Just as you think you’ve mastered the world of fly fishing, another wrinkle is thrown your way. Learning the different methods of casting is wonderful. Understanding how to properly read a river and the tendencies of the fish is another skill every successful fly angler has. On top of these, anglers need to know what bait is going to catch fish. You can have a perfect cast and presentation, but if the fish isn’t interested in your fly, it doesn’t matter. All fish are particular. It’s important to know what they want to eat.
Here is a list of the 15 best flies to use for salmon fishing:
1. Woolly Bugger Fly for Salmon
This is about as cliché of a fly choice as possible, but it’s cliché for a reason: it works. Woolly Buggers catch all types of fish ranging from Salmon to Northern Pike. Be sure to use a woolly bugger with a bead head or dumbbell eyes. You’ll want this fly to get towards the bottom to properly imitate a bait fish.
Also, if you tie your own flies, be sure to use a heavy duty hook. A 20-pound salmon can do a lot of damage to a weak hook. There’s nothing worse than losing a fish on a faulty fly.
If you’re fishing darker water, use an olive or black color.
GUIDE TIP: The color of your fly should always match the river. If it’s darker water, use a darker fly and vice versa.
2. Spey Fly a Historic Fly
A Spey Fly is great to use for salmon. This fly had its name taken from the Spey River in Scotland. These flies are great to use in attempts to imitate smaller crustaceans and bait the salmon might enjoy. These flies are most often fished in deep waters, but that doesn’t always have to be the case.
A G.P. Spey Fly is great in lower clear water. There are plenty of designs of these flies available. Also, don’t be afraid to try your hand at tying your own! If you’re using a spey, consider it to be more of a streamer pattern and let it swing across the water. Depending on the flow, you may need to tie on a split shot. Either way, be sure to use sinking line.
3. Hex Nymph Fly Perfect for the Mid-West
Hex Nymphs are perhaps the best option when it comes to dead drifting. These flies are often around the rivers where salmon spawn. It’s especially popular in Michigan. A hex nymph may be one of the first flies a salmon eats. They’re awesome flies and are a blast to use to catch salmon. If using this fly, use floating line. You don’t want your line to be dragging and inhibiting a perfect presentation. Find them in a size 10-12, tie on an indicator, a small split shot and see what happens.
GUIDE TIP: Visit a local fly shop to find out what the salmon are hitting. They’ll usually have all the flies in stock that are native to the area. It’s a great chance to support local business as well as gain some solid insight into the local water.
4. Egg Sucking Leech Something Salmon Love
These are extremely popular flies in the salmon fishing world. You can find this with red tips and no weight, but it’s also to find them with beadheads. If you’re in slower moving water, go ahead and use one of these with sinking tip line and a small split shot.
The eggs dragging along the bottom are favorite food of salmon so it’s necessary to have in your box. Plus, they’re awesome looking flies and are great to cast. It’s possible to be used on a nymphing setup, but it isn’t necessary!
5. Ally’s Shrimp Swing it Back
Ally’s Shrimp has everything you need to know in the name. They imitate a shrimp pattern and are a great option all year round in all different types of water. Find this fly in a size 4-10 and give it a try. It’s going to be more of a streamer pattern.
Cast it upstream across the river and let it swing back towards you. If this doesn’t work, go ahead and use the stripping method. Bring it back to you in short, quick jerks and see if a salmon bites.
6. Stoat’s Tail for Skinny Water
The Stoat’s Tail is a great option for lower water. It isn’t big and bulky and won’t fight its way through a heavy current. Use this pattern in anywhere from a size 6-12. Go ahead and use this when you’re swinging or stripping. It will work in both situations and has been proven to catch quite a few fish.
GUIDE TIP: Depending on the time of year, salmon may not be focused on feeding. This usually happens when they are in the midst of spawning. Therefore, they strike out of aggression. That’s why most people recommend big and bright flies. These are going to intrigue salmon and make them strike.
7. Glo Bug a Classic Egg Fly Pattern
The Glo Bug is an awesome fly for salmon fishing. You can find these flies in some extremely colorful patterns and are proven to work in all types of water. It’s not a heavy fly. Depending on the flow rate, you may need to add a split shot to get the best results.
Don’t be afraid to be obnoxious with these flies. Choose bright colors and take some risks. These flies are best to be tied in size 10-14 hook. It’s an extremely easy pattern to tie so if you find success with it, try doing your own.
