Salmon don’t feed in fresh water, yet they take lures and flies. This is surely an angling enigma. But even more of a puzzle is that salmon take some flies more readily than others, depending on the time of year and the clarity of the water.
Even though there are no concrete answers as to why salmon take, in Stan’s opinion you generally need large, colourful flies fished deep in spring and late autumn when the rivers are high and possibly coloured. Small, dull patterns fished near the surface catch more fish under low-water summer conditions. At this time the salmon can be wary and often uncooperative.
It seems logical, therefore, to classify salmon flies by season rather than by their size or colour.
Spring and autumn flies
On the whole, patterns for the colder months of the year tend to be big, bright and sometimes heavy. They are frequently tied on tubes or wire shanks which may be as much as 10cm long. 1. Willie Gumn This pattern probably catches more salmon in the spring than any other. It’s most commonly tied on a Waddington shank. Yellow, orange and black are good colours for early patterns. In heavily peat-stained water reduce the proportion of black hair to produce a brighter fly. In areas of clear water use a fly with more black hair. 2. Fast Eddy Stan Headley specifically designed this pattern for the River Thurso in Scotland where flies with a touch of green work well. Fish the Fast Eddy from mid-March to mid-May. It’s also effective during a clearing spate. 3. Garry Dog is another popular spring and autumn fly. Because of its bright colours the fly is effective in peat-stained waters and in clearing fioodwater. Traditional dressing gives it a mixed wing of yellow and red, but yellow and orange can be even better. 4. Collie Dog This pattern, easy to tie, has exploded on to the salmon scene in the past few years. Tied on a short tube body with a wing of hair up to 23cm long, it has revolutionized spring fishing in many areas. Versions with smaller wings work well in the summer.
Salmon may come up from great depths to take the fly, which can be fished on intermediate or floating lines. It’s usually tied on an aluminium tube with no body dressing.
Small in summer
With the exception of shrimp imitations, Stan has found that summer salmon usually take dull patterns – not bright ones. 5. Stoat’s Tail Simple but deadly, this fly is used on floating or intermediate lines and catches a fair share of salmon. Some anglers give the fly a yellow tail. 6. Munro Killer Originally tied for fishing on the Spey, this fly now catches salmon all over the world. Basically it’s a jazzed-up Stoat’s Tail – the dashes of colour make it supreme in the peat-stained waters of northern Scotland. 7. Ally’s Shrimp In western Scotland’s fast spate rivers shrimp patterns reign supreme — and this is perhaps the best. Though brighter than most summer patterns it is the exception to the sombre/summer rule. Don’t be without one when fishing from June to August. Ally’s Shrimp is also good in large sizes when salmon become aggressive in late autumn.