Fly Of The Month: Salmon Smolt Patterns

Alaska features some of the world’s premiere waters for fly fishing, so we thought it would be a good idea to share some of the best Alaska-inspired flies available for your fishing destinations in the Last Frontier.

An understanding of the natural forage base present in a lake or river system is critical for tying productive fly patterns. One of the key significant predator-prey interactions that takes place in Alaska occurs during he salmon smolt outmigration. Predatory species like lake trout, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, sheefish, and Arctic Grayling take advantage of this period as the transition into spring increases their metabolism. Increasing water temperatures also trigger the instinct within the smolts to initiate their downstream movement toward the ocean.Larger piscivorous fish like lake trout, Dolly Varden, and Sheefish feed on outmigrating salmon smolts, fly patterns for which are best represented in white, pearl, or silver to simulate the reflective chrome of the scales of young fish. (Michael Lunde)

Morphological differences can be observed in each juvenile salmon species as represented by coloration and pattern of parr marks, shape of fins and depth/width of bodies. Parr marks are the dark transverse bands arranged in vertical formation on the side of a smolt.

An important physical characteristic to take into consideration for the development of a successful smolt pattern is the fly’s length. Common lengths for year-old salmon smolts range from 1.5 to 3.5 inches. Coho, which typically spend an additional year rearing in freshwater and outmigrate at 2 years old, range in length from 3 to 5 inches.
Multiple fly patterns have been developed to represent the length and morphology of a salmon smolt. These traditional smolt patterns include Clousers, Deceivers, and Hickman’s Smolt. With smolt patterns, the most important characteristic is color. Young salmon are best represented by white, pearl, or silvr fly-tying material to simulate the reflective chrome of their scales. Sparseness is another important detail towards illustrating the slender profile as well.

A body composed of Mylar or EX Body Tubing represents the slender profile. A tail is formed with sparce bucktail or marabou and accented with flash to enhance the movement when swung broadside through the current. Before an application of a UV-enhanced adhesive to the Mylar tubing body, a waterproof prismatic marker can be used to draw a black horizontal stripe on top of the back. This black upper-back is symbolic of the countershading concept, a source of physical camouflage with silver coloration accented with a white underbelly that reduces incoming visibility by scattering incoming light to minimize a smolt’s appearance from predators. The waterproof marker can also be used to color in parr marks. The presence or absence of parr marks on salmon smolts is species-specific.

-Michael Lunde