8. Hairwing Flies -a Searching Fly Pattern for Salmon
Hairwing Flies are going to be the most obnoxious flies in your box. They’re extremely long, bright and colorful. These are the types of flies guides/experts talk about when they mean boisterous. They’re great options if you’re searching. Pay attention to the follows you get. If you see a salmon swipe or follow the fly, that’s a great sign. It doesn’t mean it’s the exact fly, but it could be the color they want. Use these flies in size 4-8. Also, they’re not exactly difficult to tie.
GUIDE TIP: Water temperature can also determine what size of fly you should use. The warmer the water, smaller flies can be effective. In cold water during a spring salmon run, go ahead and tie on a size 4 streamer and get to work.
9. Bunny Leeches Flies – Swing it Deep Through Holes
The Bunny Leech is another boisterous fly you can use. It’s usually found anywhere from size 10-14. It has quite a bit of material dragging behind it. It’ll quickly absorb water so it’s a great fly to use if you’re trying to dead drift.
Go ahead and swing it or nymph it. If you do tie it to a nymphing setup, use a 2.5 or 3mm tungsten weight. You can find these flies in more natural colors.
10. Snakes – This Fly Pattern Can Bite
Snakes are the similar to the flies you see on the Patagonia Fly Fishing logo. These flies can be a “no-no” in certain regions due to the trailing treble hook attached. However, the pattern works extremely well. Use this in a size 10 and you’ll find fish. The extensive material and large size are a great bait fish imitator.
Their long and slender design are enticing. Pay attention to the type of water in which you’re fishing these. If it’s full of debris and snags, stay away from it due to the trailing treble hook.
11. The Executioner – a Great Fly for Low Water
The executioner is a fun fly. Not only does the name sound exciting, but it’s flashy and works great in low, clear water. This fly is great when you’re targeting Atlantic Salmon.
It’s got just enough flash to anger the salmon and give you a chance to find one in the midst of the current. Go ahead and swing this fly. You can find it in size 4-8.
12. Crusher Fly – get it Big
This is another fly with a great name They’re going to come in bright colors. Most of these flies don’t have dumbbell eyes so they’re great for swinging, but be sure they reach the depth you want. The Crusher will likely be one of the bigger flies in your box.
They can be found in size 2-6. If you’re in faster moving water early in the spring, go ahead and use one of these. It stands out extremely well and you shouldn’t have trouble getting it to where you need to go.
13. Intruder Fly – Color for an Aggressive Strike
This is a great option to use if the fish are not as eager to hit your larger presentations. If you are going to use this, it’s a great choice to use in the slow current through large pools.
It’s best used if you want to swing flies for awhile. It has a trailing hook and a small pair of dumbbell eyes. You can find this fly in a size four. The bright presentation is always going to be on your side.
14. Dirty Hoh Fly- a General Purpose MUST Have
This fly is a great all-river fly. It doesn’t matter the conditions, flow rate or clarity. It’s dark and light pattern is going to work in whatever type of water you want to fish.
It almost looks like a combination of both an intruder and string leech. These are great flies to use if you’re targeting King Salmon. Since this fly is so versatile, you can fish it by swinging or stripping. You’ll find it in a size 1 or 2 hook.
15. Dolly Llama Fly – Use it for ALL Types of Salmon
Dolly Llama flies are another common salmon fly. It’s a great fly for all different types of salmon. It’s a large fly so it takes some getting used to when you’re casting it.
Every pattern has a flash of shine in it to get the attention of the fish. You’ll find it in a size 0 or 1. Sometimes it’s best to go big or go home and this fly gives you the perfect opportunity to do that.
What Kind of Fly Box?
As far as fly boxes are concerned, you’re going to need a large one when fishing for salmon. Your flies are going to have a lot of material and be long. A salmon fly box is going to be your best bet. Here is the link to a great affordable option. Also, check out this link for more detailed information on what fly box to choose.
Read more about organizing and storing BIG Flies in this article – The Best Fly Box for Streamers
At the End of the Drift
A day on the water hunting for salmon is going to come with its challenges. For some, it may result in a broken fly rod. For others, it may be cut fingers from their sharp teeth. Hopefully it only ends in sore arms and big smiles. If you’re curious about different techniques to use when fly fishing for salmon check out this article: How to Fly Fish for Salmon.