Guest Blogger: Mike Vorhis, Author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller and OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller.
There are streamer anglers and nymphers and dry fly purists, in that ascending order…at least according to the purists. What they intend to imply by that hierarchy is that swinging patterns downstream lacks, comparatively, for Art. One need only go to England’s famous River Avon, Izaak Walton’s old stomping ground, to get a haughty dose of this mentality; it’s said that a fisherman on that private reserve is forbidden to cast any direction but upstream, and to toss anything but dry flies. Decorum, you know, old boy.

In the New World’s wild west, and generally wherever the “fish on” condition is considered preferable to empty-handed purity, streamers are accepted, and by many even preferred. Adages like “big fish want meat” abound; in my observation streamer fishing is especially popular where lurk big browns, and (commence reverent tone) Steelhead. However even streamer fishermen often play only with a partial deck–one that lacks a useful wild card. They reach for tried-and-true buggers, and their other options are usually just other kinds of buggers–well, that and zonker strip variants. Now and then a streamer-sized fly box will go completely bohemian with a couple of egg-sucking leeches tucked in a corner. But there’s a special kind of streamer that’s often overlooked–one that inspires a little extra frenzy beyond the normal zeal of a hungry fish. That’s the Alevin Stage pattern.

Figure 1:  Alevin Stage Small Fry
Figure 1: Alevin Stage Small Fry

Alevin stage “fly” patterns, like most salt water and many fresh water streamers, mimic small fish. The difference is that they look like a fish that has just hatched and is still carrying the yolk sack around with it. Used at specific times of year (some weeks after a species’ spawning time…for example maybe about 6 to 10 weeks after salmon spawning has occurred), the results can be memorable.

I was first alerted to the alevin stage pattern concept by a local fly shop manager; he said he’d been to my favorite water and had (figuratively) “killed ’em” on such a pattern only the week before, netting a number of fine, large, sea-run steelhead (as opposed to political steelhead, categorized by length so as to keep attracting federal steelhead funds).

I immediately bought the last one in his fly bin, tied up a few extras at home, and hit the same water a week later. I was afraid I’d missed the action, but results were extraordinary. As had he, I opted to swing the fly in riffle current that opened into a slightly deeper, slower glide, and now and then strip in small, weak erratic tugs. During part of the morning I got strike after emphatic strike, was able to bring several very nice fish to net, logging one of my best days on this stretch of river in some years…a day marred only by the fact that my camera’s battery had failed to hold a charge!

Considering the results these kinds of streamers can trigger, it’s natural to conclude that fish who like to eat other fish may have a sweet tooth for “sunny side down” newly hatched alevin-stage small fry. Patterns abound on the web, many with orange or yellow chenile at the throat/abdomen, some with an orange plastic bead on the hook shank. With this article I show a photo of the relatively simple pattern that worked pretty well for two guys on my local stream.

Figure 2:  Alevin Stage Streamers
Figure 2: Alevin Stage Streamers

It’s common to ply steelhead waters with “flies” that look like nothing more than an egg; the big fish lurk downstream during salmon spawns, waiting for loose eggs to wash down. But many steelies evidently also wait around some additional weeks for affixed eggs to hatch. They hit the young before they can swim well, while they’re still dependent on their yolk reserve for sustenance. And they seem to do it with a degree of gusto dreamed of by fishermen in the know.
Steelhead spawning runs vary as much as do runs of the various salmon species. On “my” river the combined autumn Chinook Salmon / Steelhead run can begin as early as late October; by end of December the salmon are done, but steelhead can keep trickling in through February. In mid-February salmon fry are still evidently hatching because the alevin stage action is often still good.

Unless hampered by artificial fish hatchery spawning tanks or dams, steelhead tend to swim farther upstream in their spawning runs than do chinook or coho salmon, even if using the same river and in the same timeframe as the salmon. They do this in order to find smaller tributaries, if they can, with cooler areas and smaller gravel. Fry emerging from the gravel can thrive in cool streams if protective vegetation and aquatic insect life are abundant. (If such cooler tributaries are not available, the main channel of the river must do.)
There’s another spawning run (steelhead only this time) on “my” river in late spring (similar to some parts of the Pacific Northwest, where steelhead spawning occurs between February and May). And many fishery experts claim there is considerable variation in the steelhead life cycle, too, with “exception” individuals making runs well outside the fat portions of statistical timeline probability. So I can only assume that on my little river similar alevin-stage patterns might work well in June and early July. I intend to find out.

Drifting egg look-alike patterns might be one way to tie into a steelhead freight train, but to me it’s more artful (yes, artful, old bean) to use a pattern that allows a bit more interactive involvement. You can’t wiggle and strip a fake egg cross-current and keep it looking like an egg. But an alevin-stage pattern is a different story. Try one, beginning a month or so after a spawning run and for maybe up to two months…possibly far longer…or some weeks after any fish species spawns. Remember, fish fry and yolk aren’t just for breakfast anymore.

