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What is the largest fish you ever caught with a dry fly? Have you had the opportunity to catch salmon with surface flies?


At Lake Marie Lodge we specialize in catching many different species of fish with dry or surface flies.

Now everyone knows about catching trout with dry flies. Whether the fly fisherman uses Stimulator type dry flies or Mouse Fly patterns (which we use quite a bit and have a lot of fun and success with at Lake Marie Lodge) or Caddis and Mosquito fly patterns for Arctic Grayling, they are all fun to use and are great ways to catch the smaller sport fish. But what if the fly fisherman wants to catch larger fish on the surface? The answer in Alaska is quite simply salmon, particularly the Coho, or Silver Salmon.

There are not many ,if any, lodges in Alaska that make it a point to specialize in using Surface Flies for salmon. We at Lake Marie Lodge do just this, even to the point where we have developed special flies used exclusively by us for surface fishing for salmon. These flies we have named Salmon Poppers. For detailed tying instructions visit the Fly Pattern Page.

Now, as a fly fisherman, you are probably wondering what species of salmon will rise to a dry or surface fly. The truth is there are 4 species of Pacific Salmon that will strike a fly on the surface. These salmon are the King Salmon, Silver Salmon, Pink Salmon and Chum Salmon. While the Silver Salmon are the most active to the rise, don't overlook the others. What is nice about the Chum Salmon and Pink Salmon is that they are in the streams at the same time as the Silver Salmon.

King Salmon are not widely known to rise to a surface fly, but the last two years we have spent a considerable amount of time during King Salmon season going after them with surface flies. With patience and excellent technique, they can be enticed to rise to the surface, especially if the water is clear and calm. While the fly fisherman is not going to catch more King Salmon with surface flies than with sub-surface flies, you will catch some! It's definitely worth the effort when the strike happens. We recommend giving it a try after you've caught and released a few king salmon using sub-surface flies.

However, the premier salmon to catch on the surface is the Coho, or Silver Salmon. These salmon can easily be enticed to rise and hit surface flies and with their high numbers and acrobatic jumping, they are the most exciting salmon to catch with surface flies.

So how do I go about catching Silver Salmon on the surface? A question many fly fishermen ask with an answer that really is not that hard or difficult to answer. There are basically only a few pieces to the puzzle. 1.) Water conditions that make it conducive to surface fishing. 2.) Proper equipment and fly pattern. 3.) Good casting and technique.

The first part of the puzzle that we will cover is water conditions conducive to surface fishing. Silver Salmon hold in very different water from most of the other salmon species. They tend to congregate in very slack water and eddies. The Coho Salmon do not like fast current! So when fishing for them look for areas of slack water with little current

Conditions such as these can be found at the conversions of two streams, a bend in a stream where a large back current eddy is formed, or a side slough off of a main river such as where a wetland area drains. This last location is found quite frequently in Alaska as most drainages are fed, at least in part, from wetland areas.

The second piece of the puzzle is the fly. The fly we use at Lake Marie Lodge is a very simple pattern and actually quite easy to tie.Our fly pattern is the Lake Marie Salmon Popper.

Click on the picture to view recipe!

(However, there are more complicated patterns such as the Poly Wog fly for those more advanced fly tiers. Tying instructions and recipes of various flies may be found on our Fly Pattern Page.)

The Lake Marie Salmon Popper is based off of a Bass Popper pattern. It consists of popper foam painted pink (pink is the best color, but red, orange and green also work) with ice or cactus chenille for the body and pink marabou with a few strands of flashabou for the tail and wing. It is quite simple and easy to tie even for the beginner fly tier. Again, just a quick reminder to either visit our Fly Pattern Page or click on the picure above for the fly recipe and tying instructions.

Now we are going to put the previous two pieces of the puzzle together with the third piece, proper casting form with efficient technique. If you have never cast a large dry fly such as the Lake Marie Salmon Popper, then we suggest practicing with one a few times before you hit the streams. The large fly creates quite a bit of drag during the cast so a little practice helps out tremendously. To help with the cast we recommend using a stiffer rod such as an 8 wt. with weight forward floating line. A strong leader such as a 2x 10lb. test and a length of 10 feet is also highly recommended. Another point to mention to help with your cast and layout of the fly is to add a little line speed. To accomplish this a single haul or double haul is recommended.

Okay, so now we know where to find the Silver Salmon and how to cast the Lake Marie Popper Fly. We already covered where the coho salmon like to hold, calmer water with little current, so the placement of the fly comes next. The most important fact to note about the silver salmon is that they hold close to the surface of the water facing against the current. Common sense says to place the fly in a location of high visibility to the fish.

Another very important point to note is that 99% of the silver salmon will not follow a fly down stream. Along with this knowledge, we also add that if the school of salmon is a fairly large one, the fly fisherman needs to know that the fish to target are the ones close to the edge of the school. It is extremely rare for a coho salmon to go after a fly from the center of a large school. The best place to lay the fly is to the side and downstream of the holding silver salmon. Bring the fly up and along the side of the school by stripping. Or cast upstream and to the far side so that the fly can swing around in the current in front of the school of salmon. This can be easily accomplished by high-sticking with the fly rod. That is, lift the tip of the rod to lift the majority of the fly line out of the water. Do not mend the fly line, drag on the fly is good and helps with the attraction of the fly to the silver salmon.

Once the Lake Marie Salmon Popper is on the water, in the case of casting downstream and working the cohos on the side of the school, bring the fly in with quick, medium length strips. This retrieve should create a popping sound and small splashes on the surface of the water. (To view this, check out the video near the top of this page. The video shows a silver salmon taking a surface fly.) These popping sounds and small splashes give the silver salmon time to follow the fly and strike it from the rear. Remember, when you see the bow wave from the fish following your fly, continue stripping, be patient and wait for the coho to take the fly fully and completely in its mouth before setting the hook. When the strike occurs, set the hook up and not sideways. If you set the hook sideways there is a very good chance that the fly will be yanked out of the mouth of the salmon. There is a much better chance that by setting the hook up you will have a good hook set.

After the hook up, get the silver salmon on the reel and let the drag system of the reel play the fish. Try to land the fish quickly without tiring the salmon out too much if you are practicing catch and release because each and every salmon still has a job to do; spawning.

Oh, and there is one more very important point to make, Have Fun!

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Fishing Chapter 6

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Chapter 4