SALMON FLIES

A few notes on  salmon flies, old and new; on salmon fly fishing and fly tying; something of salmon fly history and tradition, as seen in the classic Scottish traditional fly patterns devised for fly fishing on the salmon rivers of Scotland; together with more recent developments in fly dressing, especially modern trends in the manufacture, design and tying of tube flies, with a particular focus on salmon flies dressed on fine stainless steel Needle Tubes.

Needle Tube Salmon Fly

Salmon Needle Tube Fly

Irish Shrimp Salmon Fly

flies by Grays of Kilsyth

History and Development of the Salmon Fly

The Atlantic Salmon, Salmo salar, the "King of Fish", has inspired a rich history of salmon flies, a wealth of exquisite fly patterns, created over two centuries by talented fly tiers and those salmon fly fishermen fortunate enough to have plied their craft on famous salmon rivers throughout Europe and North America.

Salmon Flies - The Early Days

The early days of Scottish salmon fly fishing were characterised by the fairly simple patterns of William Scrope, as illustrated in his "Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing in the River Tweed", 1843. Scrope's patterns included Meg in her Braws,  Meg wi' the Muckle Mouth, Kinmont Willie, The Lady of Mertoun, Toppy and Michael Scott.  As an example, the dressing of Kinmont Willie is given as:

Wings: Mottled feather from under the wing of a male teal
Head: Yellow wool
Body: Fur of the hare's ear
End of body: Red wool
Tail: Yellow wool
Round the body: Black-cock's hackle

These early salmon flies were rather drab in comparison to the later Victorian patterns promoted by George M. Kelson (The Salmon Fly, 1895). Here is his listed dressing for the Jock Scott, probably the most renowned of all classic salmon fly patterns:

Tag: Silver twist and yellow silk.
Tail: A topping and Indian Crow.
Butt: Black herl.
Body: In two equal sections : No. 1, of yellow silk (butter-cup colour) ribbed with narrow silver tinsel, and butted with Toucan above and below, and black herl : No. 2, black silk, ribbed with broad silver tinsel.
Hackle: A natural black hackle, from centre.
Throat: Gallina.
Wings: Two strips of black Turkey with white tips, Golden Pheasant tail, Bustard, grey Mallard, Peacock (sword feather) Swan dyed blue and yellow, red Macaw, Mallard, and a topping.
Sides: Jungle.
Cheeks: Chatterer.
Horns: Blue Macaw.
Head: Black herl.


The Victorian era, then, i.e. the latter half of the nineteenth century into the early twentieth century, saw the introduction of a multitude of beautiful, if much more intricate and somewhat gaudy patterns, renowned salmon flies such as Jock Scott, Durham Ranger, Silver Doctor, Childers, Gordon, Green Highlander, Lemon Grey, Dusty Miller and many, many more, now highly prized more as collectors' items rather than practical fishing flies. Many of today's fly tiers continue to practise the traditional skills of their Victorian antecedents, specialising in the meticulous dressing of the old salmon patterns, the best of which are still in great demand as true works of art.

The early twentieth century saw the classic salmon fly patterns gradually superseded by simpler fly patterns, many incorporating hair wings in place of the married feather wings and exotic feathers of the earlier patterns. Prime examples of this new genre are the Hairy Mary, a creation of Johnny Reidpath of Inverness, and the Garry Dog, or Minister's Dog, tied by John Wright in a Tweedside tackle shop using the hair from the local Minister's dog, a yellow retriever by the name of Garry. Around the same time, traditional salmon fly patterns, like those popular on the Dee, were being simplified and modified, exemplified by the "greased line" patterns popularised by Arthur. E. Wood of Cairnton, such as the Jeannie, Blue Charm, Silver Blue and Logie. This trend continued through the twentieth century to produce such timeless fly patterns as the Stoat's Tail and Munro's Killer, simple but extremely effective flies which have stood the test of time.
 

Garry Dog Salmon Fly

The Garry

Above is an example of that much used salmon fly, the Garry (also known as a Garry Dog or Minister's Dog) dressed in the low water Dee style popularised by Arthur E. Wood, who was from 1913 to 1934 the tenant of the Cairnton beat on the Aberdeenshire Dee, during which time he is reported to have killed 3,490 salmon, most of them on sparsely dressed flies such as the Blue Charm, Logie and Jeannie, fished off a greased silk line.

Mention should also be made here of the unique style of tying represented by the Irish Shrimps, the most famous of which include Curry's Red, Bann Special, Foxford, Faughan and Wilkinson Shrimps. Irish Shrimp salmon flies are as popular as ever today both in and beyond Ireland and tyers continue to modify old patterns and create new flies in this most attractive, and effective, style.

