Salmon flies - how to choose a suitable salmon fly
for various conditions

Fishing instructor, fly fishing tuition and fishing trips based in Scotland. Salmon and trout fishing advice, flies and articles.

A Season of Salmon Flies (article and pictures by Ally Gowans)

Salmon are affected by temperatures of water and air and by water height and so some sort of reason for the selection of flies is a useful starting place for the angler. Something of a mystery to the novice salmon angler this subject is sometimes also a mystery to experts! My intention is attempt to bring order to the thought process, to provide a set of rules that will help you to choose a fly type and pattern that will be reasonable for whatever conditions apply. Of course never and always have no place here and it is always wise to listen and watch carefully what successful local anglers do, wherever you fish. One of the most important things to realise is that in addition to the prevailing conditions, the size of the river itself and the speed of the current also influence selection. In general salmon in larger rivers or fast water will take bigger sizes of fly than in small rivers and slower water.

Basically, the relationship works like this. Cold water requires large flies fished fairly slowly and the salmon's taking zone that your fly must infringe is small. That means that you should aim to get the fly within a few feet of the fish to stimulate it into attacking. In the coldest of conditions, flies of three inches or more may not be not out of place. Tubes, Waddingtons and the like are favourites.

willie gunn
Willie Gunn

Yellow is the colour that has the most impact on salmon in cold water. Yellow, orange and green are excellent choices of colour to include in an early spring pattern. Silver, gold or holographic body materials increase the fly's visibility. As the water warms, black becomes more important and many successful patterns have simple black bodies with bold silver or gold ribbing. There is no need to stick to detailed patterns if you tie your own flies, a simple yellow and orange wing with a silver body will catch plenty of early springers. However if I had to choose one fly to get me through springtime it would be a Willie Gunn or something similar. By varying the mix of yellow, orange and black and changing the body between silver and black a whole range of effects can be produced to suit conditions. Tube sizes between one inch and two inches are usually sufficient allowing for the wing to extend up to twice the body length and I like to have a range of brass, copper aluminium and plastic tubes to suit the depth and current speed.

True down and dirty sunk line techniques begin to loose their effectiveness as the water warms and levels fall. The fly then moves too slowly and becomes too obvious to the salmon. Temperatures around 8 to 10 degrees C usually mean that fly fisher faster and closer to the surface will bring better results. Smaller tube or Waddington type flies are suitable but most anglers prefer to switch to dressed flies from size 4 down to size 10 as the water warms up. The warmer it becomes, the smaller and higher the fly is fished until a full floating line is required. Preferred fly colours change, with a tendency towards darker flies, silhouette patterns like Stoats Tail fished close to the surface. This does not mean that brighter flies will not work, but there are times during low water when the most subtle and sober offerings are the only ones likely to be accepted.

During the late spring and summer period I would feel deprived if I did not have a few of the following flies at my disposal. Munro Killer, Arndilly Fancy, Executioner, Silver Stoats Tail, Tummel Shrimp, Cascade and Yellow Ally's. If I only had two flies to choose from they would be a Stoats Tail with a black body and a broad silver rib with jungle cock cheeks and a fluorescent yellow tail and Ally's Shrimp. Of course you will have noticed that some of these flies are brightly coloured. There are two reasons for this. One is that when summer spates occur a brighter fly is often required to combat the coloured water and the other is that in bright conditions salmon and grilse will occasionally take a bright fly like the Yellow Ally's or Cascade after they have refused my first choice Stoats Tail, Arndilly or the like.

I the low warm water of summer, micro tube flies can be very deadly and they are equally effective for sea trout. Dressed on fine plastic tube down to 3mm in length and armed with tiny trebles they will often take fish in "impossible" conditions. Stoats Tail is favourite. A silver or black body can be used and the wing can be brightened up with a few strands of yellow or orange if desired.

And so the year wears on into autumn and again the colours change. Red becomes an attractive colour as the salmon themselves colour up, but still the yellow, orange and black combination as represented by Willie Gunn and the Munro Killer are reliable. Red Ally's Shrimps compete with the original orange version for the top SW In coloured water yellow and black or orange and black tube flies with silver or holographic bodies are excellent and indeed as the water cools and sunk fly again becomes a necessity, tubes once more become the first choice. As days shorten and light becomes a problem flies with a good proportion of white in the dressing help to make best use of the available light. Junction Shrimp and various White Wing patterns are important to the November angler as the last of the rivers draw to a close and another season enters the record books.

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Copyright 2007 Alastair Gowans AAPGAI and FFF Master and THCI, APGAI. All rights reserved.