Getting Down There Tying Flies with Beads, Cones and Eyeballs

Tying Flies with Beads, Cones and Eyeballs

One of the newest trends in fly tying is the use of beads, cones, and eyeballs to add enough weight to the fly to reduce or eliminate the need for split shot on the leader. For many years most of us have encouraged our flies to sink by wrapping soft lead of various weights around the shank of the hook before constructing the pattern. Together with that trick, we’ve now learned the value of adding additional weight to the front end of the fly by making a bright and shiny add-on an integral part of the finished product.

Beads, cones and eyeballs can all be used to achieve additional weight while at the same time giving our flies a very realistic look and differing sink rates. Beads and cones slide right onto the hook, while eyeballs are tied on top of the hook. For that reason, I’m going to discuss then separately.

Beads & Cones

Beads or cones can be gold, silver, brass, tungsten, plastic, glass, aluminum, or baked-on enamel, sized to fit different hooks. All of them come with holes drilled into them so that they slide onto the hook. To prepare the hook, however, the barb must be flattened to make insert easier.

There are two major considerations when using beads or cones. First, the holes must be drilled specifically for fly tying so that the bead or cone slides easily around the bend of the hook. It’s important for tiers that are just starting out with beads to understand which way the bead or cone fits onto the hook. A close look at the bead will reveal that one of the holes in it is smaller than the other. Typically the point of the hook will be inserted into the smaller of the two holes. Inserting the hook-point into the larger hole will result in the bead or cone sliding down over the hook-eye when it is shoved forward.

The second consideration with using beads has to do with different types or sizes of wire, and different hook-eyes. The smart fly tier takes the hook she or he wants to use for the fly into the store with them when they buy the beads or cones. That way they can try out different sizes of beads or cones to make sure that the ones they buy will slide around the bend of the hook they plan to use for the fly. Remember, when using an up-eye or bend-back hook, the hole in the bead will also have to be wide enough to slide over the double wire just before the hook-eye. Many up-eye or bend-back hooks now have tapered wire next to the eye to help facilitate the use of beads and cones. One brand that I like is made by Daiichi.

Beads and cones are of variable weight, so it’s important to consider how much weight you want to add to the fly before selecting one or the other. Generally, the plastic and brass beads and cones provide a nice “look” to the fly, but weigh very little. These add-ons will provide a slow sink-rate for the fly. Lead or tungsten cones and beads provide much more weight for a faster sink.

Tying with Beads and Cones

Here’s a few general tips to help you get started. Always be sure to place the bead or cone on the hook, and then begin to tie the fly. If you’re also going to wrap lead on the hook shank, be sure to put the bead or cone on first. Often, the bead or cone slides around up at the hook-eye while the tier works. If this becomes a problem, just position the hook in the vice with a bit of a down angle to make the bead or cone stay up against the eye.

As the fly is tied, work the body material up into the space under the cone or eyeball as far as possible to help fill up the gap that will exist there and help stop the cone or bead from sliding around. Generally, cones present more of this problem than beads do. Depending on the design of the fly, consider finishing the fly by adding a hackle collar or a maribou wing to help disguise the “gap” that appears between the finished fly and the edges of the cone or bead. Instructions for adding a hackle collar are included with the pattern for the Starlight Leech below.

A Cone-Head Woolly Bugger

Hook: Daiichi #2441 #2 or #1

Tail: Maribou feather (white, black, brown, purple, white, olive, etc.)

Crystal Flash: a few strands of pearl or multi-color Flashabou;

Hackle: Webby white saddle hackle feather

Body: White Chenille

Wing: A few strands of pearl or multi-color Flashabou or a tuft of maribou (optional)

  • Insert the point of the hook into the cone and shove the cone up against the hook-eye. Lead the hook (optional);
  • Select a fluffy white maribou feather and tie it in behind the lead to form a tail that is no longer than the shank of the hook;
  • Tie in the Flashabou at the tail;
  • Prepare a webby, white saddle hackle feather by stroking down a few of the fibers on the tip of the feather and then tying it in by the tip right in front of the maribou tail with the right side of the feather facing the tier (The right side of the feather is the side where the spine of the feather is least prominent. )
  • Tie in the white chenille and move the thread up to the front of the hook;
  • Wrap the chenille up to the front of the hook and tie off right behind the cone;
  • Palmer the saddle hackle up to the front of the hook and tie off right behind the cone being careful not to let it twist as you wrap;
  • Add the wing of Flashabou or maribou if you wish.


