Reel Times Newsletter
A fish the color of fall
I fished with some colleagues and friends recently on the Upper Kenai River. We launched the drift boat in the early light of morning from Sportsman’s Landing with our fly rods lined and ready to go. We had several boxes of beads, and varying sizes and types of flesh fly patterns. Our plan was to focus on targeting rainbow trout and Dolly Varden feeding on the eggs of spawning sockeye and the decaying flesh of post-spawn salmon.
As the drift boat slid along the easy pull of the river, we watched as our indicators bobbed along the surface wake and made ready for a strike.
We were several fish in when one of us hooked up on a fish that gave us reason to pull the boat to shore. It was a beautiful sea-run male Dolly Varden displaying his full color spawning regalia. His iridescent body reflected the fall colors of the surrounding landscape. We admired him for a short time and snapped a few quick photos before turning him headlong into the current. With a short burst of the tail, he freed himself from the hand and disappeared into the electric blue water.
Each one of us repeated this scenario several times that day, catching and releasing some very well-fed rainbow trout and Dolly Varden.
Good weather, great company, and tight lines – you just can’t beat fishing in the fall.
We hope you’ll make it out this month to make memories on the water with friends or family. And we hope the information we share in this issue inspires you to get out and fish.
If you’re active on social media, tag your photos and fishing stories using #wefishak. And be sure to check us out on Instagram @wefishak. You can also follow us on Facebook at ADF&G - wefishak. We also have a YouTube channel where there is a growing collection of fishing-related videos.
While you’re out there targeting the catch of the day, be sure to practice social distancing from any fellow anglers you may encounter and follow the Governor’s heath mandates, which can be found here.
If you have a comment or story ideas for Reel Times, we encourage you to send them our way. You can send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll see you on the water.
Division of Sport Fish
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Fall Dollys on the fly
Dolly Varden are one of the most widely distributed salmonids in Alaska. There are two sub-species of Dolly Varden in Alaska, a northern species and a southern species. The northern species is found north of the Alaska Peninsula to the Mackenzie River in Canada. The southern species is found from southeast Alaska throughout the Gulf of Alaska to the south of the Alaska Peninsula.
Dolly Varden are olive green to dark blue or brown, with many yellow, orange, or red spots on the side. The largest spots are usually smaller than the pupil of the eye.
Dolly Varden are fall spawners, with spawning occurring in late September or October in Southcentral Alaska. Females, depending on their size, will deposit between 600 to 6,000 eggs into redds, or their gravel nests. Spawning places great physical demands on Dolly Varden. An estimated 70% of the males, and up to 60% of the females die after spawning.
By March, Dolly Varden eggs have developed into alevin, which survive off their yolk sacs. Once their yolk sac is absorbed, Dolly Varden fry will emerge from the gravel in April or May. Dolly Varden will rear in streams for two to four years before beginning their first migration to sea; however, some may rear as long as six years. Prior to their seaward migration to the ocean in May or June, Dolly Varden go through a series of physical changes called smoltification which allows them to survive in saltwater. During this process, Dolly Varden lose their parr marks and become silvery in color. A small number of Dolly Varden may migrate to the sea in September and October. After their first seaward migration, Dolly Varden usually spend the rest of their lives migrating to and from fresh water in an interesting and often complicated pattern of migration. The southern species migrate into lakes during the fall where they spend the winter.
Sea-run Dolly Varden have complex life histories, since they travel in both fresh and salt water habitats. They may visit many freshwater streams in a single year, which may give an inaccurate impression of their numbers. This mobile lifestyle led Inupiaq Alaskans to assign Dollies different names—bright-colored fish entering a stream in summer were called ‘iqalukpik.’ Three months later, when the same fish was seen in post-spawning coloration, they were called ‘pyraulik.’
Unlike Pacific salmon, Dolly Varden are capable of spawning multiple times during their lives. It is generally believed that males do not spawn more than twice and females not more than three times. Those fish that spawn more than once are likely to spawn in consecutive years. This explains why fish rarely live more than nine years in Southcentral Alaska. Depending on food availability, adults, particularly the northern species, may skip a year or two between spawning events.
