Jim considers the history and merits of a controversial fly.
Many years ago, I went to Alaska; first to fish for Coho Salmon and then big rainbows. As with most flyfishers, I found the first trip to an unknown destination a bit of a learning curve. One can read as much as possible from the proposed lodge’s information sheets, check out the internet (although back then, it didn’t exist) and read books, magazines etc, etc. Sure, they all give you some sort of insight. I’d even describe it as essential homework. However, until you go and experience the destination, it isn’t the real thing.
There are five species of salmon in the Pacific north-west, and they all have two or more names! For eating, sockeye or red salmon head the list; however they’re difficult to catch on a fly rod. The Coho or silver salmon comes next in importance and, in my view, is the top of the tree for the flyfisher. Then comes the Chinook, Quinnat or king as the largest salmon. Of less importance, is the chum or dog salmon and finally, the pink or humpback salmon.
These Pacific salmon species return to their river of birth to spawn, and then invariably die (unlike Atlantic salmon, which sometimes survive to spawn again). This mass dying contributes enormously to their home ecosystems, providing essential nutrients to the rivers, local wildlife and even vegetation.
Anyway, both of those early trips to Alaska were a bit of a letdown. On the first trip, we arrived supposedly in time for the run of silver salmon. Unfortunately, the fish were running late and only a few had arrived in the rivers. My fishing mate from Tasmania was as disappointed as I was; particularly as we had both been earnestly encouraged by the lodge to come at that time of year.
We pressed on regardless for a few days, flying into prospective rivers daily on old De Havilland Beaver seaplanes. We both couldn’t believe how agile these small aircraft could be, landing on the proverbial postage stamp. Even so, we caught less than a handful of silvers.
Our best fishing was, in the end, for Dolly Varden, a char more closely related to brook trout. They were in the rivers feasting on the eggs of the other salmon which had already run into the rivers and spawned. We used Glo-bugs and being two competitive idiots from Australia, we honed our techniques, good-naturedly fishing in competition with each other. The rules were ten casts allowed per pool, each angler taking turns. A bottle of whisky was the prize. I don’t think either of us caught ten out of ten but six was usual and eight possible. The evenings back at the lodge were even better! With the ups and downs of a typical fishing trip, a good companion to share it with is often much better than fishing or travelling alone.
Some Yanks staying at the lodge decided there should be an Arctic grayling derby, and encouraged us two Aussies to join in. Ten bucks each into a pot, winner take all. Summer in Alaska means the sun doesn’t set until 11pm and twilight lasts nearly all night. Well, my mate and I cleaned up when we discovered the grayling loved a size 14 Cockybondhu! After three nights, the Yanks pulled out of the comp.
A couple of years later I returned to Alaska, but to a different lodge. This time, we were there to chase large rainbows that fed on the eggs of the salmon. On that trip, I learned much of the art of Glo-bug fishing. Using an indicator we caught a few but (surprise, surprise) the rainbows weren’t as big as promised. Our consolation prize was a jetboat trip up the “rarely fished” Copper River to chase smaller but “truly untouched” rainbows. Again, our guides suggested egg imitations; this time, a bright plastic bead jammed onto the leader by a toothpick about an inch up from a small hook. Again, fished upstream under an indicator, we all caught fish up to about a kilogram. The fish “might’ve” been untouched, but those I caught had marks on them which looked suspiciously like the result of previous encounters with anglers! And the river “might’ve” been seldom fished – if an odd extra jet boat daily on the river is classified as seldom fished! The guides evidently had a system and I although I couldn’t see other boats, I could hear them on the beats above us.
I flew back to Australia, cherishing all the more the remnant truly wild fisheries we have, both in the remoter north-east Victorian rivers and the vast lagoons of the Western Lakes in Tasmania.
But the whole point to this diatribe is the use of Glo-bugs. I know some readers will have abandoned this article by now, but for those who remain, I am still a believer. Allow me to explain…
For some, Glo-bugs are an anathema to flyfishing; the rationale being that they take advantage of trout at a time when they are spawning and should be left alone. I remember years ago being taken to task by an irate contributor to a fly club newsletter, who was shocked that an angler could even speak of any positive aspects of Glo-bugs! The editor actually had to put a stop to both of us as I further defended their use in retaliation!
For me though, Glo-bugs have merit in the right circumstances, including as a management tool for flyfishers who fish stocked impoundments without spawning facilities. As winter approaches, female trout in these stillwaters fill their stomach cavities with eggs. Yet in the absence of a gravelly inflowing stream, they have nowhere to spawn. Eventually, many become egg-bound and die. However, if a winter angler can catch a few on Glo-bugs, and gently massage the eggs out, the fish can be returned to the water with a better chance of survival.
Years ago, one of the young blokes from our Box Hill store was just back from Alaska, and he joined me for a trip to some private lakes west of Melbourne. Armed with a box of Glo-bugs, we set out to catch a few from the bluestone end of one lake. The trout congregate along this wall in winter to try to spawn (unsuccessfully) in the gravel. Well, Ritchie and I had a ball and ended proceedings late in the afternoon with some eighteen fish caught & released.
The secret was to lower the Glo-bug about a half metre down and watch the fly intensely glowing in the gin-clear water. After a few minutes, it would suddenly vanish and presto! It was in a trout’s mouth. The fish were stripped of their eggs or milt and returned to live on for another season.
The word spread, and Glo-bugs have worked their way into the winter arsenal for anglers fishing landlocked lakes – public and private. Of course, like so many ‘wonder flies,’ it turns out Glo-bugs aren’t quite as irresistible as we first thought. There are plenty of days when even trout in spawn mode won’t look at them, and seem much more interested in drabber, ‘regular’ flies. Still, I always make sure I have some Glo-bugs in the box when I make a trip to the lakes during the colder months – they’re great fun to fish with when the trout are on them.
Finally, I’m not insisting you fish with Glo-bugs; just explaining that they’re not simply a fly for barbarians. In fact, Glo-bugs are a handy tool for trout management in certain circumstances, with the added benefit of a day out fishing in winter or early spring. And for me at least, that’s called being alive!