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Fishing Trip Alaska - Lure Selection Guide

By Phil Rabideau Mepps Master Lure Designer

To fish Alaska is the dream of many fishermen worldwide. I fish Alaska several times a year, and it can be a dream, if you go prepared. Fortunately preparation can be half the fun, but keep in mind, proper lure selection is an extremely critical part of that preparation.

When selecting lures for fishing Alaska, two factors are critical: the species of fish you are after, and the conditions surrounding the water you propose to fish. Also, because most of the sport fish you are after are sight feeders, special attention must be given to the food and baitfish each particular species is conditioned to eating at the time you’ll be fishing for them, and the proper choice of lure color which allows the predator fish to see the lure under various water and light conditions.

Basically, you’ll be fishing for two types of fish in Alaska. First there are the anadromous (pronounced a-nad-ra-mas) fish. Salmon are anadromous fish; they are born in a stream, then migrate to the ocean (or in the midwest, the Great Lakes). Alaska salmon spend their lives in the Pacific Ocean feeding and maturing, but return to their birthplace to spawn and die. Steelhead and sea-run cutthroat trout also make an annual trip up river to spawn. These fish, however, do not die. They return to the ocean.

The second type of fish are indigenous fish. These are the fish that are native to the streams and lakes of Alaska. Native Alaska fish include: rainbow trout, grayling, Dolly Varden, char (Arctic char), lake trout (essentially lake dwellers) and northern pike. Alaska pike grow huge in the slack waters of Alaska’s Yukon tributaries. Alaska has several types of water that dictate what tackle is appropriate.

In the ocean and its inlets, salmon aggressively feed on herring, smelt, candlefish and other baitfish. The depth of these baitfish determines the depth you’ll be fishing. Trolling is the preferred fishing method for these feeding fish, as it allows you to cover large areas of water in the smallest amount of time; it is an excellent tactic for locating fish.

Both the Mepps Syclops and the Syclops Lite spoons are outstanding trolling spoons. Mepps Giant Killers are also exceptional lures for open water trolling; seasoned fishermen use them year after year with great success. Giant Killers have a large, heavy willow leaf blade and they run deep, this makes them perfect for long lining. For downrigging, nothing beats the Mepps Syclops Lite.

When trolling, color selection is critical, as, many times, the lure must be seen from a long distance to be effective. When it’s feeding, a salmon's eyes are sensitive to blues and greens. This makes sense when you realize the baitfish they are feeding on reflect the blue/green color of the ocean. It’s nature’s way of protecting the baitfish. They are difficult for the salmon to see against the blue/green ocean water background.More on the importance of lure color later.

As the salmon “stage” before moving upstream to spawn, their eyes become more sensitive to the color red. This happens because the salmon is searching for a mate. Soon after they enter the stream, both the male and female salmon begin turning pink. At this time fishermen must select a lure that can be fished on or near the bottom where trophy salmon travel and hold.

Mepps #4 and #5 Aglias - the World's #1 lure - are perfect. A #4 or #5 Aglia works best because the larger a lure is the deeper it runs. When the water is deep and/or the current is strong, tie on a Mepps Aglia Long. The Aglia Long’s willow leaf blade hugs the body of the spinner as it turns, allowing the Aglia Long to run deeper than the Mepps Aglia with its classic French style blade.

Remember, you want to stay on or near the bottom, so select Aglia Longs in sizes #3 and #4. These spinners have been the “confidence” lures for three generations of Alaskan fishermen. In fact, the #3 Aglia Long is the favorite Alaska lure of Mepps President Mike Sheldon.

Silver, hot firetiger and fluorescent red are solid color choices. For fishing Alaska’s major rivers, like the Kenai, the Mepps Giant Killer will get you to the bottom. Its extra heavy #5 blade pounds out fish-attracting pulsations. Engineered for pulling trophy fish from big water, the Giant Killer is actually heavier than ordinary spinners with a #6 blade. As if this wasn’t enough, the Giant Killer's blade spins easily, even at the slowest retrieve speeds. And, you can cast it a mile. It's simply the world's finest lure for Alaska’s biggest salmon.

For those special times when you need a deep-running spinner with maximum casting distance, tie on a Mepps Flying C. In a few short years, the Flying C has become the standard for Alaska’s silver salmon (coho). Mepps designed the Flying C to hug the bottom through the retrieve. In fact, the Flying C stays on or near the bottom longer than any other spinner. Period.

Regardless of the spinner you are fishing, you should generally cast upstream. This allows your lure to spend the maximum amount of time in the fish zone. Once you have located holding fish, cast the lure cross stream, allowing it to tumble downstream to the fish. This proven spinner-fishing method is referred to as quarter casting.

