Hello, Dolly: Don't ever go away again

Catching a your first fish on a fly is not as easy as it sounds

Posted: Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ghostly and silvery green, the Dolly Varden swam around my legs with a clouser fly hooked in its cheek.

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It was beautiful. From a couple of yards away, the fish had been a pulsing, invisible force at the end of my line. At about a yard, it became a blur in the green water of the Gastineau Channel. Up close, it was a living work of art.

I could even see pink speckles on its side as it fluttered over the small stones in shallow water. This was my first fish caught on a fly. What a thrill!

But I couldn't get my hands on it. Picture a giggling idiot sloshing toward a fish that stays ahead of him by the length of a rod. If I moved closer, it scooted away. If I walked backwards, it swam forwards. If I turned left, it turned right.

Another angler had to teach me how to get it under control. I might have fooled the fish with a fly, but the fish didn't need any tools to make a fool out of me. I guess we're even. I set it free.

Next time I'm taking a few home for dinner. With the channel brimming with salmon fry and flopping dollies, I'm hoping next time will be as soon as possible.

What a difference a week makes.

Not too long ago, I was staring into the water and wondering if anything would ever show up. Now the shore is seething with wiggling salmon fry. They move in one unit, a shape-shifting mass of baby fish. They bump into rocks, into your legs, squirming through the water, looking for a safe place. One school disappears, and another takes its place.

I've been fishing under the Douglas Bridge for the last few weeks, but Brad Elfers, at Juneau Flyfishing Goods, tipped me off to a better spot. I wandered out at low tide and ended up in waist-deep water, with dollies jumping around me pretty consistently.

Nothing happened for the first few minutes. Then a roving gang of Bonaparte gulls moved in and started picking at the water. Fish had arrived. Another angler started catching dollies, nailing at least four in 15 minutes.

An Arctic tern flew overhead and plummeted into the water. The gulls circled and plunged and rose and dove. Fish were actually trying to jump into the other angler's pockets. Basically, everybody was seeing action except me.

Then a Dolly flopped in front of me, and I cast my fly at the ripples it made. As I trimmed the line, I felt the quivering tug of a fish on a hook. It was a real monster - one or two pounds, at least. It had a little bit of a glow, even underwater. I didn't have the heart to keep it.

If there's any glow next time, it's going to be under a fry pan.

See you on the water.

• Ken Lewis can be reached at ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.

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