The fall/winter issue of The Drake magazine includes a great section on the Seven Sins of Flyfishing. Tom Bie (Drake publisher) made a perfect choice when he asked Jason Koertge to write about swinging for kings at Alaska West for the piece on Lust.
Anyone out there wondering why so many of us get so fired up about Kanektok kings should run right out, buy the current issue of The Drake, and turn to page 82. OK, you get it now?
If there was ever an article that captures the ‘why’ part of fly fishing, it’s this one. Check it out.
By the way, if you like to fly fish and you don’t yet subscribe to The Drake, you should.
Brian Niska will be one of our spey instructors at Alaska West in 2010, for the third year running. Today Brian tells us a bit about one of his favorite king flies, the Mikey Prawn.
One of Brian’s spey weeks is sold out, but there’s still space in his combination king spey / trout spey week in mid-July. Drop us a line if you’d like to know more.
Anyhow, today we present Brian Niska and Mike Orlowski on the Mikey Prawn!
The Mikey Prawn
This year in week 4 of the Alaska West Spey Instruction sessions we had a super fun international group of anglers. King Salmon fishing was fairly consistent throughout the week but really seemed to pick up when the skies were overcast.
There is a saying about the weather in southwestern Alaska and indeed it sure does change fast. We had many misty mornings damp with marine fog that turned into bluebird afternoons giving us all racoon faces. While some of our group stayed focused on the Kings throughout the entire day, many anglers chose to spend afternoons taking advantage of the awesome trout fishing that was to be had in the Kanektok.
In addition to the shiny Kings and pretty leopard Rainbows, we caught dime bright Chums, Sockeyes, Pinks, Dolly Varden Char and Grayling. In salmon and steelhead circles the question of fly colour is always a popular topic. I have found this to be especially so amongst those of us that love to target king salmon in the special places where they are fresh from the sea. While at times the aggressive nature of these fish has them chomping every pattern in your box there are other times when certain colours seem to offer an edge.
While most anglers will agree that every colour will work, certainly some colours are more popular than others under certain conditions. As examples, I have noticed that the blue, black and purple combo seems especially effective under low light conditions. Seasoned anglers agree that chartreuse and bright green possess near magical qualities when fished near the salt.
Then there’s the very popular old saying of a bright fly for a bright day. This year in Alaska I had some good success fishing one of my favourite steelhead fly patterns from the Whistler area. The Mikey Prawn is a big orange beast and is a fixture on our wild steelhead rivers in the Whistler area. The pattern was developed by Mike Orlowski, shop hand at Whistler Flyfishing. The bright orange Mikey Prawn is was by far my most productive fly during the sunburn afternoons we had on the Kanektok this year.
Here is Mike’s description of the fly as well as its dressing:
Everyone has their favorite steelhead shrimp/prawn patterns, and this is my favorite. Originally tied as a larger version of the General Practioner for Squamish steelhead, some major tweaking created this version that looks nothing like the GP but has the action and looks steelhead love. It is tied on a Waddington shank with a small octopus style hook rigged in a loop of slickshooter as to change up hooks when they get dull.
A small amount of dubbed Polar Bear hair at the back of the fly keeps the tail fibers flared out and in constant motion in the water, similar to an Intruder-style fly, and some lead tied onto the bottom of the shank keeps it right side up and gives it more then enough weight to get it to where you need it. The eyes are made melting 30lb mono into a ball and add a touch of realism to the fly.
Shank – Partridge double waddington shank, 25-55mm
Hook – Gamakatsu Octopus hook, 6-1/0
Tail – Orange amherst, orange rhea or ostrich, amherst tail or 2 dryfly grade Grizzly hackles, Krystal flash
Body – Orange seal fur or substitute
Hackle – Orange Mallard flank
Rib – Copper wire
Wing – Fake burnt orange spey hackle
Beard – Orange rhea or ostrich
Eyes – Burnt 30lb monofilament
Thread – Shrimp pink 6/0
Hook Loop – 35/50lb Slickshooter doubled over the shank
Weight – one strip Lead wire tied onto the bottom of the shank
More Gear For Kings On Swung Flies
One of our favorite trout switch rods so far is the Sage 5110-4 Z-Axis. Here’s why.
- The 11 foot 5 weight format is great for small water like side channels. If you keep your stroke compact, you can reasonably spey cast this thing in water smaller than what you’d normally cover with a two-handed rod.
- It’s got enough power in the butt to fish bigger water too. Like most rods in the Z-Axis line, this guy has a relatively stiff, powerful butt section. That means that when you need to cover bigger water, say Zoo Bar on the Lower Kanektok, it’ll respond when you yank hard to throw a bit of line.
- It can turn over big flies when you need it to. As we’ll talk more about below, a Skagit line in the range of 275 grains makes this rod sing. That’s enough weight to turn over some big trout flies, like bushy mouse patterns, sculpins and giant flesh atrocities.
A total grain weight of about 325 grains seems to be the sweet spot for this rod. A 275 grain Rio Skagit Short with about 7 feet of T-8 will work well in moderate-sized water. In smaller side channels we’ve also fished some very short cut back lines – for example, a 16 foot, 285 grain head with a 5 foot tip made of T-14. You read that right – total head + tip length of 21 feet! If you keep your stroke really tight, this setup will sing.
