dry flies, wet flies, nymphs, and flesh flies will be readily taken by these fish. They will continue to be feeding on resident salmon fry in the stream so baitfish patterns will continue to produce.
FIELD NOTES for the Angler: Dolly Varden are fall spawners so those anglers who frequent the Anchor River in the fall for steelhead may encounter dollies over 12 inches changing to their spawning colors which make beautiful closeup photos. And although the Run Timing Chart indicates the arrival of fish from the ocean ends around the middle of August, the angler must realize that all the larger fish will be remaining in the stream for their spawning cycle which commences later in the fall. Don't misinterpret the chart to mean the fish are no longer present and available. And don't forget, the Ninilchik River and Deep Creek will also have Dolly Varden runs with similar timing, and often larger fish may be present in those runs.
Coincidently, once the Dollies have arrived, the silvers begin showing in early August, followed by the Anchor River's "famous" steelhead run which will see catchable numbers arriving around the end of the third week of August and continuing to freeze up.
Tight lines and good fishing!