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Flesh Flies for Wintertime Trout Fishing

Dec 07, 2020

Successfully approaching salmon-bearing streams in the fall and winter months

When salmon make their way upstream, they are often not alone. Trout and char species will follow them upriver in search of the calorie-rich meals that will come available to them during both the spawning and post-spawn processes. Eggs drifting downstream from spawning salmon offer one of the most nutritious, easiest to obtain meals that a trout will encounter the whole year. 

Following the spawning process, salmon will die and begin to decay. This is a crucial step in feeding and nourishing the river system, but it also provides a late season meal to trout in search of a final big feed for the year. 

What are flesh flies?

Flesh imitations are designed to imitate pieces of salmon that have broken off and begun drifting downstream. Often fished in shades of peach, white, orange and pink, flesh flies represent the pale colouration of decaying salmon flesh. Not quite a meal that would entice anglers, but that is not our concern. 

Flesh flies are often tied with drab coloured pieces of rabbit or marabou, alongside some synthetic materials that breathe well in the water. Movement is an imperative component to a productive flesh pattern, as is a colour scheme that imitates the downstream-drifting pieces of decayed salmon. 

Dead-drifting flesh imitations

A productive way to present flesh patterns is to fish them in a "dead drifted" manner. This is often done with the use of a strike indicator, as well as split shot or tungsten putty to keep the fly near the gravel and within a trout's feeding window. Alternatively, flesh flies fished in a dead-drifted manner can be heavily weighted and fished with or without the use of an indicator

Fishing flesh imitations with a down-and-across presentation

Fishing a swung fly presentation, especially on a switch rod or trout spey, is an exciting and productive method. What sets the swung fly apart from dead drifting flesh flies is the tight line grab. This can often be anything from a light pluck on the end of your line, to the equivalent of sticking a fork in an electrical socket (I had an interesting childhood).

Where to fish them

First things first, you must have dead and decaying salmon in the river system you are fishing. From British Columbia to Alaska, I have enjoyed fishing flesh flies to trout and char that are reaping the bounty of the fall salmon migration, but I would imagine one would be hard-pressed to fool a fish on flesh imitations if it were something they'd never seen. 

Fishing the head portions of runs, where food will enter the run first, is a productive place to start in the winter months. A river system I used to frequent in November and December would often see fish stacked up at the heads of each pool, and once they had been caught you were better off moving to fish the head of the next run than you were continuing into the tailout. 

In closing

With the winter months upon us, especially in the Pacific Northwest, there are still ample opportunities for productive trout and char fishing. Though it may be a bit more work, and often involves a few more layers, trout fishing through the wintertime brings a few hours of relief from the onset of cabin fever. If you haven't before, consider giving flesh patterns a try on your local river or stream!


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