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Sockeye Salmon in Alaska

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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 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.

Sockeye are beautiful fish that are easy to spot with their brightly reddish sides and their blue-black head. Most sockeye will range in length from 18 inches to just over 30 inches. They can typically weigh up to 15 pounds with a few trophy Sockeye Salmon cresting the 15 pound mark.

Sockeye Salmon caught at Angler's Alibi Lodge - Alagnak River, Alaska
Sockeye Salmon caught by Rebekka Redd at Angler's Alibi Lodge - Alagnak River, Alaska

Where to fish for Sockeye Salmon in Alaska?

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 you fish within the river you are on. 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, they usually don't bite flies when the fish are lying thick in the water and you could reach down with your hand and pick up the one you want. The reason for this is the same reason that geese fly in a V formation, the lead fish spends the most energy while the ones behind are conserving energy.

Where you want to find them is in the fastest moving water such as a ripple. Once you find a spot, then you don't have to move too much to keep catching them because Sockeye also line up when they are facing fast moving water. When they are in the faster moving water, they are more prone to snap and strike a fly. Sockeye salmon are known to strike flies that are just about at their eye level, so the fly should be down in the water at their level. Consider using a heavy type sinking fly with a 4 foot leader and enough weight to keep it down but bouncing along the bottom.

What are the best flies for sockeye?

For king and silver salmon 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 strike at as they queue up to head upstream.

So how do you choose which fly to use? A good tip for fishing for 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 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 king salmon. A good tip is to ask your guide what's been working. The guides usually know the local waters well and they understand how seasonal changes can affect the fishing in that area.

Additional Info

Informative Video on Sockeye Salmon in Alaska by Colin Hurley