Fishing is starting to heat up, and it’s hard to get through any conversation without the topic veering to fish.
Many folks are already on the water, and even more will be there soon.
Before you know it, the elbows will be flying and the lines will be crossing as tempers flare on red salmon rivers.
It sure appears that summer is arriving early this year.
If you’re like me, though, it doesn’t take many folks within casting range to send you packing.
I like my elbowroom, thank you very much.
But I also love to fish. Packing up doesn’t mean that I’ve quit fishing by any means.
Instead it’s a quest for less crowded conditions.
Fortunately for me and for a handful of others, there’s a great alternative to crowded rivers.
The Dolly Varden are in saltwater now.
You can wander onto almost any beach with the expectation of connecting, and the odds are good you won’t see another angler in a long day of fishing.
You might wonder why so few anglers ply the ocean for Dollies when the fishing is so good and so peaceful.
It’s mostly the result of red salmon fever. The salmon are so popular, many anglers accept crowded conditions as a matter of course in their quest to line freezer shelves.
More power to them, but as much as I love red salmon, it’s not for me!
Sea-run Dolly might not fare as well on the table compared to red salmon, but I’ll push the fishing experience far ahead.
You have to hunt for fish you can’t see and learn to recognize good holding water as it changes with the tides. As the Dollies move around, you have to move with them so there’s plenty of fresh air and walking to highlight a day of fishing.
And best of all, finding the Dollies is only half the battle.
You still have to convince them to hit.
Believe it or not, that’s often a bigger challenge than when you last encountered Dollies migrating downriver. Those migrants were famished from a long winter with little food, while in the ocean they are enjoying a rich diet.
Dollies in the ocean can be picky feeders.
They also seem to be fast learners.
You might catch a few fish on one particular offering, but in short order they will turn up their noses at the sight of it. It’s clear that nearby Dollies learn their lessons when a neighbor is hooked.
Fortunately, they also have short memories.
If you give them a half hour or hour to rest, they’ll hit your original offering with renewed enthusiasm.
For me that translates into two requirements for successful Dolly fishing (they’re more or less interchangeable, but you can’t ignore them):
If you prefer to stay in one spot, it’s almost mandatory that you change lures or flies frequently. With each change you’re likely to connect with a fish or two before the action falls of and it’s time to change again.
Sooner or later you can go back to your original offering for another fish or two, but only after that all-important break.
Another strategy is to keep moving. Once the fishing falls off in one spot, move along the shoreline to find more fish that haven’t seen your offering.
I’m a fairly restless fisherman, but burdened with strong curiosity. I like to move around, but I’m always curious about which offerings work and which don’t.
I move around, but I also change hooks frequently.
Exploring the shore will teach you quickly where to expect to find Dollies.
The hottest of the hotspots is undoubtedly the mouth of a river or stream. There’s a fairly consistent stream of food washing from freshwater into salt, and the Dollies like to wait for it.
But as you fish around a river mouth you’ll notice a pattern to their distribution.
Dollies also like the edges of the incoming freshwater current, especially along the beach that is downcurrent from the river.
That’s right. It pays to notice which way the ocean current is flowing along the beach, and to fish the beach and river mouth from the down-current side. Eddies that form there are natural traps for baitfish and other food, and the Dollies are quick to take advantage.
Continuing along the beach in the direction the ocean current is flowing, you’ll also find Dollies around any obstruction to the current. It could be a sand bar or gravel bar, a rock outcropping or a kelp bed.
The dollies like to use the obstruction for cover, lingering in its shelter and waiting for the current to bring food to them.
You also have to pay special attention to the rise and fall of the tide when fishing Dollies in saltwater.
It can vary a little with location, but in general the fishing is best on the incoming tide. For whatever reason they stop hitting once the tide starts to fall, and seldom resume until it turns and starts rising again.
My preferred strategy is to start fishing the beach adjacent to a river mouth at low tide, then explore the changing shoreline as the tide rises.
If you’re a spin fisherman, recognize that a big portion of Dolly diet is small fish.
Spoons consistently work better than spinners, but it’s important to more or less match the size and color of local baitfish in choosing your spoons.
My favorites are Crocodile spoons in the 3/8-ounce size, but I’ll go much larger or smaller once if I see the Dollies feeding on larger or smaller baitfish.
My favorite colors are blue/silver or olive/silver on sunny days and gold versions on overcast days. But I carry a wide array of colors in order to keep changing and stimulate the interest of Dollies jaded by recent hookups.
Fly fishing comes into its own with saltwater Dollies.
Small streamer flies rule the day when the Dollies are eating baitfish, with No. 6 chartreuse/white or olive/white Clauser Deep Minnows topping the list. But as with spoons, it pays to make frequent color changes in order to hold the interest of fickle Dollies.
When you opt to use flies you open other doors in Dolly fishing.
In fact Dollies in saltwater feed on much more than baitfish.
Many is the day when No. 6 or No. 4 pink shrimp will out-fish streamer flies by a factor of about 10 to 1. Dollies simply go nuts for them at times.
I still try the streamers, but if the Dollies don’t show much interest I’m quick to switch to a shrimp pattern.
All is not lost if you don’t fly fish, however. Simply buy a selection of streamer flies and shrimp patterns and use a clear casting bubble to deliver flies to the fish. I like to put the bobber about three feet above the fly, and if necessary add a small split shot to the leader about a foot above the fly to get it down a little as I retrieve.