Salmon Flies - The Modern Era

The latter half of the twentieth Century saw some important innovations in salmon fly design and style. The traditional patterns and those of the earlier half century continued to be simplified and modified, more often than not utilising hair for the wing in conjunction with new artificial fly tying materials such as Krystal Flash and Lite Brite, although some feather wings, notably teal and bronze mallard, remained popular as a winging material,  for both salmon and sea trout flies.

The nineteen eighties saw a most significant event in salmon fly fishing, the introduction of Ally Gowans's creation, the Ally's Shrimp. This fly, with its extra long tail of orange bucktail, caught the imagination of salmon fishermen the world over and, in a very short time, became one of the most popular salmon flies of all time, the "salmon fly of the century". Ally Gowans followed up with his Cascade fly which has now become, if anything, even more popular than its predecessor. It would be a rare salmon fly box which does not include one or two Cascades, or one of its many variants.
 

Ally's Shrimp and Cascade Salmon Flies

Ally's Shrimp and Cascade

Salmon flies of this period, certainly for use during the height of the salmon fishing season, were generally dressed on single or double hooks, ranging in size from about 14 to 4. Treble hooks, e.g. Esmond Drury trebles in sizes from 14 to 8, were also popular, especially for Irish Shrimp patterns. When longer or heavier flies were required, particularly early and late in the season, the larger sizes of single and double hook were increasingly replaced with either Waddington shanks (developed by Richard Waddington in the 1940s - see Salmon Fishing, Richard Waddington, 1947) or long tubes, usually in copper, brass or aluminium, up to three inches in length - not the easiest things to cast on a fly rod.

Recent developments in fly lines have made things a bit easier for those fishing our salmon rivers in the colder months. Advanced fly line taper design, combined with the availability of fly lines in a wide range of densities, from floating, through neutral, intermediate, slow sink, medium sink, fast sink to extra fast sink, have allowed the salmon fly fisher to fish relatively light salmon flies at almost any depth. So the earlier three inch copper tubes have generally been dispensed with in favour of smaller, lighter bodied flies. A fly for fishing in early spring might now consist of a short plastic tube, perhaps with a brass or tungsten conehead added at the front end, dressed with a long mobile wing of several inches in length. Fished off a high density, quick sinking weight forward (Spey or Skagit)  fly line, or a lower density fly line in conjunction with a fast sinking tip or leader, this will often achieve the same depth as the three inch copper tube fished in earlier times off a Wet Cel 2 double tapered line and, crucially, will be much easier to cast. Another option is to utilise a very short but extremely heavy tube, e.g. in tungsten, to get the fly down quickly to a fishable depth but on a lower density fly line.

In short, the modern salmon fly fisherman can select from a wide range of rods, lines and fly styles, which were not available to earlier generations. He can employ long or short rods, combined with Weight Forward Spey lines with various head lengths, Shooting Heads, Multi-tips, or Skagit lines. He may select flies dressed on single, double or treble hooks, or flies dressed on needles or metal Waddington shanks, or on tubes of varying shapes, sizes and diameters in plastic, aluminium, stainless steel, copper, brass or tungsten, with additional weight in the form of coneheads in brass or tungsten, or attachments such as turbo-discs to give more movement in the fly. These tube flies may be armed with single, double or treble hooks, barbed or barbless. The possibilities are endless.

Being a keen sea trout fisher, I have always liked extremely slim bodied lures. In the late nineties, I devised the Needle Fly, the slimmest of all lures, for late night sea trout fishing on the River Earn in Perthshire.
 

The Needle Fly

A Salmon Needle Fly

The Needle fly (and more recently the Needle Tube Fly) has since accounted for most of my sea trout and quite a few salmon, too.
 

 Needle Fies

More Needle Flies

My interest in sea trout was one keenly shared by the late Dave Wallbridge, with whom I spent much of the last decade collaborating in the development of fine stainless steel micro tube flies for night sea trout fishing. Our efforts would lead ultimately to the development of the ultra slim stainless steel Needle Tube , now manufactured in Scotland by Grays of Kilsyth . The needle tube is made in two diameters, 1.5mm and 1.8mm, in lengths ranging from 10mm to 40mm.
 

Willie Gunn Salmon Tube Fly

Willie Gunn (variant) Salmon Needle Tube Fly

I tend to use the slimmer tubes in longer lengths for my sea trout night lures and varying lengths in both diameters for my salmon flies. The Silver Willie Gunn above is dressed on a 25mm long needle tube with an outside diameter of 1.8mm, while the minitubes shown above right are dressed on 10mm long stainless tubes with an outside diameter of 1.5mm.

