Sept. 16 is a special day.
After six weeks of closure, the upper reaches of road system rivers reopen for salmon fishing. Excited anglers march happily upriver for what can be the best silver salmon fishing of the year.
If this is your first year on Kodiak, you’ll discover something even better.
After the rush of enthusiasm has passed, most anglers head home and stow their fishing tackle for the year. Especially on weekdays, you may have all that river and all those fish to yourself.
It’s virtual wilderness fishing with hordes of willing fish and not a soul in sight, all within easy reach of your warm home and none of the expense of remote travel.
But sooner or later you’ll start feeling that you’ve caught enough silver salmon and your interests may start to shift.
If you love wilderness and rivers without people, however, don’t be too hasty to end your 2016 fishing season.
While you were working up and down the rivers, did you notice the flash of Dolly Varden down near bottom? You probably caught some while wishing for silver salmon, even if they were a disappointment and a nuisance.
Think about that for a moment.
You probably caught them on heavier tackle suitable for silver salmon. The biggest put up a pretty good fight, too, but for the most part they were seriously over-matched by your tackle.
What would happen if, instead of ending your season, you traded in your salmon tackle for trout tackle?
If you ignore the salmon, you’ll discover some of the best trout fishing in America. With the right tackle, trout fishing can be as much or more fun than salmon fishing. Of course, when one of those big silvers grabs your trout gear, you might have a little more fun than you bargained for.
September and October offer the best Dolly fishing of the year.
Gone are the skinny silver Dollies you were so happy to catch last May after a long winter without fish. In their place you’ll find fat, brightly colored Dollies fresh from the ocean. They’re so much stronger than they were in spring, you’ll be tempted to guess they’re even a separate species.
As much as I love salmon fishing, I’m also a trout addict. Over the years I’ve fished trout over the country and become friends with lots of other enthusiasts. A fair number come to visit us and fish for silvers each fall.
But almost to a person they carry their favorite trout tackle along with their silver salmon gear. Our Dolly fishing is so good they claim it’s even better than the famous rivers we read about in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. The Dollies average larger, they fight harder and best of all, they’re generally easier to catch.
When I’m targeting Dollies and avoiding silvers, I find it better to use flies. Bait and lures readily attract the interest of the salmon as well as Dollies, while there’s a whole array of effective Dolly flies that the salmon ignore.
That’s important to me because the biggest Dollies in a river often lie mixed among the silvers in the holes and deeper stretches of a river.
Egg fly patterns and beads certainly catch Dollies, but you’ll be surprised just how enthusiastic silvers can be for single, brightly colored salmon eggs drifting near bottom. You can limit hookups with silvers by staying away from deeper holes, but at the cost of those big Dollies that are so much fun to catch.
Brightly colored streamer flies, even small ones, are also dandy silver salmon catchers. I’ve also found that while they work well for Dollies in the shallower riffles, for some reason the big Dollies in the holes don’t like them as much.
It’s not until you move away from bright colors that you enter the realm of sincere Dolly catchers that the silvers ignore.
Nymph fly patterns are the best at avoiding silvers, but they have to be just the right nymphs fished in just the right places to connect with big Dollies.
The best in my experience for dead drifting along bottom are small and dark, on the order of size No. 18 or No. 20. You’ll catch a few on larger nymphs drifted along the bottom, but many more on the smaller versions.
My favorite nymphs are Pheasant Tail Nymph or Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymphs in size No. 18, or often better Zebra Nymphs is size No. 20 and smaller. With Zebras, it helps to fish a weighted or beadhead version just to make sure it stays close to the bottom.
But Dollies are “interesting” fish when it comes to nymphs, even weird when you get right down to it.
Often an actively moving nymph works better than one dead-drifted on the current. While I enjoy dead drifting a nymph past Dollies, I usually catch more of them after the dead drift is over. If you allow your fly to swing back toward your side of the river at the end of a cast, Dollies will chase it down.
But always, always wait before you pick up the fly for your next cast. Better yet, retrieve it slowly back through the shallows a good ways before starting your next cast. You’ll be startled how often a Dolly swings out from among the silvers to smash that moving nymph.
If you really don’t care about dead drifting nymphs or can’t find the really small ones, don’t despair. When it comes to retrieving nymphs back upstream, Dollies often hit larger ones.
I’ve caught plenty on size No. 8 and No. 10 nymphs retrieved back upstream. In that case color may be a little more important than size. I always have best luck on olive, but black or brown produce well, too, especially on sunny days.
Small drab streamer flies, especially No. 8 or No. 10 Clouser Deep Minnows draw smashing strikes, especially on overcast days for some reason. My favorite colors are olive, black or brown.
Angle your casts downstream and across, allowing the fly to swing back to your side of the river. Once there, retrieve it back upstream in slow strips and hang on for action.
Without regard for the effectiveness of nymphs or streamers, always carry a selection of small dry flies onto the river. In September their effectiveness is limited to evenings, and not all days.
But any time you see a hatch of caddis flies resembling small moths flitting across the river, switch to dry flies for uproarious fun.
There’s a trick to fishing caddis dry flies however. Caddis are active insects, and Dollies seem to like the action. You might catch one or two on a dead-drifted fly, but the fun really starts when you skitter them across the surface.
As with the streamer flies, cast downstream and across, then let the current swing the fly across the surface back to your side. Twitch it now and then to provide even more wake and action.
In my experience Elk Hair Caddis are best and smaller is better, with No. 16 being best. You can catch plenty of Dollies on size No. 14 if that’s all you can find, but No. 16 will virtually double your catch rate.