Implications of Sand Lance Life Cycle in Relation to Fly Fishing on Puget Sound

Discussion in 'Saltwater' started by Roger Stephens, Mar 29, 2008.

  1. Roger Stephens

    Roger Stephens Active Member

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    Sand Lance(Ammodytes hexaterus) are a major food source from late April through early Nov. for sea-run cutthroat and salmon in Puget Sound. 35 to 60% of juvenile and adult coho and chinook salmon diet is comprised of Sand Lance. In the Pacific Northwest Sand Lance are often mistakenly referred to as Candlefish(Thaleichths pacificus). Understanding the life cycle of Sand Lance can help you become a more successful fly fisher on the saltwater of Puget Sound.

    The information below is from "Sand Lance: A Review of Biology and Predator Relationships and Annotated Bibliography" Sept. 1998, Martin Robards, Mary Willson, Robert Armstrong, and John Pratt plus my observations over many years of fly fishing on Puget Sound.

    SAND LANCE LIFE CYCLE

    HIBERNATION, SPAWNING, AND EGG HATCHING: From early-Nov. through mid-Feb. Sand Lance burrow into sandy subtrates to hibernate except to spawn during that period. There are few if any bays and inlets in Puget Sound that do not support Sand Lance spawning activity. Most spawning activity occurs on sandy substrates in tidal elevations ranging from +5 ft. to about the mean high tide line. Sand Lance spawning activity takes place annually from Nov. 1st through appoximately mid-Feb. Incubation time is approximately 1 to 2 months.

    LARVAE, JUVENILE, AND ADULT STAGES: Upon hatching larval Sand Lance measure about 3/16 in. and are virtually transparent. As larvae they drift at the mercy of tidal currents for 1 1/2 months until they are about 7/8 in.(start of jvenile stage usually in April). They then "school up", adopt their adult coloration, and can be found along the shoreline of bays and inlets throughout Puget Sound. Adult populations(+5 in.) travel to more open water in large schools and are less common in shallow near shore areas.

    SIZE, COLOR, AND AGE: Sand Lance grow up to 8 to 9 in. long with a grayish/dark olive back and silvery sides/bottom with a slender body and ill-defined tapered tail. Sand Lance swim by undulatiing their body somewhat like a snake does. Most growth occurs during the first 2 to 3 years while 1/3 to 1/2 of total growth occurs in the first year. During the juvenile and adult stages they can grow as rapidly as 1/3 in. per month until they reach their maximum length at age 3 years. Their scales are extremely small. Sand Lance can live up to 7 years. The age group 0 to 1 year is the numerically dominate age class due to significant predation by other fish, seals/sea lions, and sea birds. Thus older fish, particularly those over age 3, are rarely found in significant numbers.

    SCHOOLING AND FEEDING BEHAVIOR: Schooling behavior starts when Sand Lance reach a length of 1 to 1 3/16 in.(mid to late April). They will be found in shallow near shore areas after this size is reached and often number in hundreds or low thousands. Schools of Sand Lance usually swim slowly or stationary when feeding and not threatened. However, schools can have short bursts of speed when threatened and will condense into a ball. Sand Lance are somewhat unique in the their diurnal behavior pattern, feeding in open water during the day and burrowing into a sandy substrate at night to avoid predators.

    HABITAT: Sand Lance(juveniles and 1 year adults) are abundent in shallow near shore areas from late April through early Nov. This shallow distrubition probably results from their relatively non-light sensitivity and accessibility of prey(mainly copepods). Sand Lance have small eyes and are not as light sensitive as other baitfish(ex. Herring: large eyes). Thus, they can often be found near the water surface and shallow near shore areas except during moderate to bright light conditions.

    IMPLICATIONS OF SAND LANCE LIFE CYCLE IN RELATION TO FLY FISHING ON PUGET SOUND

    YEARLY AVAILABILITY: Juvenile(1 1/2 to 3 in.) and adult Sand Lance(3 to 5 in.) are available late April to early Nov. Sand Lance are burrowed into sandy substrated from early Nov. through mid-Feb. during their yearly hibernation and spawning periods.

    DAILY AVAILABILITY: During late April through early Nov. Sand Lance emerge daily from their burrows in sand to begin feeding at daybreak. Since they are not very light sensitive, they are available to predators throughout the day before they rebury themselves in a sandy substrate at dusk. If it is bright out, they will not usually be found in shallow near shore areas as they have moved to deeper water. However, Sand Lance are particularly susceptible to being swept by moderate/strong current since they are weak swimmers. Under these conditions, sea-run cutthroat and adult coho can often be seen slashing after Sand Lance as they are carried over shallow shelves, points, and gravel bars even during moderately bright light conditions.

    FLY PATTERN SIZE: From early-Spring through early-Summer a Sand Lance pattern length of approximately 2 1/2 in. will in generally match the size of juvenile Sand Lance. From early-Summer through early-Fall a fly pattern length of approximately 4 in. will generally match the size of juvenile and 1 year adult Sand Lance. Fly pattern lengths longer than 5 in. are probably not necessary since adult Sand Lance longer than 5 in. are not very common particularly in near shore areas which sea-run cutthroat and adult coho prefer. There is heavy predation of 1 1/2 to 5 in. Sand Lance plus Sand Lance larger than 5 in. tend to move into deeper water.