Since the introduction of the Needle Tube in 2008, flies dressed on needle tubes have accounted for some notable catches of sea trout, salmon and steelhead. See Needle Tube Fly Fishing . They continue to do well for both salmon and sea trout. I was very pleased to hear news, in early June 2013, of a notable catch of sea trout taken in one night session by Mr Julian Sharpe from the Totnes Weir pool of the River Dart in Devon on a needle tube fly of his own dressing. The catch consisted of four sea trout, fresh off the tide, weighing 4.5 lbs, 6.5 lbs, 10 lbs and 12 lbs. Truly a catch of a lifetime.

Salmon Fly Patterns Old and New

A look at how salmon flies and the fly dresser's art have evolved in nearly two hundred years of salmon fly fishing, from the early fly patterns of Scrope, through the classic Victorian period into a new age characterised by less complex fly patterns and new variants allied to a host of innovative developments in hook and tube design and technology together with the availability of a wide range of specialist fly tying materials, both natural and artificial.

Classic Salmon Flies

One plate from Salmon Fishing by W. Earl Hodgson, 1927, illustrating Salmon Flies from the Victorian era (see The Salmon Fly)

 

Low water salmon flies in the style of A. E. Wood

Jeannie Salmon Fly

Logie Salmon Fly

Jeannie

Logie

   
Hairwing Salmon Flies

Stoat's Tail Salmon Fly

Silver Stoat Salmon Fly

Stoat's Tail

Silver Stoat

   

Irish Shrimps

Bann Special Salmon Tube Fly

Curry's Red Irish Shrimp fly

Bann Special

Curry's Red

   

Simplified Classic Salmon Flies

Silver Doctor Salmon Fly

A Simplified Jock Scott Salmon Fly

Silver Doctor

Jock Scott

   
A Modern Salmon Double

A modern long-tailed Salmon Double

   

A Selection of Salmon Tube Flies

In recent years , salmon flies dressed on tubes of various materials have become increasingly popular on our salmon rivers. Shown below is a selection of salmon needle tube flies dressed on varying lengths of stainless steel needle tubes, with diameters of 1.5 or 1.8mm.

 

Salmon Needle Tubes

Salmon Needle Tube Flies

 

Beltra Badger Tube Flies

Beltra Badger Tubes

   
Examples of salmon flies dressed on Grays Needle Tubes

Cascade Needle Tube Fly

Munro's Killer Salmon Tube Fly

Cascade

Munro's Killer

   

Thunder and Lightning Tube Fly

Silver Stoat Tube Fly

Thunder & Lightning

Silver Stoat

   

Beltra Badger Tube Fly

Magus Tube Fly

Beltra Badger

Magus

 

Minitube Salmon Flies

A Selection of Salmon Minitube Flies

 
Sea Trout Needle Tube Snake Flies

Sea Trout Tube Flies

   

Needle Tube or Waddington?

Needle Tubes V Waddington Shanks

Slim Needle Tubes are a viable alternative to Waddington Shanks

 
Grays Needle Tubes (for fly tying) and selections of salmon and sea trout Needle Tube Flies, together with boxed selections of traditional and modern sea trout and salmon flies, are available online from Grays of Kilsyth

Resources

Trout & Salmon Flies

Salmon Flies

The Salmon Fly

The Tube Fly Shop

Tube Flies

Trout Flies

Sea Trout Flies

Grays Needle Tubes

Fly Tying

UK Fly dressing Forum

Trout & Salmon Fishing

Salmon Recipes

Sea Trout Fishing

Fly Fishing Knots

Online Salmon Flies

Illustrated below are some of the salmon fly selections and associated products available online from Grays of Kilsyth in Scotland

Fly Tying Needle Tubes

Needle Tubes for the Fly Tier

 

The very versatile HMH Tube Fly Adaptor

 

Ally's Shrimps and Cascades

A boxed selection of Ally's Shrimps and Cascades

 

Blackback Salmon Tube Flies

A boxed selection of ten Blackback Salmon Needle Tube Flies

 

Irish Shrimp Needle Tube Flies

A selection of Irish Shrimp Needle Tube Flies

 

Salmon Mintubes

The Salmon Minitube Fly Selection

 

Modern Salmon Fly Patterns

Modern Salmon Doubles

 

Salmon Spinheads

A Selection of Spinheads

 

Trout and Sea Trout Flies

Trout & Sea Trout Flies

 

Sea Trout needle Tube Flies

Sea Trout Needle Tubes

 

Spey Shrimps

Spey Shrimp Needle Tube Flies

 

Wee Monkeys

Wee Monkey Salmon Needle Tube Flies

 

Traditional Scottish Salmon Flies

Traditional Salmon Doubles

 

Scottish Shrimp Salmon Flies

Scottish Shrimp Tube Flies

 

The salmon fly selections illustrated above are available online from Grays of Kilsyth in Scotland with free worldwide shipping. Visit our online shop for more information

ONLINE FLY SHOP

 

salmon flies