Trout that live in the lower sections of rivers like the Kanektok and the Arolik in Western Alaska get a lot of their calories from salmon flesh. That means that at Alaska West we spend a lot of time tying and fishing patterns that imitate those juicy morsels of spawned-out salmon.
Here are some well-known principles, combined with some secret sauce, that will help your flesh fly find its way in the mouth of a giant rainbow trout, or several.
- Fish flesh around dropoffs. Even though flesh-eating rainbows aren’t attacking live prey, they tend to hang out in ‘ambush points’ – spots with softer current, and some cover, that allow easy access the food in the main flow of the river. Dropoffs fit the bill perfectly. Secret Sauce: Land the fly 5 feet or more upriver from the dropoff – not on the ledge – so it has time to set up for a natural-looking drift off the shelf.
- Fish flesh around snags. Big lower-river snags present more great ambush points for big rainbows, so cover them as closely as you can with your flesh fly. Secret Sauce: There’s plenty obvious water just downriver and on the sides of the snags, but don’t overlook the lies just upriver of big snags– there’s often a nice soft pocket above a snag that holds a nice fat ‘bow.
- Get the fly down. Salmon flesh doesn’t float – it tumbles downriver. Although there are always some bits of flesh further up in the water column, the highest concentration is right off the river bottom. Use as much weight as you need to get your flesh fly down. Secret Sauce: Don’t worry about a perfect dead drift – use enough weight to hit the spots, even if you don’t think the presentation is going to be perfect.
- Fish visible colors. Although you can find flesh flies in a range of colors from white to brown, we find that on the Kanektok and the Arolik, lighter colors work best, probably because they’re so much more visible. Secret Sauce: It’s critical that you as the angler can see your fly well, since it’s so important to get your fly right into all those pockets around snags and other structure, without hanging up. Even if it’s not a perfect match for the current day’s ‘flesh hatch’, fish a color you can see– we often find this to be white.
- Go smaller later in the season. As the season rolls from July to August and into September, our rivers get low and clear. Giant articulated mega-flesh patterns can sometimes work all season long, but as fall approaches we tend to favor smaller flesh patterns. Secret Sauce: A single wrap of bunny fur on a Tiemco 105 egg hook can be surprisingly effective late in the season.
- Try steak and eggs. Slipping an egg bead on your leader just above the flesh fly can be a great way to present two snacks at once. Secret Sauce: Make sure the bead is close to your fly – less than an inch – to prevent missed strikes on the bead. Also, check your local regs to make sure this is legal.