    COLOR AND TYING MATERIAL: The best colors are dark olive for the back and white for the bottom. A few strands of peacock herl can be a nice "touch" to finish off the back. Using pearl Firefly(more subdued than pearl Krystal Flash) as a over dressing for the white bottom will give the look of small Sand Lance scales. Artic fox is a good material to use for the body and tail since it gives the tapered look of the slender tail of a Sand Lance plus it will give the pattern a lot of movement. It is probably better than marabou because of the tapered look and more movement. For 3 1/2 to +5 in. long patterns other natural or synthetic materials would be necessary.

    SURFACE SAND LANCE PATTERNS: Surface Sand Lance patterns(2 1/2 to 4 in.) are extremely effective for sea-run cutthroat from mid-May through early-Fall and adult coho from June through Aug. These patterns can be effective in the Winter for resident coho if a school of aggressive fish(jumpers) are found. However, it is normally "hit and miss" during the Winter for resident coho. Last Summer sea-run cutthroat fishing was spectacular with a floating tube Sand Lance pattern with quite a few adult also landed. Approximately 150 sea-run cutthroat were landed with a 30 to 75% hookup ratio as the fish were aggressively clobbering the pattern. Early-Nov. through March sea-run cutthroat do not readily strike the pattern since they are not keyed into Sand Lance due to non-availability of them during that period.

    LOCATING SAND LANCE: When sea gulls particularly Bonaparte gulls are seen in the Summer hovering/circling and hitting the water surface to grab baitfish, they are probably getting Sand Lance. Juvenile(1 1/2 to 3 in.) Sand Lance are frequently seen in shallow water(2 to 3 ft.) in mid-Spring through early-Summer. Early-Summer through early-Fall they appear to move to a little deeper water but are still associated with near shore areas. During this period sea-run cutthroat and adult coho can often be seen chasing Sand Lance on the water surface 50 to 200 ft. from shore as the Sand Lance are being swept by tidal current.

    Roger
     
  2. Les Johnson

    Les Johnson Les Johnson

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    Hit the internet for a map of sand lance beaches. Actually, nearly every beach in Puget Sound seems to have some sand lance. I use my Thorne River Emerger for the lilttle ones and a Lambuth Candlefish for the adults.
    Cheers,
    Les
     
  3. cabezon

    cabezon Sculpin Enterprises

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    Way to share Roger!! You're a rich source of information.

    Their very eel-like locomotory patterns (sinusoidal or S-shaped bending) are hard to duplicate. Perhaps placing a sequin on the leader before the fly may give the fly the right type of irregular, exaggerated swimming action, but I haven't tried this myself.

    Steve
     
  4. D3Smartie

    D3Smartie Active Member

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  5. dryflylarry

    dryflylarry "Chasing Riseforms"

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    Thanks for the info Roger! Very good. :thumb:
     
  6. Roger Stephens

    Roger Stephens Active Member

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    Steve:

    A couple of years ago I started tying Clouser Minnows as tube patterns so that I could put a 10 mm. pearl sequin angled 45 degrees to the side. I either cut the front of the tube at a 45 degree angle or use a short section of junction tubing(best) cut at a 45 degree angle and is mounted at front of tube pattern. The junction tube can be rotated to either side. The angled sequin gives the pattern an erratic 1 1/2 to 2 in. side-to-side motion. IMHO the angled sequin has made the pattern much more effective than a standard shank hook Clouser Minnow.

    A floating tube Sand Lance pattern which I tie has a 1 1/2 in. foam body and a 2 to 2 1/2 in. tail(artic fox). When the pattern is skated/popped on the water surface, there is a 1 to 1 1/2 in. side-to-side wiggle which is probably related to the 1 1/2 in. foam body. I have tried using a 10 mm. pearl sequin angled 45 degree to the side but it didn't appear to enhance the side-to-side wiggle of the pattern.

    David:

    Thanks for posting the excellent photograph of a school of Sand Lance that shows their undulating motion.

    Roger
     
  7. Les Johnson

    Les Johnson Les Johnson

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    Roger's tube fly is in the fly chapter of "Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon."
    Good information Roger. Thanks
    Les
     
  8. Jim Wallace

    Jim Wallace Smells like low tide

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    Wow! Sand Lance University! Thanks, Roger. Great pic, David.
     
  9. TQ

    TQ New Member

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    Thanks for the informationl. If I have managed to do it correctly, there should be a good photo of a sandlance for those who have not seen one up close.
    TQ
     
  10. riseform

    riseform Active Member

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    Thanks Roger
    [​IMG]
     
  11. Randru

    Randru Member

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    This is an Awesome Map... it definitely does help to narrow the beaches I fish to those that have a higher chance of having sand lance. Thanks for this riseform. Also on this same note I don't see the Purdy area marked but a couple days ago as I was driving over the spit I noticed that there were about 400 seagulls diving and going after what appeared to be a big school of sand lance. I wonder if they are spawning up in the bay there?
     
