How do you spot the devoted anglers on Kodiak?
Check the road system lakes with each warming weather break in March.
They might not be catching fish or even fishing, but they’re checking for open water and signs of fish.
With the larger fish of summer still a long ways off, even the hope for a trout is enough to drag them out of their winter lairs. The slimmest chance of a tug on the end of their line is better than no fishing at all.
Kodiak has a mix of spring lake fishing opportunities. The larger lakes harbor sea run Dolly Varden overwintering before their spring migration back to the ocean, and many of the smaller lakes are stocked with rainbow trout.
Choosing between the two is as much a matter of finding open water with fish as it is preferring one fish over the other. Wherever the weather and water conditions make it possible to find a fish, that’s your favorite fish of the moment.
The list of small lakes stocked with rainbows tops a dozen, but without a map they can be hard to locate. A stop by the Sport Fish Division office at ADF&G will produce both the list and the map.
If you’re not familiar with the locations, compare that map with a topographic map showing elevations. A number of the lakes are high enough that they’re almost certainly iced over, but others are close to sea level and promise to lose at least part of their ice with each warming trend. And rain will clear the ice quicker than sunlight, in my experience.
The larger lakes with sea-run Dolly Varden are slower to lose their ice, both due to their inland locations and the simple fact that big lakes produce a lot of ice.
But simply driving to one of the lakes and gazing out your car window is not enough. While the body of the lake may still be covered with ice, the areas just off the inlet streams and sometimes the outlet will lose their ice much quicker than the middle.
You might be able to spot open water from your car at the outlet, but all those streams that feed the lakes require a walk for a closer look. Open areas as small as your living room might produce fish, but you have to get close to see them.
My most successful techniques are quite different for the Dolly Varden lakes and the rainbow lakes. That most certainly reflects differences in the habits of the fish, but also in the character of the lakes.
Big lakes with Dolly Varden are generally deepest far from shore, which is significant. The Dollies spend most of their time in the deeper water, which is the warmest part of the lake in winter.
They have to have a very good reason to leave that deep water for the shallows where stream waters enter and leave the lake. I’ll get to that in a moment.
The lakes stocked with rainbow trout are not only smaller, they’re mostly shallower, too. The fish can reach and cruise the shorelines looking for food without necessarily leaving the warmest water. The biggest issue for anglers is simply finding open water for access to the fish. If they can get a hook in the water, they can fish with some certainty that sooner or later a rainbow will swim by in search of food.
In contrast, the presence of open water off a stream in a Dolly Lake might or might not mean that food is also present. And until that food arrives, the Dollies will be slow to leave the depths and concentrate there.
It’s always worth a casting session to check for Dollies, but it might take a few more weeks for the food to arrive.
I’m talking about salmon fry or eggs from spawning steelhead tumbling into downstream into the lake, or at the outlet, larger fry that have wintered in the lake and are beginning their spring migration downriver to the ocean.
Once either food source begins to concentrate at the inlet or outlet of a lake the Dollies will certainly follow. But it takes warming water as well as retreating ice for that to happen.
I certainly check the Dolly Lakes for fish at the inlets and outlets, but it’s usually a quick visit on my way to a rainbow lake if the Dollies aren’t on hand.
I catch more Dollies with flies with anything else, and small spoons come in a distant second. Best fly patterns are small black and white streamers or nymphs, especially Hares Ear and Pheasant Tail nymphs in size No. 12 or No. 14.
You don’t have to use a fly rod to fish the flies, because they perform just fine when rigged behind a clear casting bubble. And in fact both the streamers and nymphs perform best when they’re moving fairly quickly than when fished slowly or sitting still.
Later in the spring, you can add Alevin and egg flies to the list of top performers, but once again they’ll beat out the small spoons.
Fishing for rainbows in the stocked lakes is an entirely different proposition this early in the season. If there’s sufficient open water you can do quite well on flies fished parallel to the shoreline.
While the same Hares Ear and Pheasant Tail nymphs will produce, they are best moved very slowly with long pauses. But there’s a better option.
I consistently produce the biggest rainbows on olive or black Woolly Buggers in sizes No. 6, No. 4, and No. 2. I move these with short strips and pauses, with most strikes coming while the fly is paused.
Small streamers will work now and then, but they’re at their best in May or later after ADF&G plants the next batch of rainbow fry.
How big is “big” are these stocked rainbows? Though ADF&G stocks them as scant fingerlings, a few survive several seasons to grow to outsize proportions. My biggest was a whopping 29” long, but I expect to catch them over 20” every spring.
I’m here to tell you one important thing about this early fishing. Even on the warmest days, it’s cold! Especially on hands that are wet from handling a fly line or even cranking on a spinning reel.
Sure, you need to dress warmly and keep your hands as dry as possible, but here’s an important insight. The fish prefer warmer conditions too, and the fishing will almost always be best later in the day when the water has had a chance to warm as much as possible.
Do cold hands sound like too much bother?
All is not lost.
Without a doubt the very best fishing for stocked rainbows is with bait. That allows you to cast out and put your hands in warm pockets while waiting for a hit. I go so far as bringing along a folding chair for relaxation and warmth when fishing bait.
Best baits are Powerbait fished below a sliding sinker on bottom so the bait rises above weeds on the bottom, or salmon roe suspended under a bobber. It may be a long time between strikes, but if you’re warm enough that’s not an issue.
At least you’re fishing with some hope of catching fish!