February kind of sucks, it’s true, and you are probably more interested in risking hypothermia, depression and death or worse in some shitty river that has a negligible winter steelhead run than fishing for sea runs at this juncture. But wait! Within a few weeks a whole different fishery is about to begin. Around this time in the world of sea run cutthroat fly fishing one will often start to see patterns that imitate the alevin stage of the young salmonid’s development. This month’s sadly belated FOTM, rather than focusing on a specific pattern, is specifically about ideas for alevin flies.
An alevin (pronounced al-ay-vin) is the name given to the stage of development in a salmon after the embryo hatches from within the egg. The alevin breaks through the egg membrane with the yolk sac still attached beneath the throat. In this stage, which looks like a tiny little clear/light coloured fish with an orange egg like yolk sac attached underneath the neck, the alevin which is still beneath the gravel, grows and develops using the yolk sac for nutrients and energy. The sac is slowly absorbed (“buttoned up”) into the fish as they grow. They grow slowly, even beginning to feed beneath the gravel. This stage ends typically when the alevin has absorbed the yolk sac and the diminutive fry emerges, freely swimming from the gravel.
An interesting discussion on the subject from a fishing perspective can be found here:
In all the years I’ve tramped up and down rivers in the spring, I have never seen a full fledged alevin swimming around, only a few with a very thin vestigial bit of orange under the throat. These fry were fairly small (a little over an inch). Alevin typically stay beneath the gravel until they have completely absorbed the yolk sac; however, high water events, scouring, or other disruptions (predators rooting in the gravel, anglers walking across spawning gravel etc.) can wash alevin free into the current. They really can’t swim much and at this point become easy prey for hungry opportunistic trout. From an angling perspective it is possible that the orange or red in these patterns is just triggering a response to what might appear to be a wounded fry, it is also possible that they are still taking these flies as regular fry patterns, or even just purely as an attractor, but in the end I think it’s hard to speak to the motivations of a highly nomadic, hungry anadromous trout, although many have gone insane trying. One thing I do know is that these patterns work. As always I encourage you to tie your own version of an alevin, I think a lot of the fun in fly tying is experimenting with different patterns and materials and then testing them on animals. Though that doesn’t sound so good it’s true.
Egg n’ I
One of my own creations, let’s call it frynado
Shrink tube alevin
Tied down minnow version-the super beadhead/glue gun edition
There’s always a good chance on any steelhead stream that these patterns can get a response from the “other” trout, but be aware that both cutthroat and steelhead kelts are around, and they are often easy to catch, so, be easy on these fish, especially the females, whose fecundity as repeat spawners can be very important for the health of future runs. That’s right motherfucker.