Salmon return to all watersheds in Alaska that have access to the ocean. Many rivers are veritable salmon factories with thousands and even millions of fish returning annually. These salmon draw legions of fishers, many of which are not human. Eagles, gulls and giant bears also get much nourishment from the salmon runs. Below the surface of these salmon rivers rainbow trout and char also feed on the bounty brought to these rivers by the spawning and dying salmon.
In some rivers in Alaska, all five species of Pacific salmon find niches in the web of life. Every salmon that enters these rivers is on a one way mission. Each dies after spawning. In some rivers, salmon spawning goes on nearly from ice-out in the spring to freeze-up in the late fall. These rivers are rich with food for rainbows and char in the form of drifting eggs, emerging fry and especially in the protein from drifting and decaying flesh of salmon carcasses. As ghoulish as it seems, many resident rainbows grow fat on this nearly inexhaustible supply of protein.
A combination of an endless smorgasbord of salmon flesh and fishing pressure caused by visiting anglers can make some fish very selective in the flesh they eat. Color and texture play a roll in this selectivity. A couple of very astute Alaskan fishing guides have studied this selectivity and produced flies that level the playing field. They are listed below.
Alaska fishing guide Keith Graham says this about his Barely Legal Flesh fly series:
"I first tied the barely legal flesh about 10 years ago. The use of plastic beads was not allowed during certain times on some of my home waters, such as the Russian River for example, so I thought I would incorporate a bead into a fly. I came up with the idea of putting a bead into a flesh fly simply because rainbow trout and Dolly Varden rely on both salmon eggs and flesh as a main food source during the months of August, September, and October. The use of articulated flies has become very popular and by putting a plastic bead that I custom painted one of my favorite colors into the middle of two pieces of flesh, I was offering the fish two of their primary food sources at the same time. This fly has proven itself in many different waters here in Alaska; the Kenai, Naknek, and Kvichak to name a few. Basically any river that has trout and a salmon run would be a great place to give this fly a try, especially in the months I mentioned."
Alaska fly designer Tracy Smith says about her Lady Flesh flies:
"I was born and raised in Alaska and have been blessed with the opportunity to live and fish in an area some people only dream about. As a Fishery Biologist for the Department of Fish & Game, fish are my life and rainbows are one of my favorites. With abundant salmon runs, the rainbow is always nearby slurping eggs or gorging itself with that perfect piece of rotting carcass. My love for the rainbow has narrowed my tying focus in search of the perfect flesh fly and after examining a countless number of salmon carcasses I found the perfect color. The color was paired with a cactus chenille underbody and a bit of marabou and crystal flash in the tail to simulate salmon skin and that is how Lady Flesh was created. The mimicry is uncanny to pieces of salmon carcass being carried by the current. Since the creation, Lady Flesh has been fished all over the state of Alaska from Kotzebue to Ketchikan and the Kanektok to the Kenai. Lady Flesh proved to be an instant success and was a secret weapon for some time; it has become quite popular among many Kenai River and Bristol Bay guides proving her success in heavily fished drainages. Lady Flesh is a great fly for year round rainbow fishing as there are numerous colors in the series: Lady Flesh, Articulated Lady Flesh, and Orange/Tan."
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