4 Comments

  1. Fish any fly you wish, that is your choice. I may prefer to fish dry flies. So what? Deprecating comments about choice of flies or methods should have no place in a discussion about fishing. Customs on certain rivers have evolved over time and may appeal to some and not others. Fish where you choose, enjoy using the equipment of your choice and write about it afterward but in a positive style. That way we all benefit from positive information which we may find useful without having to deal with more negativity. We already have too much of that.

    1. Hi Robert,
      I sense that you did catch much of the humor in my comments. As we all know, tongue-in-cheek humor pokes at least as much fun at snide reactions as it does lend a chuckle to curious rules and attitudes. Such, obviously, is the case with my comments. So it’s in fact deferential…albeit subtle I admit. That you aspire to being a discerning person tells me you will have gotten all that. Do I fish dry flies? Love to (and upstream, too). Would I happily soak myself in the traditions of the River Avon, smiling at how things have evolved there every second of the experience? You betcha. Would you? Then see? …we’re similar after all.
      As I’ve always found, grinning at the differences in this world is an excellent way of honoring them. As each of us has a casting style, we each also have individual ways of sharing our curiosity about how things differ around this planet. I might have just as easily mentioned the Inuit habit of dangling salmon eggs on the treble hook points of “Pixie” spoon lures, or cowboy hats garnishing many an American western flow. My way of enjoying “difference” and of sharing that enjoyment is my own (although far from unique).
      And for the record I’m not really even a streamer fisherman at all, per se…so again it was all just to provide a smile and a lead-in to an interesting kind of fly. When you realize that, you’ll know it’s not exactly an ax I’m grinding here. (If you have a more entertaining lead-in to the alevin style pattern topic, by all means write one up!)
      Having been all over this planet across many decades, I’m well aware of differences in mindset and customs, and I assure you quite well equipped to understand from where they emanate and why. I’d never presume to tell you what kind of fly to fish or what style to use in fishing it, just as I know you’d never presume to dictate my style of humor.
      It’s all in fun! I hope folks have a chuckle…so enjoy. I enjoyed you reply.
      Thanks Robert, Mike

  2. Mike nice piece and a bit inspirational as well. I was pretty much oblivious to Alevin patterns so your post got me thinking. A week ago I spent the day on one of my favorite stretches of the Madison which for the first time since the 1980s was now open for angling year round. For decades, the section was closed until the third week in May. Spawning rainbows were everywhere in the riffles and shallows along the sides of the big runs. You couldn’t walk ten feet without spying big rainbows in shallow water. It was a bit like Alaska. When I read your post on Alevin patterns I realized the Alevins of these rainbows would be at their peak in June and July. So I tied up a few of my own design to fish as trailers off the big buggers I normally fish. The great majority of Alevin patterns on the web are weighted which isn’t necessary when fished as a trailer. Here’s the pattern I tied. I’ll send you some pics. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Hook: #10 TMC 3761 Nymph
    • Thread: 6/0 Black, 6/0 Fire Orange
    • Tail: Four strands of fine silver flash
    • Body: Wide Lateral Scale
    • Egg Sac: Orange EP Fibers
    • Wing: Gray EP Fibers

    Wrap a thread base over the rear two thirds of the hook (use black or orange thread for desired body color and tie in four strands of fine silver flash for the tail. Tie in the lateral scale and make overlapping wraps forward to the two-thirds point on the hook. (This will create a translucent body that takes on the hue of the underlying thread.) If using black thread, secure with a couple of double half hitches and cut off. Start a thread wrap of orange thread. Select a small bunch of orange EP fibers ~ 1/8” in diameter compressed. Trim the ends flush and secure on the bottom of the hook with the fibers facing the hook bend. Fold the Orange EP fibers forward leaving a small loop (~3/16”) and secure just behind the hook eye. This forms the egg sac. Secure the orange thread with a couple of double half hitches and cut off. Coat the body and thread wraps around the egg sac with cement. Tie in black thread at the head. Take a very small clump of gray EP fibers and tie in a thin wing. Trim the EP fibers just short of the flash tail. Finish the head of the fly with black thread.

    We will see how these hold up later this spring. Thanks again for the inspiration.

  3. The alevin stage streamer photos you sent me via email are excellent Mike; I look forward to hearing how those flies work. Be sure to post a report here, as I’m sure a lot of us would like that update. I might tie up a few like yours too, and see what happens in June here. Might be interesting to gang a few together–one of your design and a tie of my own–and see which gets the most attention.

    – Mike

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