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Looking North

Fishing Far North ~ Hulahula 2008

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Marcell,MN. September 13, 2008

Having just returned from the North Slope of AK and eighteen days of fishing in wet cold weather, I though there may be some interest in the results of the ongoing Dolly Varden USF&W study being conducted there.

First off let me assure you that absolutely nothing beats a well tied streamer for these beautiful fish! Perhaps the best was a Deceiver tied as a standard soft head, or as a Clouser with upturned hook and lead eyes, 6X hook and Grizzly hackle about 2 to 3 inches long. This pattern replicates a Dolly Varden minnow and produced on almost every cast.

The study site is 20 air miles from the north coast on the Hulahula River at a point where the river has not yet begun to "braid". It was chosen because of it's suitability as a sonar sight. A side scan Didson sonar being used to count the movements of the spawning fish that return each August and September to their natal streams.

This is the third year of this program, and upwards of 20,000 Dolly Varden as generally counted. Small fin clips are snipped from the fish for DNA and otoliths (small bones from the inner ears) are removed for later study.

From this information it is possible to tell the age of the fish and how many times they have gone from fresh to salt water.

This year we sampled over 400 Dollies. We caught and released all but about 12 which were sacrificed for ototliths and dinners. One accidental Grayling measured about 17" and one very unusual Pink Salmon Spawning Male who was leaking sperm when caught. This may be the most significant fish of the season, as we were not sure if any Pinks have ever been caught in this river system before. With concerns of climate change and all, this he really makes for some interesting suppositions.

The majority of the captures this year were spawners; many expressing eggs/sperm. Last year the majority were non-spawning "silver" or uncolored fish, but then we were 23 air miles further up the river and beyond the area that may just be the prime spawning area.

Almost all the fish were caught on 5 and 6 weight flyrods with streamers. Patterns were varied with red and white, blue and white, green and white Clousers being very good producers. (Having the hook up in fast flowing rocky streams was a big plus) I also caught one beautiful 750mm full colored male on a Mickey Finn.

It was a great trip in spite of the coastal arctic weather. (We did have a day and half of sunny skies out of eighteen) At this point we're not sure if the study will be continued next year, although that errant Pink may just save the program.



  1. Steve Molcsan's Avatar
    Fascinating study , I sure hope it can continue.

    Keep up the great work!