Sockeye or Red Salmon are one of the heaviest fish runs in Alaska. In some of the medium and smaller sized creeks in the month of July, they will be so thick that you can practically pick them up with your hands. Most Sockeye range in length from 18 inches to just over 30 inches. They can weigh up to 15 pounds with a few trophy Sockeye cresting the 15 pound mark. They are beautiful fish that are easy to spot with their brightly reddish sides and their blue-black head. Most people just go right out and catch them, but they are not always easy to catch legally. That means setting the hook in their jaw not their fins. Given that, there are some tricks catching Sockeye Salmon.
Where to fish for Sockeye Salmon?
The area around Bristol bay offers some of the heaviest runs of Sockeye. The major rivers include the Nushagak, Naknek, the Kvichak, and the Egegik rivers as well as their tributaries. Which river you pick is not as important as where in the river your fish. Sockeye have developed ways to conserve energy, and since their spawning run is the last run they will make, it is important that they reach their spawning grounds. Given that, when the fish are lying thick in the water, and you could reach down with your hand and pick up the one you want, they, usually, don't bite flies. Where you want to find them is in the fastest moving water such as a ripple. The reason is the same reason that geese fly in a V formation. The front fish spends the most energy and the ones behind are conserving energy.
Sockeye also line up when they are facing fast moving water, and that means that you don't have to move to much to just keep catching them. When they are in the faster moving water, they are more prone to snap and strike a fly. The fly should be down in the water at their level. Usually, a heavy type sinking fly with a 4 foot leader and enough weight to keep it down but bouncing along the bottom. Sockeye are known to strike flies that are just about at their eye level.
What kind of flies to sock it to the sockeye?
For kings and Silvers we, usually, use larger flies like the articulated leech flies in bright colors. For sockeye try a medium sized fly 4-8. The Copper Swan is a good example of a sockeye fly. The sockeye flies are different from the flies for the larger Salmon. Not only are they smaller, they are not usually a bright. A good multi-colored fly, which is darker in color, works well. When the Sockeye are in the river, the air is full of mayflies, Stoneflies and even damselflies. These are small bodied insects with big wings. The females of these insect species dot the water laying eggs, and they sometimes get caught in the water and sink. That is what the Sockeye will snap and strike at as they queue up to head upstream.
Fly choices that make the Sockeye see red:
- Montana Brassie in white and copper ( white mimics the wing color and copper the body color. Variation of the color combo includes red and olive or green and olive.
- Copper Top
- Sockeye Fly in chartreuse green and dark green.
- Sockeye John
- Sockey Lantern ( yep, think green lantern green)
There are just a few of the many choices available. So how do you choose which fly to use? A good tip for fishing any kind of fish is to approach the river and spend five to ten minutes just looking. What you are looking for is how the river is moving, what the water looks like and what insects are buzzing about. The color and size of what you see flying about is exactly what you should choose in a fly. That is what the fish are used to seeing and that my fishing friend is one of the tricks to how you get the sockeye to strike your fly. Fishing for sockeye is quite a bit different than fishing for silvers or kings. A good tip is to ask your guide what's been working. The guides, usually, know the local waters well, and they understand the seasons and the changes that seasons bring to fishing.