Eyeballs may be bead-chain, lead, tungsten, plastic or aluminum to add both weight and visual simulation to the fly. There are, of course, also paste-on eyes that are used primarily in salt-water fly tying, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time. Besides providing more weight, many tiers also believe that eyeballs also add more realism to the fly and prefer to use them for that reason.

The original eyeballs that most tiers learned to use were the bead-chain variety. While they did indeed add lifelikeness to various patterns, they provided minimal weight. More recently, the lead eyes of different styles have become available to give more weight to the fly. Lead eyes have another advantage in that they are made with a greater distance between the two eyeballs providing extra space that enables the tier to add a chenille egg-head to the fly with those kinds of eyes. (See below.) With the wide variety of eyeballs now on the market, the tier can select one or the other based on both the amount of weight and the “look” that he or she wants on the finished fly.

Tying with Eyeballs

Beads and cones just slide onto the hook. But, because they are placed on top of the hook, eyeballs must be tied on.  Many people report that they can never get their eyeballs tied on securely and say that the eyeballs always seems to rotate around the hook. So, here are some tips to help you master this essential skill.

  1. Use eyeballs that are in proportion to the hook.
  2. Be aware that the heavier and larger the eyeballs are, the longer it will take to tie them in securely.
  3. Tie on the eyeballs before tying any other part of the fly so that you can position them just where you want them instead of trying to leave the right amount of space and tie them in later as you finish the fly.

Now, here are the instructions for tying on eyeballs:

  • Lay down a thread base for the eyeballs up close to the hook-eye and position them on the hook. (If using an up-eye or bend-back hook, lay the thread base on top of the double wire.)
  • Holding the eyeball which is farthest away from you as it lays on the hook shank in the fingernails of your non-dominant thumb & index finger, make ten or twelve thread wraps only over the eyeball that is closest to you and under the hook, binding down that eyeball.
  • Then, hold the eyeball closest to you in the fingernails of your non-dominant thumb & index finger and wrap thread over the eyeball farthest away from you and under the hook ten or twelve times to get it bound down as well.
  • Once the eyeballs are set, begin to make figure-eight wraps over one eyeball and back under the hook and then over the other eyeball and back under the hook.
  • Make about fifteen or twenty figure-eight wraps. Then make several wraps over each individual eyeball again.
  • Now make six or eight wraps in front of the pair of eyeballs and six or eight wraps in back of the pair of eyeballs. (This helps take care of the eyeballs’ tendency to move back and forth sideways as well as around the hook.)
  • Continue to intersperse the figure-eight wraps and the wraps over the individual eyeballs and those in front and back of them until the eyeballs do not slide around on the hook.
  • Whip finish behind the eyeballs to secure them while the rest of the fly is tied.

People often ask if a fly with eyeballs will ride with the eyeballs on the underside of the hook instead of the top of the hook when the fly is fished. Generally that will not occur unless the fly is fished dead drift. Most of the time stripping the fly in the water takes care of the problem and keeps the eyes on top of the fly. You’ll notice that for the flies where the tier wants the hook to ride up instead of down, the eyes are actually tied on the hook with the point turned up instead of  turned down.

Tying the fly onto a hook that already has eyeballs attached is not difficult. Just plan to work the materials of the fly up as close behind the eyeballs as possible to help avoid the “gap” that often appears there just as it does when tying with beads and cones.  If you want to also lead the hook shank, you can do that before or after tying on the eyeballs. Adding a hackle collar or a maribou wing will also help to give the fly a more “finished” look and will help fill up the “gap,” as will wrapping chenille or other material around the eyes as I do on the fly below.

Always finish a fly that has eyeballs behind the eyeballs rather in front of them. Generally there will not be sufficient room to finish ahead of the eyes. Even when there seems to be, doing so will often cover up the hook-eye preventing you from later inserting the leader.

Now, here’s a fly to illustrate tying with eyeballs.