The Mepps Syclops spoon is also very effective for salmon, but it should be fished in Alaska’s larger, slower rivers. Here, long casts are also necessary, but the retrieve is pretty much across the stream. The Syclops works well because it not only looks like a baitfish, it acts like one. No other spoon can compare to the Syclops' performance.

Fish that are indigenous (native) to Alaska rivers, including the rainbow trout, grayling, Dolly Varden (char), lake trout and northern pike mentioned earlier, feed on sculpin,salmon smolts (juvenile salmon), leeches and other natural forage most of the year. Lures that imitate the color of this forage are the key to great fishing.

When salmon spawn, these indigenous fish gorge themselves on loose salmon eggs,so lures decorated with some fluorescent red (including orange and pink) become very effective. As mentioned earlier, the spawning salmon's eyes are red sensitive, so it will readily strike colors in the red spectrum. However, when there are no spawning salmon in the river, contrary to popular belief, color combinations minimizing or lacking fluorescent reds are more appropriate.

Big rainbow trout are native to Alaska; they are my favorite Alaska fish. However, because the growing season is so short in Alaska, everything must be done to protect this species. So, smaller lures and catch and release are the order of the day. I use nothing larger than a size #3 Aglia with a 1/0 single hook or a #6 treble hook to protect the rainbow's mouth and eyes.

I have caught rainbow well over 30 inches on the #3 Aglia. Alaska rainbows follow spawning salmon upstream, gorging themselves on the rich, protein-packed salmon eggs. So if you're looking to catch a trophy-sized Alaskan rainbow, cast behind the migrating salmon. Big rainbows also hide under log jambs, as these are natural collecting holes for wayward eggs. Rainbows are very aggressive fish, and not only eat salmon flesh, they will nail a small rodent if the opportunity arises. Keep this in mind when selecting lure colors.

For a fish to be able to strike and engulf a lure, it must be able to see it. Motion stimulates fish to action. Mepps See Best color technology maximizes contrast, between the lure and its background, so it's visible to the fish. This is achieved through proper material and color selection for specific water temperature, water color and light conditions. Fish do not have an innate desire for any particular color. They are stimulated by moving bait-like objects they can see. It is a fact certain colors can be seen better under various water and light conditions, and this makes color a critical lure factor. Before anything else, a fish must be able to see the bait to strike it.

The second function of lure coloring is to provide lures with differing brightness. As the fish's metabolism changes with water temperature, a lure's total brightness becomes a major factor. Fish are cold blooded animals, and their activity level is determined by water temperature. When the water is cold, a fish's metabolism is the lowest and fish will react slowly. At this time, a bright lure is required to stimulate a strike.

As the water temperature warms, lures must be toned-down and made less bright so as not to "blind" the fish. Brightness control is another facet of Mepps See Best design technology. Mepps See Best technology addresses several of the primary laws of physics as they relate to sunlight and water color. Consider the two following points:
1) Scientists know as sunlight travels through water, some colors are filtered-out. This means lure colors seen by the fisherman are not the same colors seen by the fish in its underwater world.
2) Water is one of three colors. It is either clear (blue); it is green; or it is brown (turbid). Because a fish must look through one of these water colors (much like looking through colored glasses) to see the lure, the color of the water directly effects the color of the lure.

Some colors change markedly under water. For example, fish see red as black under just a few feet of clear water, while fluorescent red becomes black to the fish at a distance in the same water.

Mepps See Best technology addresses these critical factors, so See Best lures provide the ideal color contrast under the widest variety of light and water conditions. The proper rule of thumb for choosing lure colors is "light lures for dark conditions and dark lures for bright conditions".

When trolling for salmon in open water, color combinations of silver, gold, fluorescent chartreuse, blue and fluorescent green are in order. These colors do not change under water when viewed at a distance. When it’s overcast, use lures with light colors. When it's sunny use darker lures.

Both Mepps Syclops and Syclops Lite spoons are available in unbeatable color combinations for open water trolling. When fishing green water, like glacial runoff, stick to silver, fluorescent pink, red and orange, or fluorescent chartreuse color combinations. These are the only colors you'll need whether it’s sunny or overcast. The silver, or hot pink and chartreuse Mepps Aglia, and the silver Mepps See Best with a pink decal and green dots are also excellent choices.

In turbid water, combinations of gold, black and fluorescent chartreuse work best. The gold Mepps See Best with a black decal and chartreuse dots is absolute tops here. When the sky is dark use a chartreuse lure.

