Figuring out the best flies for salmon is a task, but here’s some help.
Fly fishing for salmon is a blast, but the list of flies that are essential for salmon anglers is actually shorter than the one for other “niche” fly fishing species like bass. If you are hoping to start going after salmon with your fly rod, you are going to find yourself adding some unique and exciting new flies to your tackle box.
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Sure, a few old standbys work well for salmon (particularly the Woolly Bugger), but for the most part, you’re going to need to get a bit more adventurous – and lean a bit more heavily on nymph flies – if you’re hoping to trick salmon in the midst of the spring season.
View the slideshow to reveal our picks for the best flies for salmon fishing.
Since many anglers go after salmon with the spey casting technique, it figures that spey flies are among the most important items in any salmon angler’s tackle box. With a name taken from the Spey River in Scotland, spey flies have been used in the fishing of salmon and steelhead for approximately two centuries now. Most spey fly patterns are tied with long bodies and are fished in deep waters, particularly to imitate prawns and other small crustaceans. The G.P. Spey Fly was built for low, clear water, but is great in just about any condition. Tie darker colored spays (preferably blue, black, or purple) for maximum effect.
The Woolly Bugger is an essential fly for virtually any type of fishing, so it goes without saying that it’s an instrumental fly pattern to have in your tackle box for a salmon fishing outing. The versatility of the Woolly Bugger is provided by the fly’s swaying, natural looking form. The fly can mimic a wide variety of different underwater creatures, making it the perfect wet fly to entice spawning salmon.
The Hex Nymph is the perfect fly for fishing spawning salmon or steelhead because, very often, it has ties to their past. In states like Michigan, for instance, the mayfly that the Hex Nymph is designed after – the “hexagenia limbata” – is everywhere around the rivers and streams where salmon spawn. Because of this, a “hex fly” may often become the first meal that young salmon become accustomed to eating.
When those same salmon return to the spot where they were born to spawn, the hex fly becomes a part of the “imprint” they’ve placed upon the location, meaning that they will be quite willing to eat a few more before spawning and floating off to die. Use nostalgia against these fish and catch them with a Hex Nymph.
Soft Hackle Green Caddis
Another weighted nymph fly that deserves some attention in your tackle box, the Soft Hackle Green Caddis is probably best known – like most other flies out there – as a trout fly. However, seasoned anglers in recent years have begun coming around to the idea that caddis flies with the added characteristic of the soft hackle make excellent devices for catching Atlantic salmon.
In case you needed proof that nymphs are the most effective flies for catching salmon, both in pre-spawn stages and during the spawn, here it is. The Black Stonefly is one of the best flies out there for catching salmon and steelhead in colder temperatures.
If you’re an angler who likes to get started particularly early in the season – whether for salmon, steelhead, or something else – then the Black Stonefly is an absolute essential. Traditionally, the fly is most effective while snow is on the ground the water is just thawing out. However, anglers find that the Black Stonefly remains effective throughout the early season, so its radius of usefulness should generally extend to include the entire salmon fishing calendar.
The PM Wiggler is a nymph most often used by steelhead anglers, but it can also be useful as a fly for catching spawning salmon. The Wiggler is useful for the same reasons as a lot of the nymphs on this list: it gets down below the surface and dives deep to help you find fish. Most anglers prefer to fish the blonde color of the pattern.
Of all the fly fishing patterns out there, it’s entirely possible that the Glo Bug is the easiest to tie. Using little more than a specialized (and Glo Bug branded) form of yarn, the Glo Bug is nevertheless among the most effective flies in existence for catching salmon and steelhead.
Where Woolly Buggers work better in darker colors when you are fishing for salmon, the Glo Bugs can be as vibrant and colorful as you want. This is good, since Glo Bug yard comes in a wide range of different colors and since you’ll undoubtedly want to create some eye-catching flies with it. We like neon colors (yellow, pink, orange, or chartreuse), though less brilliant shades of green and red can also be effective.