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Fly Selection for Alaska Rainbow Trout

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Posted by John Perry on

The Alaska trout are by far the real deal when it comes to size of the fish in comparison to it's fight. If you have ever seen Tie Domi fight back in his NHL days, you would understand the comparison. He was short, but strong enough to take on anyone in the league regardless of their size. A 16" Alaska Rainbow Trout can pull around a 20" trout from the lower 48 with ease. They are just stronger, and it comes from pure genetics and diet.

The Alaska trout have the opportunity to live off of an extremely rich protein diet for several months a year. They also have the a long cold winter where they shut down and are able to make it through with minimal food almost like the brown bears of the coast. They both rely on salmon as the major food source to get them through the winter by storing so much fat from the summer, and grow in size naturally more than trout in the lower 48 with this huge protein rich food source.

Leopard Rainbow Trout caught with Angler's Alibi
Beautiful Alaska Leopard Rainbow Trout caught on the Alagnak River with Angler's Alibi Lodge

Targeting trout on the fly in Alaska is a must for any angler's bucket list. The season starts June 8th in Bristol Bay Watershed and goes through ice up. Timing of your trip will be the biggest factor in determining your fly selection. As I mentioned before, salmon are the number one food source trout, and even in June during the opening week of tour season, there are still bits and pieces of salmon in the system from the summer before. White and light yellow bunny leeches will work now as well as black streamers. My favorite streamer patterns are black ones. I like Dolly Llamas, Al Green's, Loop egg sucking leech. All these flies produce, but it is black that seems to work best in spring. Flesh flies like the articulated flesh flies, Battle Bunny, and articulated cone head in white produce as well and I will use these "dead" flesh patterns in the spring if black is not working.

Before the salmon arrive, the above mentioned streamers work well, but who wants to swing streamers if the trout will hit topwater? YES, they crush mouse patterns with reckless abandon This is by far my favorite method of trout fishing, and it works best in the spring before the salmon arrive and start dropping eggs. Once that occurs, fresh flesh and egg imitations rule the rivers for August and part of September. After the spawn though, you can still do great on mice patterns and streamers. My favorite mouse patterns are the Morrish Mouse and the Mr. Hankey mouse pattern. Both work well, and the articulated hook on the Mr. Hankey rides up and seems to do well on hook up ratios. The method on the mouse pattern is cast towards banks and let it swing out into the river, and work them in pocket water as well.

Once the salmon are spawning, the best thing to do is dead drift beads representing salmon eggs. My favorite beads to use are orange, peach, and light red in color, and also clear. We paint them with nail polish to give the eggs a fuzzy look subsurface, just like the naturals. This works well and is no longer a secret. It used to be, and because of that we would cover up our rigs when walking past any other anglers. It is deadly, and hunting down big rainbows feeding behind spawning salmon is still one of my favorite things to do in the fishing world. Indicators are nice to use, but when you can spot the fish, I watch for the fish to actually take the bead instead of watching an indicator for the strike. This is fun with the bows when they're in shallow water and aggressively feeding. The more active the fish is, the easier it is to catch.

Some my favorite Rainbow Trout Flies

  • Dolly Llama, black and white
  • Al Green, both green and red head versions
  • Loop egg sucking leech
  • Morrish Mouse
  • Mr. Hankey mouse pattern

Dry flies and nymphs can be used too early in the season. I did not cover this but when it does happen, and there is a hatch, it is usually caddis, good size mayflies, or even stoneflies. I carry tan elk hair caddis in sizes 12 - 18, Adams in size 10-16, Red Quills in size 10-16, and stimulators in size 10 and 12.

Nymphs also work well, especially for grayling when you cannot get them to come up. I like anything with a bead head, and plenty of peacock. Bead head princes, large pheasant tails, and even black midges in size 16 and 18. Yes, I have had rainbows on the Brooks River charge after black midges like they were huge pieces of flesh. It was hard to land them on light tippet with their strength though. The sockeye were kicking them up in the gravel and it was game on for the trout that day! Hopefully when you make it up here, you'll find the same kind of fighting fish, but now you'll be armed with the weapons you'll need to battle these feisty Alaskan rainbow trout.

About the Author: John Perry

Owner: Angler's Alibi Lodge - Alaska

John Perry, originally from Michigan, began his guiding career in Colorado in the early 90's. It was here that he met fellow guide and now lodge manager/head guide TR Rafferty. TR left Colorado to guide in Bristol Bay Alaska, and came back with a summer worth of pictures and stories that that John could not imagine living. Two summers later after teaching fly fishing classes and guiding all over Colorado for trout, a guiding job opened up for John to come up and guide at a new small lodge called Angler's Alibi. It is here that John met the original owner Karl Storath. John worked for Karl through the year 2000. After life had it's changes with marriage and the need for a more year round career, John left Alaska but told Karl that he would love the opportunity to buy it when he was ready to retire. In 2007, John came back to Angler's and the change of leadership began as well. Today John is the owner of Angler's Alibi, and lives in Colorado in the off-season raising 2 boys Grey and River Perry with his wife Holly.

To learn more about Angler's Alibi Lodge visit or email John at

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