The Starlight Leech

Hook: Mustad 36890- #4-1/0—or Daiichi 2441 #2 or #1  (leaded shank is optional)

Eyes: Lead eyes set back from the hook-eye (bead chain eyes aren’t large enough to give

this fly the correct look, and they don’t have enough distance between the eyeballs to  tie in the chenille head)

Head: Red, orange, fuscia or chartreuse chenille

Tail: Tip of a black of purple bunny strip

Body: Black or purple Cactus Chenille

Wing: Remainder of bunny strip folded forward

Collar: Black or purple saddle hackle

  • Lead the hook and tie in the eyes. (Set the eyes on the hook just at the end of the bend-back rather than on top of it to leave room for the wrapped chenille head);
  • Tie in the chenille right behind the eyeballs. Then wrap it around the eyes several times and tie off behind the eyes. Move the thread to the back of the hook behind the lead.
  • Tie in the tip of a bunny strip to create a one-inch tail and cut off the remainder of the strip;
  • Tie in the Cactus Chenille at just the same spot where you tied in the tail. Wrap the thread up to behind the eyeballs. Now wrap the Cactus Chenille forward to right up behind the eyeballs. Be careful to pull the spikes of the material back each time you wrap to avoid flattening them with the subsequent wrap;
  • Make a hackle collar by selecting a wide, webby saddle hackle feather. Strip off the fuzz and tie it in from the butt right behind the eyeballs with the right side of the feather facing the tier. Make three or four side-by-side wraps of the feather right up behind the eyeballs, stroking the fibers back with each wrap so that they sweep back along the hook shank.
  • Tie off and whip finish behind the eyeballs.

Casting Flies with Beads, Cones and Eyeballs

Besides varying the sink rate, heavier or lighter cones, beads, or eyeballs will also affect the way that the fly casts. The general rule is that the heavier the bead or cone or eyeball, the harder the fly will be to cast. Casting heavy flies requires a somewhat slower casting rhythm and a more open loop. (Getting hit in the back of the head with one of these leaded eyeball flies is not fun.) Since the extra weight on the fly can also un-balance the casting stroke, it’s also important to make firm, deliberate stops on both the front and back casts when casting large, weighted flies. A time-honored recommendation when casting flies with beads, cones, or eyeballs (or with the split shot you may have been using to get your fly down) is to “wait for the bounce” before beginning each forward or back cast.


There you have it. You’ll quickly learn that tying with beads, cones, and eyeballs adds a completely different dimension to your flies and to your fishing. Just the chance to eliminate the use of split shot on the leader makes them worth trying.


(Originally published in August / September 2007 issue of Fish Alaska Magazine)

Fish Talk | May 2018 Fishing News

Landing Pink Salmon
Grayling on the fly
Grayling on the fly

We’re a bit slow on the May 2018 Fishing News, but we want you to know that we’re ready to put a new article from the articles list on our new website blog for you to read. Please take a look at the list and let us know which one you would like to read and we’ll get it going.

First of all I’d like to call your attention to the 10 most Endangered Rivers in the US so that if one of them is in your area you can lend your help to protect it. Dams, mines, and other threats are ruining these waters all around America. From the rivers threatened by the Pebble Mine here in AK to other rivers in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota these waterways all need our protection. Click here to get all the details.

Washington lawmakers put an end to the raising of Atlantic salmon with a bill that will effectively ban Atlantic salmon farming in Washington state, phasing out the process by 2025.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing has announced its Inaugural Fly Casting Competition, which will be co-hosted with Fly Fishers International. Regional competitions will conclude on May 31, 2018 with winners competing in the PHWFF Casting Competition Finals during the Fly Fishers International Fair in Boise, Idaho August 8 – 11, 2018.

If you are into Tenkara fly fishing here’s the Spring issue: Tenkara Angler – Spring 2018. Published on Mar 31, 2018 Tenkara Angler Magazine chronicles the tenkara lifestyle through entries about community, destination, tactics, gear, and creative essays. 

Fly Fishing Fair

You can now visit our new Amazon’s Author’s site to see all our books. If you have one or more of them, but haven’t yet written a review, I’d appreciate your doing one. We would like to remind you that Pudge is now writing a book about women who have experienced terrible misfortunes in their life, and used fly fishing to help themselves cope with them, and she would like to hear from such women to discuss the possibility of them writing one of the chapters of the book. You can contact her at


Best Fishes, Pudge

Spring Fling for Women

Alaska Airlines Center
3550 Providence Drive

Saturday, April 21, 2018 | 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

(11 a.m. start for the General Public due to the Alaska Heart Run-Open at 10:00 a.m. for Heart Run Participants-Special Door Prizes(Massages, Drinks etc.) and Offerings for Heart Run Participants)

