Pick a color, any color! With little doubt, the coho fly comes in more colors than you can shake a flyrod at. And although its name may imply a pattern for silver salmon, it is most frequently used by anglers when fishing for Sockeye salmon, or "reds" as the locals call them.
And as quickly as the sockeye runs appear in streams throughout the state, the racks and racks of coho flies on store shelves begin to disappear. Tens of thousands are purchased each season, and at 3 For A Buck when on sale, its much more convenient to just buy them than tie them.
Although sockeye salmon are very reluctant to bite or strike an angler's offering, it is a well-known fact that they do indeed have a tendency to grab a coho fly now and then. Perhaps the similarity of size and shape to the forage foods sockeye eat in the ocean triggers a response. They do feed primarily on zooplankton which includes small shrimp, other crustaceans and even a tiny fish called the sandlance.
The use of this fly requires no special skills and the only requirement is that there are sockeye in the stream to catch. In fact, a majority of anglers using this fly will fish it with their spinning or baitcasting salmon rods. Some sockeye fisheries in Alaska are designated as Fly Fishing Only by regulation, but that refers to the lure or terminal tackle on the end of your line. As long as you are fishing with a legally defined FLY, you can use your halibut pole if you wanted.
Sockeye salmon run very near the bank in the larger rivers such as the Kenai and Kasilof. So effective fishing is literally just a rod length away with fish passing by within 15 feet. Casting is not necessary and a swing cast with a 1 1/2 rod length of line is all that is necessary. Anglers most often attach a 1/4 to 1/2 oz. rubber core sinker a distance above the fly to allow it to sink quickly in the swiftly flowing streams. Some regulations, such as for the Russian-Kenai River FFO area require the weight to be at least 18" above the fly to be legal. So check regulations for the area you intend to fish.
Field Notes: For glacial or murky rivers and streams, color schemes are of little consequence for successful fishing. Fish have little opportunity to see the fly so the angler is basically attempting to position the line and fly in the mouth of the fish for a hookup. Only fish hooked in the mouth may be retained. Some call this "lining" and this technique is often bordering on snagging when employed in an abusive manner. Snagging or attempting to snag (which is considered harassing fish) both carry fines and loss of gear & fish penalties in Alaska's freshwater fisheries. With hundreds of thousands of fish moving upstream, its really not difficult to stay within the legal guidelines to catch your fish. There are a few saltwater areas which do allow snagging as a legal means of harvest in some enhanced fisheries but the angler should consult the regulations closely for seasons, areas and details.
For the smaller clear water streams, such as the Russian River, you can sight fish for sockeye. In streams such as these, finding a flat riffle where fish are moving through will allow casting and drifting the fly in front of the fish as they move upstream. Quite often if you can time the fly's drift to swing within 6-12" of the fish, they can be enticed to strike. Under these conditions, I've found that a green & white pattern (sandlance imitation) elicits the most frequent strikes when using coho flies, with a red/white combo (shrimp pattern) being the next in line. There are some other sockeye flies recently "invented" which have shown remarkable success in clear water sight fishing conditions. AOJ will cover these sparkle or flash flies on a separate page.