  12. Roger Stephens

    Roger Stephens Active Member

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    It is great that everyone is contributing with outstanding photographs and maps to help us all become more accomplished fly fishers on Puget Sound. That should be what this website is all about.

    Les:

    I checked Amato's book website and it said that "Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon II" would be available in April. Have you heard yet the actual date of distribution? It should be a "hot best seller" and I am anixous to learn more new information about this fisheries.

    Riseform:

    Your photograph is superb as it shows the tapered ill-defined tail, grayish/dark olive back, and silvery sides. The fun part is using tying materials to match that look and undulating movement of Sand Lance!

    Roger
     
  13. TQ

    TQ New Member

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    Here is another photo of the sand lance, with a herring and a surf smelt for comparison. The sand lance is slim, the herring flattened from side to side and the surf smelt is more rounded.
    TQ
     
  14. Les Johnson

    Les Johnson Les Johnson

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    Roger,
    Printing of Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon II is nearly complete. It will be available directly through Frank Amato Publications or your nearest fishing shop in early May, or sooner.
    It is loaded with a lot of new material, good photos of all sorts of baitfish and krill photos (for ID and fly-tiers reference), including the Pacifica and Antarctica euphausiids which we didn't have available for the first book. Also there are beautiful, accurate paintings of each species of salmon in ocean colors and a matching vignette of a spawning pair of each species by wildlife artist Ron Jenkins who painted the trout ID illustrations in Fly Fishing the Coastal Cutthroat Trout.
    Cheers,
    Les
     
  15. Skeena88

    Skeena88 Member

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    There is an interesting article on the seasonal diet of Puget Sound Sea run cutts in Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 137:165–181, 2008
    The authors discuss prey size and species by time of year and by the size of the cutthroat. They sampled 497 cutts by beach seining and gastric lavage, with the largest cutt being 490mm (almost 22").

    For copyright reasons, I can't post the entire article, but here is the abstract.

    Seasonal Patterns of Predation on Juvenile Pacific Salmon by
    Anadromous Cutthroat Trout in Puget Sound
    ELISABETH J. DUFFY*
    School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington,
    Box 355020, Seattle, Washington 98195-5020, USA
    DAVID A. BEAUCHAMP
    U.S. Geological Survey, Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, School of Aquatic and
    Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Box 3550207, Seattle, Washington 98195-5020, USA
    Abstract.β€”In the marine environment, Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. suffer the greatest natural losses
    during early marine residence, and predation is hypothesized to be the key source of mortality during this life
    history stage. In the face of recent declines in Puget Sound salmon populations, our goal was to determine the
    extent of predation mortality on salmon during early marine life. In spring and summer of 2001–2003, we
    caught juvenile salmon and potential predators at nearshore areas in northern and southern regions of Puget
    Sound, Washington. We focused on the potential predation impact of coastal cutthroat trout O. clarkii clarkii,
    which were caught in low but consistent numbers in both regions and were the most abundant large-bodied
    potential predators of juvenile salmon in our catches. Cutthroat trout consumed a diverse and dynamic array
    of diet items and became increasingly piscivorous with increasing fork length above 140 mm. Cutthroat trout
    consumed a greater biomass of Pacific herring Clupea pallasii than any other prey fish species, but juvenile
    salmon were particularly important prey between April and June, making up greater than 50% of the fish prey
    consumed. Cutthroat trout exhibited size-selective predation, eating salmon that were smaller than the average
    size of conspecific prey available in the environment. For a hypothetical size-structured population of 1,000
    cutthroat trout, pink salmon O. gorbuscha and chum salmon O. keta contributed the greatest number of
    salmon to the diet but Chinook salmon O. tshawytscha contributed the greatest salmonid biomass. On an
    order-of-magnitude basis, these predation estimates represented a relatively minor amount of early marine
    mortality for Chinook salmon and lower rates for the other salmon species. Conversely, juvenile salmon
    contributed significantly to the spring energy budget for cutthroat trout in Puget Sound.
     
  16. Fox Statler

    Fox Statler New Member

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  17. Ethan G.

    Ethan G. I do science.. on fish..

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    Apparently I live next to one of the biggest sand lance spawning areas in Puget Sound.

    Fox Statler- Those patterns look awesome. I'm gonna have to tie some up for SRC's and salmon.
    -Ethan
     
  18. MasterAnglerTaylor

    MasterAnglerTaylor Member

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    Man, i just pulled out catch record card and then looked back at wading at pt no pt. It was rediculous the amount of sand lance that would just swarm my legs on the beach. Back and forth back and forth they would go. If i only i knew to flyfish....:(
     
  19. Randru

    Randru Member

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    I know the feeling M.A.T, I was thinking I should get one of them real tiny flys and a fine leader and go hand fishing without a rod. It might be the next rage in fly fishing, extreme sand lance on the fly

    R.
     
  20. Steven Green

    Steven Green Hood Canal Pirate

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    I remember that a couple times shane. I remember saying, " These damn little fish are annoying " in between complaints that no salmon were biting ha ha ha
     

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