Sunday, April 22 | 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

FREE Public Admission

Lots of FREE Parking

Bristol Bay Hearings

Dear Bristol Bay supporter,
The backers of the proposed Pebble Mine have applied for a key permit to mine, and that means Bristol Bay needs our help once again! 
Please join us at one of the upcoming public hearings to make your voice heard. 
What: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hosting meetings to discuss the proposed Pebble Mine and the impacts of its extensive infrastructure (current plans include a massive mining pit, port, natural gas pipeline below Cook Inlet, nearly 100 miles of private road crossing over 200 streams, and more). Why: It’s important that people who value or one day hope to experience Bristol Bay attend these meetings and express our concerns about Pebble’s impacts to the region. The Corps of Engineers will take these comments and concerns into account as they draft the Environmental Impact Statement, the linchpin of Pebble’s permit application.

There will be a rally in advance of the hearing to display public opposition.  
Don’t live in the area or can’t attend a hearing?  Click here to submit your comment today!
Thank you,
Eric Booton

Great Alaska Sportsman’s Show 2018 at the Sullivan Arena

Dont’ miss the Great Alaska Sportsman’s Show 2018 Thursday, April 5th – Sunday, April 8th

Free Casting Clinic with Pudge!
Friday, 3pm at the casting pond
Saturday, 1pm at the casting pond
Sunday, 2pm at the casting pond

Pudge will be giving a free casting clinic and sharing her tips for helpful fly fishing casting techniques.

Catch Pudge’s ‘Fly Fishing Overview’ Presenation!
Friday, 2pm at stage 4
Saturday, 12pm at stage 4

Pudge is giving a presentation on both Friday & Saturday. She will be sharing her knowledge on fly fishing in rural Alaska and what flies will catch them all.

Win an Autographed Copy of One of Pudge’s Books!
Find Pudge at her table and get an autographed copy of one of her books. You will also have the chance to win a signed copy of one of her books, so be sure to swing by!

Sheefish Sojourn

Alaska Sheefishing

Fly fishing for sheefish is both thrilling and challenging, but it certainly isn’t easy. You may have heard it said that, “To fish for sheefish, first, you have to find them.” It’s true. They are more elusive, mysterious, and harder to track down than any salmon, trout, char, grayling, whitefish, steelhead, lake trout or pike you’ll ever pursue. This dilemma doesn’t arise only because much of their habitat is up and around the Arctic Circle or the Kuskokwim or Yukon Rivers though. It’s also because of their migratory nature. Sheefish have been known to make journeys of up to 1,000 miles from winter habitat to spawning habitat and back again, all in one season. Obviously, they need to be almost always on the move.

Years ago, when I first met and fished with Lorry & Nellie Schuerch, owners of Kiana Lodge on the Kobuk River, I learned that sheefish made these super-lengthy journeys. Wow, was I ever impressed by those gorgeous, tasty fish and their incredible “story.” Then, fishing the Kuskokwim and a couple of its tributaries a few years later, I was dumb-founded all over again. The fish’s journeys in both rivers explained why we’d search and search for them until we finally connected, but then, sometimes within just a few hours, they were gone again. Believe me, the hunt quickly became part of the allure of these magnificent creatures.

A lot of years went by before I was lucky enough to have another encounter with these remarkable fish. That opportunity presented itself this past summer, when Fish Alaska Magazine sent me back to fish with Lorry & Nelli in the sheefish mecca of Alaska, the Kobuk River.

A waterway over 300 miles long and surrounded by mountains that seem to go on into infinity, the mighty Kobuk slices a path between and around them until it reaches its broad delta in Hotham Inlet in Kotzebue Sound approximately 10 miles southwest of Kiana. The river’s headwaters lie within the Gates of the Arctic National Park just north of the Arctic Circle, and it traverses Kobuk Valley National Park, which includes the famous Kobuk Sand Dunes, as it heads to the sea. It is truly the lifeblood of the native people living along its shores.

The Kobuk is surprisingly shallow in many places, and requires an experienced boat captain to manage it. It is Lorry’s kingdom, and he watches over it with a lifetime of knowledge and experience. Every bend, every rock, and every gravel bar are intimately familiar to him, as are the deep, secret channels the sheefish use as they navigate up-river to spawn.

After taking the early morning plane to Kotzebue, we met up with Jared Cummings, the owner of Golden Eagle Outfitters, for our trip onward to Kiana. Jared’s dad was visiting and he became our pilot in one plane while Jared ferried other folks to a different location. The weather was not ideal, but the village came into view pretty quickly, and Lorry was there to pick us up. After a quick tour of the village, we jumped in the boat and went with him to talk to a couple of ADF&G researchers who were seining fish just below town. They were catching both sheefish and chum salmon in the net as we watched, and prospects looked good for our fishing.

