Online Fly Fishing Magazine

GAIA instructor Barry Mitchell selects six of his favourite salmon patterns from those anglers in the know…

Modern styles of salmon flies tend mainly to rely on movement in their design presumably to imitate a living creature when fished. We know salmon cease to feed when entering a river so with no apparent urge to feed what stimulates a fish into taking our fly and for what reason?

Well I can do no better than to quote the late Hugh Falkus who expressed his thoughts in his monumental work “Salmon fishing”-a practical guide- first published in 1984. He came up with the following six reasons as to why a salmon would take a fly.

  1. Feeding habit -through instinct
  2. Aggression
  3. Inducement
  4. Curiosity
  5. Irritation
  6. Playfulness

These are very interesting and thought provoking reasons, so can we associate the take of a salmon with any of the above?

Let’s take a look at some typical scenarios we may have experienced when fishing for salmon and some possible reasons:

  • A fish takes an angler’s fly with gusto- resulting in a well hooked fish. – feeding habit; aggression.
  • A fish takes very gently. (So gentle it is excusable to at first think a smaller fish has just taken the fly) – curiosity; playfulness.
  • A fish appears to roll over breaking the surface with its back and tail and takes a fly fished just under the surface. – curiosity; playfulness; irritation.
  • A fish takes a fly skated across or just under the surface. – aggression;inducement;curiosity;irritation;playfulness.
  • Fish have no other means of feeling an object other than by mouth – All six reasons!

My opinions only, but feel free to form your own, but of course we can never know for certain!

Barry Mitchell with a Tweed salmon taken on a Cascade, but why did it take this pattern?
Barry Mitchell with a Tweed salmon taken on a Cascade, but why did it take this pattern?

Flies To Trigger A Response

When designing our flies, are we attempting to construct a pattern which can trigger as many of the above responses from a fish as possible therefore increasing our chances of catching. Can we keep improving upon salmon fly designs? Well I will leave that to more inventive minds than mine!

Most modern flies are designed and tied with long mobile tails and wings for movement. Soft bucktail fibres and materials such as the highly mobile arctic fox hair and sparkle type materials like crystal hair are alternative materials for the fly tier to experiment with. They create more movement and flash and along with the introduction of very long winged patterns such as the Collie Dog and Dee Monkey from the far north of Scotland, the Scandinavian and Icelandic styles of flies such as the Sunray Shadow, Francis Fly and Snaelda they have opened up further options to the angler prepared to alter tactics and experiment. Patterns like these not only provide movement but probably also some form of attraction or irritation to a salmon inducing aggression perhaps.

The Cascade

I, like many of my fishing companions, subscribe to the opinion that the ideal profile for a salmon fly is the popular and very successful pattern, the Cascade, it fits the bill perfectly; little wonder it is a consistent fish catcher throughout the U.K. Ireland and abroad, and has since evolved as a template for many other successful patterns of a similar profile.

I have collected some favourite flies from very experienced salmon anglers who are ghillies, qualified casting and fly tying instructors and guides. The influence of the Cascade style is clearly evident in some of these patterns while others offer alternative styles, all offer movement when fished and all have caught a lot of fish on many rivers both at home and abroad.

The Peacock Cascade – Phil Adams

PHIL ADAMS is the secretary for the Northumbrian branch of Salmon &Trout CUK here he describes his own successful pattern.

“The Peacock Cascade was developed from the Green Butt Cascade. Having no green floss I tried peacock coloured Angelina fibre available from a craft supplier-Barneyarns.

I rather liked it so wound it up the body and found it had a pleasing appearance. Green is supposed to be good on a sunny day, so I kept it for that purpose originally. I thought a natural squirrel tail more appealing with its more indefinite outline and hazy appearance. I decided to add a sparse underwing from the excess of the Angelina fibre on the dubbing thread.

Clearly it is merely a Cascade variant but there are a number of changes from the classic tying, so I think it is worth a name of its own!”

HOOK: Silver Salar or Patriot
THREAD: Red UTC70 Denier Ultrathread or white GSP
BUTT: Three or four turns medium gold oval tinsel or gold wire in small sizes. An alternative is silver oval and rib
TAIL: Mixed hot orange and yellow bucktail with three to four turns of bronze crystal flash. Tail- twice the body length
BODY: Dubbed peacock Angelina fibre
RIB: Medium gold oval or wire three to four turns
UNDERWING: Sparse peacock Angelina
WING: Natural grey squirrel tail
HACKLE: Yellow cock saddle hackle followed by orange saddle hackle
HEAD: Red thread with two coats of red varnish and a final coat of Sally Hansen Hard As Nails

The Calvin Shrimp – Ken Muter

KEN MUTER is an APGAI casting instructor in fly dressing and both single and double handed casting. Based in Alnwick, he is ideally situated to fish the rivers both side of the Border.

His choice is a relatively new pattern from the stable of the renowned Ross MacDonald, a well-known fly-designer and tier from the Highlands. A pattern that has proved its worth on the rivers of Scotland, and is quickly gaining in popularity in Northern England, the Calvin Shrimp.

Ken and his fishing companions have had a lot of success on the rivers they fish and had no hesitation in recommending this pattern to try in 2017.

HOOK: Salmon single or double
TAIL: Short red arctic runner, strand of orange angel hair, long orange arctic runner, strand of red angel hair doubled, magenta arctic runner over
BUTT: Oval gold
BODY: Blend of red seal’s fur and yellow lite-brite with UTC mirage rib
WING: Orange fox, orange angel hair and jungle cock
HACKLE: Red badger over long orange cock hackle
HEAD: UTC fluorescent fire orange

The Stokoe Shrimp – James Stokoe

JAMES STOKOE is a very experienced salmon angler and guides on his local rivers. He is a well known personality who won the BBC fishing programme Earth’s Wildest Waters-The Big Fish. He is also an ambassador for the Angling Trust, and a fishing fanatic.