Targeting Dolly Varden during the fall months
Dolly Varden can typically be found in flowing waters during the fall months where they readily feed on the eggs of spawning salmon and the flesh of post-spawn decaying salmon. When targeting Dolly Varden during the salmon spawn, it’s recommended to use beads or fly patterns that mimic salmon eggs. There are several styles and sizes of beads available to anglers. It’s recommended that anglers try using 6, 8 or 10 mm beads during the fall months. “Fresh” looking beads mimic a salmon egg that was recently released by a female salmon. These colors include orange and red. A “dead” bead mimics the color of a salmon egg that has been in the water for a while, not deposited in the nest or “redd.” Dead beads are more subdued in color and are available in names such as “apricot swirl,” “cotton candy” and “cheese.”
Flesh flies work well when targeting Dolly Varden during the fall months. There are several styles of effective flesh fly patterns. You can check out a few styles on our YouTube channel.
To learn more about Dolly Varden, visit our species profile page.
Good luck targeting these beautiful fish.
If you’re successful, please be sure to post your photos and story to social media using #wefishak.
Tracking coastal cutthroat trout in Prince William Sound
When someone mentions fishing in Prince William Sound, it’s the saltwater fishing that usually comes to mind and catching things such Pacific halibut, lingcod, salmon, and rockfish. Fewer anglers really think about fresh water and the somewhat elusive, coastal cutthroat trout. Prince William Sound represents the northern extent of the distribution of coastal cutthroat trout which can provide anglers with unique fishing opportunities and fisheries biologists with unique management challenges. Coastal cutthroat trout are believed to be the closest existing relative of an ancestral cutthroat trout from which all other cutthroat species evolved.
Recently, staff with the Anadromous Freshwater Fish Inventory (AFFI) program documented new locations where coastal cutthroat trout were not previously found in Prince William Sound freshwaters. The true distribution of these fish in PWS remains largely unknown.
Cutthroat trout are typically distinguished by the red or orange band “cut-slash” on the underside of the lower jaw in the skin folds. Not all of these fish have this mark, especially silver colored sea-run fish where this color may be present but inconspicuous. The presence of small teeth at the base of the tongue called basilbranchial teeth are an identifying feature not typically found in rainbow trout. However, these fish can hybridize with rainbow trout further complicating identification of the species.
Visit our Cutthroat trout species information page to learn more about coastal cutthroat trout.
Interested in finding where coastal cutthroat trout have been documented PWS? Check out the Anadromous Waters Catalog.
Send us your best shot!
We are receiving a lot of great photo entries for our 2021 Sport Fishing Regulations Summary book cover photo contest!
You still have plenty of time to enter your top three fishing photos from this season! Send us those best shots.
Remember, photos submitted without a Media Consent Release Form will not be accepted. So, before you email the photos (as attachments), make sure the media form is completed and signed, and you provide the name of the waterbody the fish was caught.
Layout restrictions apply to the front cover that only horizontal photos will be considered. Vertical and horizontal photos will be considered for inside pages and there is no age requirement.
Up to three photos may be entered and all entries must be received by 5:00 p.m. Saturday, October 31, 2020. Only photos accompanied by a completed Media Consent Release Form will be considered.
Please email all photos and a completed and signed Media Consent Release Form to the appropriate region where the fish was caught to the following individuals:
- Northern Alaska
- Erik Anderson in Fairbanks
- Southcentral and Southwest Alaska
- Kali Hulquist in Anchorage
- Southeast Alaska
- Jessica Etheridge in Juneau/Douglas
For more information on the contest, please visit our photo contest webpage.
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Reel Adventure – Fish the Delta Clearwater for coho salmon
Looking to target coho in the Interior? Try the Delta Clearwater. This video details the particulars when targeting coho in this beautiful stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQEDIk6bS54.
Field to Plate – Recipe of the Month
Easy Alaska Salmon Spread
Enjoy this salmon spread recipe from our friends at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute: https://www.wildalaskaseafood.com/recipesdb/?recipeId=ODQ0.
If you have any questions about the Reel Times newsletter, please contact Ryan Ragan at email@example.com
Reel Times Articles List
- A fish the color of fall (2020-10-07)
- September – Fall fishing at its finest (2020-09-04)
- Silver linings – Fall fishing for coho salmon (2020-08-10)
- Hook it and Cook it – How to make the most of your catch (2020-07-06)
- Go online, then go outdoors (2020-06-05)
- Spring is Here – Are You Ready to Get Out and Fish? (2020-05-11)