The Mepps Aglia, Flying C or hot chartreuse Syclops fits the bill here. When the sun comes out, tie on a Mepps Black Fury with chartreuse dots. In clear water, low light conditions, combine silver with dark colors like black, green or metallic blue. The silver See Best with a black decal and white dots is specifically designed for this situation.

As mentioned earlier, during spawning runs, use combinations of fluorescent reds, oranges and pinks. When the water is cold and the sky is overcast, or in early morning or late afternoon, silver and fluorescent red combinations are very effective. But, if the water begins to warm, or it becomes sunny tone-down your lure selection by switching to lures with darker hues.

For Alaska’s native rainbows and other indigenous fish, try to “match the hatch” with spinners and spoons. Where it’s legal, place a fluorescent red bead on the line ahead of a blue platium Aglia or Syclops and you’ll have -- in fly fisherman's terms -- an “egg sucking leech.” A Black Fury with fluorescent red dots has the same effect. Put a bead in front of a brown trout Aglia and you have a “sculpin eating roe.” The rainbow trout Aglia imitates smolts. One of my all time favorite color combinations is hot firetiger. Mepps hot firetiger finish is a combination of three great fish-catching colors for Alaska waters. . . fluorescent green, chartreuse and orange. Hot firetiger Mepps Aglias and Syclops spoons both produce very well under a wide variety of fishing conditions. I always have a broad selection of these lures in my tackle bag, as they are the closest thing to a universal Alaska lure you can have. Knowledgeable fishermen always carry black lures. Black fills three particular needs:
1) In turbid (brown) water, on a sunny day, it provides the necessary contrast for the lure to be seen.

2) When the water is relatively warm and it’s sunny, a black, or even a toned-down tarnished brass spinner reduces the overall brightness of the spinner.

3) Black can be easily seen contrasted against the bright sky. If you fish at night, try a black lure. Mepps offers three black spinners in sizes #00 - #5. These include: the Mepps Trophy Series spinner with a black blade, the tarnished brass See Best with a green decal and black dots, the coffee-colored See Best, and the classic Mepps Black Fury.

Alaska fishermen tend to overuse fluorescent reds, oranges and pinks. These are great colors during the spawning runs for both the spawning salmon and the indigenous fish that eat the spawning salmon's roe. But outside of the spawning situation, red colors should be used sparingly because of the color shift phenomenon. In fact, if you are fishing for bright silver salmon that have yet to turn color, lures with minimal fluorescent red work best.

When fishing lakes for the indigenous fish, like lake trout, I use the Syclops Lite series for long line trolling. For shore casting I use regular Syclops because their sizes and colors are well suited for long casts, and generally match the size and shape of the forage. If I want a small profile but heavy lure for long casts, I sandwich two smaller Syclops together.

For pike, fish #3 Syclops in silver, gold, chartreuse,hot orange or hot firetiger. Also try bucktail Giant Killers in the following color combinations. . . silver blade/black, orange yellow bucktail; gold blade/black bucktail; hot chartreuse blade/chartreuse bucktail and a hot firetiger blade with a firetiger bucktail.

I have been fishing for salmon, steelhead and trout since the 1930’s. Fishing was simpler then because there were so many fish. The action was furious. Sixty years later, fishermen must travel to Alaska to get this same thrill. Much has changed, but much stays constant. The fisherman who does his homework and uses quality tackle can still match the excitement of bygone years. For the past ten years I have consulted for Mepps, and that in itself is gratifying for someone who started fishing with an old steel telescoping rod and primitive casting reel on the Columbia River in Oregon.

I hope you enjoy fishing Alaska as much as I. And, while you’re there, if you see a friendly looking, old fellow on the river bank or drifting by in a raft,give a holler. Bet we'll both be catching plenty of fish, and we'll both be using Mepps.


Aglia Series - the original French Spinner...World's #1 lure.
Aglia Trophy Series - a special color selection for salmon.
See Best Series - a master's series of color-matched spinners for all fishing conditions.
Aglia Long - willow leaf bladed Aglia for fishing deep.
Flying C - for the long casts and retrieving deep...a must for silver salmon.
Giant Killer - a magnum lure for the biggest salmon and northern pike.
Black Fury - for "black" lure conditions.
Syclops - a spoon for all seasons and species.
Syclops Lite - fast becoming the most popular lure for long lining and downrigging.

For further information on all Mepps products, including the Mepps See Best line of spinners call toll free: 800-713- 3474 and request a FREE full-color Mepps Fishing Guide. While you’re at it, mention you also want a Mepps See Best brochure. It covers the details of color technology as it’s applied to fishing lures, and is worth every serious fisherman's reading.


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