Lorry, his granddaughter, Kaya, Tanya Pemberton, our angling photographer, and I took off on our first excursion up-river that afternoon to check out one of the channels that often holds fish. Lorry had recommended that we come armed with sink-tip lines and heavy white, yellow, and green and other light color flies decorated with lots of sparkle and flash, and we were prepared. I remembered the sheefish’s preference for white and for glitter, so I’d brought some of my large streamer boxes with articulated leeches, large bunny streamers, and lots of clouser minnows as well as some of my favorite pike boxes. Since I knew that we would also be catching pike during our trip, those flies really came in handy for both species.

Lorry anchored the boat near a fairly wide trough in the water between us and the bank, and Kaya checked out the scene with her spinning rod while we got set up. No hits for her, and none for us with the flies, either. We pulled anchor and maneuvered a bit closer to the channel before trying again. Still nothing. So, then we went back down river a ways, put the boat on the bank, and hiked back to fish the channel from the shore side. There we had a few hits that turned out to be white fish and chums. I gave Kaya a lesson or two on casting a fly rod, and then we moved on.

At a different spot later that day the sheefish were somewhat more cooperative. Lorry’s advice to cast as far away from the boat as possible and let the heavy fly drift deeply down along the channel, did the trick. Some of the hits were aggressive and solid, and a few were gentle and rather tentative, but we set the hook hard on all of them and brought a number of fish to the boat. True to their reputation, they put on dazzling displays of leaping and cartwheeling once they were hooked, re-enforcing their reputation as “tarpon of the north.” Their other similarities to the saltwater fish, a large, broad gill plate, huge scales, and a square mouth, were clearly evident once we landed them. We kept two fish for dinner, took some pictures, and carefully released the others.

Sheefish are excellent table fare both for subsistence needs and for sport anglers. We put our harvested fish on ice and Nellie baked them to perfection for dinner that evening in her well-appointed kitchen. I actually had “seconds” and then “thirds” without much urging. She also deep fries, cans, smokes, and dries sheefish for year-round use as does everyone else along the river.
As we talked about the importance of the sheefish to local people, Lorry gave me a copy of the amazing book, Iqaluich Niǵiñaqtuat “Fish That We Eat,” Anore Jones, US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2006, that contains page after page of recipes and recommendations for preparing sheefish the Iñupiaq “fish food wisdom way.” I was quite intrigued by the long-used and shared methods and techniques of preserving and utilizing this and other fish species for a variety of traditional dishes. For instance, on page 133, Jones advises that

“Smaller fish tend to be more lean and are not quite as good for general eating, but make better dried fish (paniqtug), whereas the medium-sized fish (15-25 pounds) are too fat to dry, but excellent for all eating, freezing, and fermenting. The fattest, largest fish (30-60 pounds) are perfect for roasting.”

Our fish were in the 10-15 pound range that day, so they would have been perfect for drying, but we kept our hopes up for larger ones on our next excursion.

The following day after a huge breakfast of Nelli’s sourdough pancakes and homemade blueberry syrup, Lorry said he was going into Kiana, so he asked if we’d like to go pike fishing in the Squirrel River that flows into the Kobuk near the village for a while before heading back to find the sheefish. He knows a very, very muddy, but incredibly productive back channel chocked-full of lots of toothy, cooperative fish, and we jumped at the chance.

We weren’t disappointed. We added some 40lb test monofilament to our leaders as bite tippet, tied on some #2 light-colored & weighted flies, and got to it. Every single cast produce a hit, and Kaya had a great time with the pike-release grabber tool taking off fish after fish like a pro. We had one large fish that broke me off, but about ten cast later I caught it again, and got my first fly back. Finally we were all filthy so we did our best to clean up ourselves and the boat, as well as the rods and the flies as Lorry pointed the boat up the Kobuk to the sheefish.

We stopped in a wide bend on the river with a small creek running into it to prospect for sheefish, and suddenly saw lots of wakes in various spots all across the surface. Some extremely beefy chums were the wake-makers, however, and not the sheefish we were after, but we had fun with them for an hour or so. Kaya suddenly hollered, that she had a monster fish on, and we all paid attention. Not a sheefish, but a 23 or 24 lb chum kept her busy and Lorry held on to her so that she wouldn’t get pulled out of the boat.