Try a mono running line! We like mono running lines on most spey rods, and our rule is that the lighter the rod, the bigger difference a mono running line makes. It makes sense – the smaller the mass that’s pulling that running line through the air, the more it’ll be affected by the extra drag of fatter, non-mono running lines. A mono running line makes this rod feel much lighter and more responsive.
If you’re in the market for a versatile switch rod designed for trout, you should try the Sage 5110-4 Z-Axis.
One of your options during your week at Alaska West is to request a shore lunch.
What’s a shore lunch? It’s pretty simple.
- Your guide brings a grill, side dishes and extra ingredients out on the river.
- You catch a fresh, bright salmon.
- Your guide cleans it and cooks it for you, right there on the river.
- You eat it.
- It’s salmon as fresh as you’ll ever experience it.
Shore lunch is a great opportunity to meet up with your friends, take a break in the middle of the day, and enjoy the bounty of the healthy, productive fishery that is the Kanektok River.
There’s nothing like it.
At Alaska West and Andros South (our two operations with more than a few guides), we do daily guide pairings. Rather than matching guests up with a guide for the entire week, we talk to you at the end of each angling day, listen to how the day went and what you’ve got in mind for tomorrow, and then match you up with a guide for the following day.
We like this system for a few reasons.
- You get to experience a few different guiding approaches. Variety is good.
- You can fish with other guests throughout the week, if you like.
- Different guides have different strengths, and we want to match you up with the guide best suited to what you want to do tomorrow!
The final week of the 2009 Alaska West season has come and gone but we won’t soon forget the guests and the fishing that we experienced this week.
Photos: Cameron Miller
Guys like Mike Erickson, Craig Kruck, Brian Crowley, Mark Worthington and Larry Klein joined us again for some more great fishing on the Kanektok. Our new guests to the Kanektok like Martin Jacobs from the UK and John Enloe from the deep south of the US had a blast catching all species. Other new guests like Kern and Genoa Ferguson loved hanging out with the other guests and giving them a bad time about things other than fishing! Pete!
Larry Klein brought his buddy Douglas Bryans for his first trip to Alaska West and he had a great time getting to know the fishery and the family that is Alaska West. Jin Choi of St Peters Fly Shop brought along Roger Northen and Peter Weber to experience a slam dunk week of silver and trout fishing.
The silver fishing in the beginning of the week had started to wane a bit until we had a nice freshet due to a large Bering Sea storm that pummeled us. After the rise in the river level we started to see a fresh shot of fish enter the river which made for more great numbers of silvers on the fly. Guests caught silvers on poppers and every other fly you could imagine so everyone was able to take a nice box of silvers home from the plentiful waters of the Kanektok.
Trout and dolly fishing was quite good through the week, though the extra water in the river due to the storm made them a bit tougher to get to. Mousing was still worth trying though not quite as good as earlier in the season. Most ‘bows were caught on a mix of beads and flesh flies and a few on streamers. Dollies as usual were caught on just about anything you through at them – we’re sure you could have caught them on a Corn Nut this week.
Mother Nature reared her ugly head this week, but the guests and the crew toughed it out for some really good times on the river. Hot soup was a hit and turned in to a good time to tell some stories from the morning (and dry out). Even though the weather was awful at times it just reminded us that this is a good time to be breaking camp and heading home. This is the final fishing report of the 2009 Alaska West season, but we’ll be back at it June 11th 2010 for some killer king salmon fishing! Tight lines to all of our guests – thanks so much and we hope to see you all soon.
Well, once again this week showed us why fishing silvers and rainbows on the Kanektok in late August is one of the best fishing trips on the planet.
Photo: Cameron Miller
Quite a few new guests joined us this week from all over the states. Surprisingly the only return guests this week were Rich “Smokey” Little, who once ran our fish smoking program, Gordon Hynes, Matt Hynes father and friend of Andrew Bennett, Kevin Riley. The rest of the guests this week joined us for some downright obscene fishing for silvers, rainbows, dollies, grayling and even some late season fresh chum.
This week has always been a great time to put the graphite to as many silvers as you would ever like to catch and this year was no different. We did start to see the first of the blush and red silvers stacked up like cord wood in every side slough and soft water spot on the river. Thousands of silvers make the journey up the Kanektok each fall to find a nice spot in some side channel to lay a few thousand eggs. On the way up we do our best to catch a few hundred of them as they slowly make the journey. This week we may have caught a few thousand! We had insane fishing overall with some really large fish caught as well.
Trout and dolly fishing was quite good this week even through the rough weather. The fish don’t know how windy it is or how much rain is coming down so they just keep eating, as they did this week. Some really large ‘bows were caught this week by quite a few different guests. Anyone that put in a little time was rewarded with a whole lot of leopard rainbow love! And dolly love as well.
Speaking of dollies, they are now in full spawning colors and make for some spectacular photos. Most people are left speechless after holding the first colored up dolly they have ever seen. It is one of the wonders of the animal kingdom that this fish comes in from the sea totally chrome and then transforms into something out of a sci-fi movie.
The weather this week was not the best and is probably payback for the last couple years being so nice in late August. We had a little bit of everything this week – wind, rain, clouds, sun, fog and some bugs in between. Fortunately our guests came prepared for everything that Mother Nature threw at them, and they spent a ton of time out on the water getting the best that the Kanektok could offer during the last week in August.