KODIAK — Each summer we enjoy the visits of fishing friends from far and wide.
Sure, they come here for the great salmon fishing.
But that’s almost a cover story for their real mission.
These folks are from far flung trout meccas like New Zealand and Montana, but they claim Kodiak has the best trout fishing in the world!
Coming from them, that’s no small claim.
They all fly fish, and that’s the story behind their claim.
While they certainly have great fly fishing for trout on waters most of us only dream about, they feel Kodiak’s is even better.
They fish all year for brown trout and rainbow trout, but their real favorite is our local searun Dolly Varden.
Sure they catch lots of trout at home and some big ones now and then. But they catch more and bigger fish right here on our local waters.
The best part for them is that it’s virtually all dry fly fishing. There’s little to compare to the sight of a big trout breaking the surface to grab a tiny fly. And on lightweight fly rods our biggest Dollies rival any other trout for pure brawling power.
Can you tell that I’m a fan of dry fly Dolly fishing too?
Here’s the whole story.
Each fall searun Dolly Varden ascend local rivers. They’re fat and sassy after a summer on a rich saltwater diet, and so different than the skinny Dollies of spring you’re tempted to guess they’re a different species entirely.
But the fall version entering the rivers has a little problem.
They are over-anxious for a rich diet of salmon eggs, and they swim upriver too early!
You’ll find them mixed right in with the ascending pink salmon, but it will be weeks before the pinks actually start to spawn.
Meanwhile the Dollies have nothing to eat but freshwater stream foods, and they’re hungry!
Certainly you can catch the Dollies on almost anything that comes close to the stream foods, but for me and my friends it’s just too good a situation for anything but dry flies. They’re that much fun!
There are some tricks involved though.
Simply tying on a dry fly will catch a fish or two. But if you want to have the most fun and score big, pay attention to what’s happening in the river.
Most afternoons in summer you’ll begin to see small “moths” flitting over the surface of the river and Dollies splashing madly after them.
The moths are in fact caddis flies, a variety of aquatic insects that spend a year or two living on bottom as larvae, then shed their skins at the surface to take their flying adult form.
You might be familiar with the larvae if you’ve ever turned over stream bed rocks to discover “rock worms” as some folks call them when hunting for trout bait.
Our local version is too small for use as bait, but the flying adults have the undivided attention of Dolly Varden.
I’ve been a fan for over 40 years and devoted a lot of time to finding just the right fly patterns and tactics for best results with Dollies.
In my experience smaller is better, with size #16 tops. A size #14 is almost a good, but size #18 and smaller don’t work any better than a #16 while they’re less effective at hooking and holding fish.
My all-time favorite fly pattern is a #16 Elk Hair Caddis, or more specifically a #16 Deer Hair Caddis. The difference is a little darker wing in the deer hair. It’s not a significant change on sunny days, but with overcast skies the Dollies show a decided preference for the deer hair.
While other colors will work to a degree, I’ve also found that a gray body and brown hackle under either deer hair or elk hair is the key. It simply comes closer to the color of our local caddis, and the wing color is secondary.
With the fly tied to your leader, the fun can really start. But there’s a “trick” involved that makes our Dolly fishing stand out from that for other species.
The best technique for other trout is called a “dead drift,” in which you stand downstream from the trout and cast your fly upstream. The aim is to keep a little slack in your line so the fly is absolutely still on the water without a wake of any sort.
Try that with an Elk Hair or Deer Hair Caddis, and you’ll wonder what the fuss is about. It works now and then, but mostly the Dollies ignore your fly.
I think I know why and I’ll tell you in a moment, but to really stir up the interest of the Dollies stand upstream from them and cast across the river so your fly skitters on the surface and creates a small wake as it swings back to your side of the river.
Otherwise lethargic Dollies will attack it on first sight!
I believe the difference is in the natural behavior of the caddis.
Until they actually start laying their eggs caddis are very active fliers and spend only brief moments on the water. The Dollies quickly learn they’re hard to catch and a lot of effort often doesn’t result in a full belly.
When caddis begin to lay their eggs late in the afternoon they actually land on the water to do it and spend a lot of time there. They “motorboat” across the surface and leave tiny wakes behind them.
In the process they’re a sure, easy meal that hungry Dollies can’t resist.
You’ll find lots of Dollies in the riffles, especially later in the summer once the pink salmon actually start to spawn. The Dollies lay directly downstream from them to nosh eggs that fail to be buried in the process.
It works and works well, provided that you don’t cast upstream from the pink salmon. Believe it or not spawning pinks will often come up to grab that little fluff of hair and feathers passing over their head.
You’ll find however that most of the Dollies feeding on eggs in the riffles are smaller.
The truly big Dollies might be going there at night, but at least during the daytime they spend their time in the pools mixed right in with the pink salmon awaiting their time to spawn.
You might not notice them at all because they’re pink salmon size and often larger.
Stand at the head of a pool and wake your caddis dry fly over the top of a pink salmon school, and the giant Dollies within can’t seem to resist.
They’re rise all the way up to the surface for a quick and easy meal.
While you could certainly use your favorite salmon fly rod to dry fly fish for Dolly Varden, it’s a whole lot more fun to drop down to a lighter rod.
If I had to pick one rod for both trout and salmon it would be a 7-weight. But if your target is purely trout, I’d go with a 5-weight or even lighter.
You’ll need a floating fly line of course, but you have a little leeway in your choice of leaders. The Dollies aren’t particularly spooky so a leader as short as 7’ is just fine.
But you’ll discover something when you try to tie on your fly. The eye of a size #16 hook won’t pass a leader heavier than about 6-pound test, and a size #14 won’t pass a leader heavier than about 8-pound test.
You’ll think about that when you hook your first Dolly Varden bigger than a pink salmon!
Dry fly fishing for Dolly Varden is a pure celebration of summer and love of fishing.
You can expect great fishing almost any afternoon from now through the end of September, and it’s a terrific way to get away from the crowds mad with salmon fever.