Further up-river Lorry slowed the boat at another of the special places he knows the sheefish will be in mid-summer, and, sure enough, we hooked right up. A few fish pushing 18 -20lbs were now the prize and with both large, tan & white clouser minnows, and white bead-head bunny and marabou lake leeches, we started hooking up consistently. One particularly large fish twisted and twirled in the air in several astounding leaps straight up out of the water, but, unfortunately it managed to get de-hooked with all the antics so we never got to measure it.

Sheefish are the only predatory whitefish in North America. Their distinguishing characteristic from other species of whitefish is a much larger, extended lower jaw. Female sheefish live longer and achieve a greater size than the male. He matures at age 6-9 years, depending on his location, while she will mature between 7-12 years of age. So, our large fish could have been a girl.

Sheefish generally spawn every two years rather than annually. This is thought to be because of the large amount of eggs a female produces. Sheefish are also “broadcast” spawners and do not dig a nest for the eggs. Instead, they release their eggs and milt directly into shallow water areas where most of them were, themselves, hatched. Fertilized eggs then drift downstream and sink, lodging in the gravel. Spawning fish leave the area within a short time afterwards and return to the brackish water of the bays.

My research for this article produced an old report from ADF&G containing some interviews with residents of the area. One resident related that sheefish spawn in late September in the upper Kobuk, and that they hold very still in deep sections of the river while staging. When ready, they spawn in the evenings at the water’s surface in the main current. Subsistence fishermen said the splashing of the spawning sheefish is audible from the river bank, and that they consider it a signal to seine. According to legends, the sheefish ask a shorebird, the semipalmated plover, to make the weather stormy when they start moving around to spawn so that no one will catch them. In return, the sheefish promise to give the bird a bead necklace. Thus, the stormy weather that often accompanies spawning and the beautiful band around the bird’s neck.

Young sheefish hatch sometime in early spring before break-up. Spring run-off distributes them downstream to backwater eddies, off-channel lakes, and estuaries. They are known to grow rapidly feeding mainly on insects and other prey, but as they mature they feed almost exclusively on other fish, even other sheefish.

Our last day on the river started with Lorry and Jared on the phone making plans for our pickup that afternoon. Lorry wanted to take us quite a long way up-river to one of his special sheefish places, but that would mean that we would need to get picked up for our trip back to Kotzebue on the river. Jared knew the area where we would be, and they agreed that there was ample beach for the plane to land. We quickly packed our suitcases and loaded everything on the boat and took off.

On the run to the fishing site we dozed off, cleaned fly boxes, and snacked as we sped along. Eventually the boat slowed down and it was time to cast.

Tanya had yet to land a large fish, and she was determined to do that before we left. The fish were definitely in the area, and we hooked into several of them with different flies. Lorry did stand-by to take the camera from her so we could record her achievement. Finally her rod bent nearly double, and she was in business. This was some fish! Definitely larger than any of the others we’d caught, we knew that this was going to be a long battle. Her 8-wt rod and her reel were put to the test, and they were performing perfectly. Each time the fish leaped into the air we all worried that it would shake the fly loose, but the fly stayed put. Time after time it took line out, and we began to think that it was never going to tire. I lost track of how many times she brought the fish to the boat, but each time another spurt of energy helped it avoid the net. At last, it was over and the prize of the day quickly got photographed and released.

It wasn’t long until it was time to go. Just as arranged, Jared and his trusty 206 buzzed us a couple of times as he scoped-out the gravel bar. Then he made an absolutely perfect landing and taxied toward the wind-gauge we had made for him out of a white plastic bag tied to one of the oars. We loaded up our luggage and our fishing gear, said goodbye, and jumped aboard. Lorry waved as the plane skimmed over the top of the boat, and we (reluctantly) headed back to Kotzebue. Hopefully, I’ll get back to visit Kobuk sheefish again another day.

(Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Fish Alaska magazine)

More Information

Kiana Lodge:
Lorry & Nelli Schuerch, Owners
P.O. Box 89 Kiana, Alaska 99749
Phone 1-907-475-2149

Where Sheefish can be found:

Life history: Sheefish in Alaska have been separated into five major stocks. In addition, smaller rivers such as the Nowitna, Black, and Porcupine have small local populations. The Minto Flats and Upper Yukon River populations are year-round residents in the eastern part of Interior Alaska. The Lower Yukon and Kuskokwim groups overwinter in the delta areas of these large rivers while the Kobuk-Selawik groups spend the winter in the brackish waters of Hotham Inlet and Selawik Lake. These latter groups can best be termed estuarine anadromous. Alaska Department of Fish & Game

Kobuk River:

Selawick River:

Nowitna River:

Minto Flats:

Kuskokwim River:

FLIES FOR SHEEFISH: Sizes #4-#2/0 white, yellow, chartreuse green, light brown with lots of Flashabou or Krystal Flash to get the fish’s attention.

-Woolly Buggers
-Bead-Head or Cone-Head Rabbit Leeches
-Articulated Leeches
-Clouser Minnows-white and green or white and tan
-Bunny-winged Salmon Leeches
-White with Red, Yellow, or Black Double Bunnies
-Heavily Weighted Intruder patterns

Bead-Head Bunny Leech © 2012 Michael DeYoung


A Terrific Tangle Lakes Trip

Tangle Lakes Fishing Trip

There are some places that one never tires of. And no matter how many times I fish Alaska’s Tangle Lakes area, I am struck by just how perfect a place it really is. Anglers are, naturally, always looking for fish, and Tangle Lakes has them in abundance. It is famous for having the most grayling of any place in Alaska that one can drive to. But there is much more to savor here than just the gorgeous fish with the fuscia and aqua colors on dorsal and caudal fin and the florescent green tail.

Glaciers, mountain ranges, high plateau lakes, meandering creeks, cut banks dotted by the nests of mud swallows, and hills with constantly shifting shadow patterns make Tangle Lakes a feast for the eyes and the soul. And another panorama unfolds at the anglers feet. Wildflowers of every color and size lie hidden among the willows or sprout along the creek banks. Some are so tiny that they remain virtually invisible until we’re relaxing on the tundra. Others are massed in lush clumps of deep purple or yellow blossoms waving in the breeze.

This year two groups of women had the pleasure of experiencing all that Tangle Lakes has to offer. Like always, we began by fishing the very cooperative little grayling on the Tangle River right outside our tents. Faye, Cameale, and Jackie had attended last year’s fly fishing school, and were already adept at handling the 5-wt rods. They quickly mastered the techniques of dry fly presentation and were into fish almost immediately. Pam had caught grayling on the ’97 Smorgasbord trip and simply had to review what she hadn’t done in a year to get her started. Toni quickly caught up with the others once she tied on a yellow humpy with a white calf-tail post to help her see the fly against the glare on the water.

The lower river and two other creeks proved to be even more productive when the group traveled there. Even when we switched to nymph fishing, the hook-ups came fast and furious. Pam was especially successful with an orange soft hackle fly. Resting for awhile in the moss beside the river we had a discussion about strike indicators and why it was important to learn to nymph fish without them so as to develop a “feel” for the take. This group certainly didn’t need an indicator to tell them a grayling had taken their nymph.

The women in the second group were just as successful. Glenda seemed to hold the magic rod during a couple of our sessions and always shared her spot and her secrets with the others. Christine and her son, Alexi came from New York to enjoy this special place with us and they, too, caught an unbelievable number of fish. We could hardly move Christine from one short run where she completely lost count of all the fish that took her caddis. Alexi and Glenda took the honors for large fish from one stretch of river we especially love.

Jeannie got the first fish on a difficult stretch of fast water that we fished along the way to one of my favorite runs. Mastering the art of placing the fly in quiet water with three or four fast currents in between that are ready to drag your fly line down river requires skillful line mending. But Jeannie did it perfectly and was rewarded with one of the largest fish of the trip.

And it was in what I call the “aqua water” on one of the creeks that Ellen got her first fish on a nymph. She’d learned to feel the touch of a fish that she couldn’t see, and finally landed a beauty. She was off to the women’s school just a week later, and said she felt more than ready for the next challenge on the big rods.

Just because grayling are small fish, averaging 10-14 inches, (an eighteen inch fish is trophy size) doesn’t mean that they can’t put a real bend in a four or five weight rod. Their eagerness to take a properly presented fly and their plucky spirit when hooked make them a favored sport fish, as all of this year’s women discovered. And, I’ll bet that those of them that are Alaskans will make their way back to Tangle Lakes again and again, just as I’ve done for all these years. You’re invited to go along next year.

(Originally published in the April 2003 issue of Fish Alaska magazine)