Here he describes his choice of fly which he designed himself the Stokoe Shrimp. It has caught him, his clients and friends a lot of fish.

“Sometimes in fishing we come across a fly which totally changes our season or the way we fish. Personally I’m the type of angler who tries to make things happen and I am always on the hunt for new patterns, materials and ideas to test but it’s not just the future we need to look to, it sometimes pays to look back. One evening I looked at some old fly boxes and the old worn patterns they contained.To cut a long story short I looked at a monstrosity of a fly I used when I first started my life sentence of salmon fishing-and it caught fish.

The idea behind the fly is in some eyes pretty simple and revolves around the different materials used, and more specifically the colour change behind them which, when in the water looks mesmerising.

Well to me it does but you might say I’m easily pleased!”

HOOK: Salmon treble
THREAD: Hot orange
TAIL: Fibres from the middle of an orange bucktail
BODY: Holographic copper tinsel (I lay a coat of varnish over the hook shank to aid durability)
RIB: Silver wire
WING: Ginger shadow fox tail (available from Foxy tails) same length as tail
HACKLE: Orange cock hackle, three turns depending on size of fly. Hackle should stand out proud to give more mobility.

The tail fibres are taken from the centre of the bucktail as it is naturally the darker part of the tail but when dyed goes a real ly brown/maroon colour. Bucktail is fairly rigid and holds its shape well and replicates the feelers of a shrimp or prawn well. The colour really works well with the other colours on the finished product.

The Editor – Ally Bremner

ALLY BREMNER is the first lady to qualify for the APGAI double handed Instructor qualification and is the first lady in Europe to qualify as an International Federation of Flyfishers (USA) two handed casting Instructor, she has held the Scottish open ladies Speycasting championship, and has been ladies U.K. salmon distance champion and the John Enright International Ladies distance champion. Ally is based in the Scottish Borders and provides Instruction and guiding on the river Tweed.

Ally’s choice of fly is the Editor and here gives her reason why.

“My first solo fish. Being a (younger in those days!) dumb blonde I had hardly ever even put up my own rod, never mind been allowed to choose my own fly or tie a knot- heaven forbid! So I read Hugh Falkus Salmon Fishing from cover to cover, practised my knots, and, intrepid fisherwoman, set off on my own. At about 4 o’clock a fish took when I was standing near the middle of the river unable to get to the bank because of a channel in between. I thought oh sh** I really do still need a ghillie after all, but the chapter about walking the fish back up the pool came into my mind. So in literal textbook fashion I walked it back and beached it, released it and took a bow to my imaginary audience! (Why do at least ten people walk past when you are snagged in a tree behind you but never at your moment of glory?)
I didn’t stop shaking for hours and I was as high as a kite for weeks.

The fly I was using was the Editor and is still a firm favourite.

HOOK: Silver double
THREAD: U.V. White
BODY: Pearl mylar tinsel over white thread or floss
TAG & RIB: Flourescent yellow floss or thread
WING: Black squirrel tail
THROAT HACKLE: Kingfisher blue cock hackle
CHEEKS: Jungle cock
HEAD: Black tying thread

Cyrils Shrimp – Cyril Carruthers

CYRIL CARRUTHERS was a larger than life character who was a good friend of many, including myself and fellow fishing colleagues. He sadly passed away last year but left us with a fly he designed some years ago, the Cyril’s Shrimp.

I, like many of us can recommend this pattern. Cyril had success with it over many years on rivers from the far north of Scotland to the North of England.


HOOK: Salmon double
TAIL: Yellow bucktail with two strands of crystal flash-colour to suit water clarity and mother of pearl angel hair above
BODY: Silver mirage tinsel
RIB: Fine red wire
HACKLE: Yellow cock and black cock hackle tied in front and one jungle cock tied over hackle to lie on top –this should be almost the length of the hook shank
HEAD: Red thread

The Lee Trembler – Peter Lee

PETER LEE is the boatman/ghillie on the beautiful Pedwell Beat on the lower Tweed. He is a very accomplished angler and enthusiastic about all things salmon fishing.

Peter designed a fly some time ago, that has caught many fish on the Tweed system with it and his clients have had success with it also. He names it the Lee Trembler. Here he describes its inception and how best to fish it.

“The story behind the Lee Trembler is the old guy who introduced me to fishing. Jack Aird from Norham village used to tie flies for the Lower Tweed beat Tillmouth Park and the then owner Lady Burnett. He encouraged me to tie and eventually design my own flies hence the Lee Trembler.

I prefer to tie it on copper tubes and I preferably fish it as the river is fining down with a tinge of colour still to it. I have found fishing it fast seems the best way to encourage a salmon to take, casting square I place a downstream mend in. It works well on a floating line and sink tip and at times twitching the rod back and forth. I have used this fly on beats the length of the River Tweed and caught a lot of fish with it. I also tie it for friends and clients and they have also had success using it.

TUBE: One inch Copper tube
BODY: Gold mylar tubing ribbed with gold wire for security
BUTT: Red tying thread
THROAT HACKLE: Kingfisher blue cock hackle fibres
WING: Orange bucktail with two strands of orange crystal flash fibres length of bucktail

About Barry…

Barry Mitchell is a full time GAIA qualified single and double handed casting instructor who guides throughout the North East and Borders. Barry guides at both Thrunton and Chatton Fisheries as well as for Salmon and Sea Trout on Northumbrian rivers.

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