American Fly Fishing

DIY Salmon Secret
By Terry W. Sheely

Kodial, AK - DIY Salmon Secret

Dolly Varden, usually called “Dollies” by Alaska anglers, are common in Kodiak Island streams. They are aggressive feeders, usually eager to take a variety of flies, and their gorgeous colors are always photo-worthy. PHOTO BY BRIAN O’KEEFE

So, this is Kodiak Island salmon river fishing on a do-it-yourself shoestring budget?

At first glance it looks promising. At second glance it looks productive, and perfect for my long-anticipated DIY top-shelf adventure. I’m stopped on a bridge with the rental van idling. Above in the hills, the Olds River slides out of the willows and alder switches, low and clear, and slips downhill under the van and the two-lane road, and drifts toward a handful of fly fishers on a pea-gravel bar.

Farther downstream, yellow-green marsh grass leans toward salt water. A cloud of white gulls pinpoints the end of the river and the edge of the bay. This season has been historically dry on the Emerald Isle, and the rivers are thirsty. The big wad of silver salmon reported to be hanging in the salt water won’t have far to come upstream to meet the anglers—when they come.

Below the bridge, the Olds is mostly dry gravel and pink salmon carcasses, picked over by scavengers. Pinks, alive and dead, are thick, some finning in the skinny flows, their white dorsal fins out of the water. Other pack up and charge the shallows, throwing wakes and spewing spawn, and still others flop against dry rocks in their natural metamorphosis into river nutrients and bird food. In a normal year with normal water levels, these pinks would be miles upriver, spawned out, and this lower section would belong to the surges of incoming silvers. But this isn’t a normal year; this is drought, and the silvers and pinks are packed together.