Salmon fishing is something every fly angler should try at least once in their life. The idea of catching a 20-pound fish on a fly rod is hard to imagine until it actually happens. Salmon fight unlike any other fish you could find in the world! Before you imagine landing one of these fish, make sure you have the proper flies for you trip.
I had the honor of targeting salmon last October in Northern British Columbia. I targeted these fish on some of the most famous and productive rivers in the world. I thought it would be like catching sunfish in a pond.
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I quickly learned that wasn’t going to be the case. I had to be on my game, but more importantly I needed to have the proper fly choice. I was getting the right drifts and hitting my spots, but I wasn’t landing as many fish as I would have liked.
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What is a Dry Fly?
A dry fly is an option of bait for fly anglers that sits only on the surface of the water. These flies imitate a hatching insect or rodent sitting on the top of the water waiting to be eaten.
Why Do Salmon Love Dry Flies?
Salmon will strike out of aggression. They feed in all levels of the water column and anglers need to remember this! Too often anglers fish for salmon only using wet flies. They’re missing out on some serious action. If you see salmon skimming across the surface, you can bet they’re feasting on some topwater food.
10 Best Dry Flies for Salmon
There aren’t an extensive amount of dry fly patterns created specifically for salmon. Most of these patterns are hand tied and created by locals to work specifically for their waters. There are, however, a few options that have proven to be versatile. It takes some experimenting to find out what works, but with enough time, you’ll find some solid options.
The Bomber is a classic dry fly salmon pattern. You can also make this work if you’re fishing using flies for Steelhead. Make sure you have enough floatant on this pattern to ensure that it’s sitting high on the water. Depending on where you’re fishing, it can be difficult to see these flies.
The best way to use this fly is to skate it along the surface. To skate a fly, cast up and across the stream or river. Let the fly swing across the water and wait for a strike. Let the fly fully complete the drift. You never know when a salmon is going to strike. Don’t pull up early because you could miss out on an opportunity to land a fish.
The Grizzly Wulff can be found in sizes 2 to 6. This is one of the larger dry fly patterns you’ll use to fish salmon. It’s not a complicated pattern and has a strong resemblence to the Royal Wulff.
You can fish the Grizzly Wulff in the midst of a pool where you see salmon holding. Cast towards the front of the pool and let it drift. With salmon, you’ll see them miss the fly on the first swipe. This is a great sign! Do your best to emulate a similar cast and odds are the fish won’t miss a second time.
These patterns are great to tie for yourselves if you’re new to the fly tying industry. Make sure you have plenty of ducktail and some grizzly hackle. You can tie this fly in a few simple steps!
The Ratface MacDougall has one of the more unique names in the fly fishing industry. It almost looks like a Wulff pattern, but the extra hackle towards the eye of the hook sets it a part a bit more.
If you’re fishing some clearer water, this is a great option. The bright colors make it stand out on the surface of the water. You can find this fly anywhere between size 4-10. It’s not a bad idea to have a few different sizes of these flies. The pattern could be right on the money, but the fish might be more interested in a different size.
The Brown Whiskers almost look like a centipede. These flies are long and have quite a bit of hackle that can be found off of each side. These can also be found in sizes 4 to 10. Try floating these along a calm portion of the river.
You don’t necessarily have to fish these only in a pool. You can fish these by skating them across the surface and letting the fish follow and strike. If you’re seeing salmon strike and be active on the surface, you know it’s time to skate.
The beauty of salmon, however, is that they don’t feed on the surface only at specific times. They feed in all portions of the water column and you always have the freedom to experiment and see what you can get out of these fish.
The Dry Cosseboom is another dry pattern that looks like a Wulff. However, the bright and obnoxious patterns are what set it apart. Three different types of hackle you can find tied on these flies. Don’t hesitate to tie one of these on if you’re lost and don’t necessarily know what to use.
Again, salmon will strike many times out of aggression. If they see something that is near their spawning area or catches their eye incorrectly, you can bet they’re going to strike. You want your dry flies to act as attractor patterns. The Dry Cosseboom is as attractive of a fly as it comes! Plus, it has a great name.
The Salmon Caddis almost acts as an emerging fly. It doesn’t sit as high on the water column as the above mentioned patterns. If you see fins breaking the surface and not the entire salmon, go ahead and throw this fly. Part of it will sit on top and the rest will hover just below.
These are fairly small patterns. You can find them anywhere between size 6-10. Yes, these flies seem quite small for a salmon pattern, but you never know what is going to work. If you know the fish are being a bit skittish and aren’t their usual aggressiveness, the Salmon Caddis is a great option.
Yes, Klinkhammer is a classic trout pattern, but it will also work for a salmon fly. The best reason for this is due to the variety of color and interesting appearance. This is essentially an attractor fly and works extremely well for the fish.
If you’re fishing a calm portion of the river on a clear day, go ahead and tie on this fly. Make sure that you have light enough tippet to stay hidden, but don’t make the mistake of something too light. Use 2 or 3x tippet. Yes, it seems large, but these toothy fish can easily break you off if you aren’t careful.
Crimson Butt Bug
If you’re targeting Atlantic Salmon, this is a smart option to use. It’s found between sizes 8-12 and the Atlantic Salmon can’t seem to get enough of this pattern. The small red section of the fly near the bend of the hook resembles an egg that salmon might find.
Any sort of red or pink on a fly drives these salmon crazy. They automatically think that they’re about to eat an egg. Eating eggs is a priority for these fish. If you can imitate them in a realistic looking way, make sure you do.
Weirdly enough, the Chernobyl Ant can work extremely well for Atlantic Salmon. This is a large pattern and it’s hard for the salmon to miss. Sometimes, all it takes for these fish is to notice something and they’ll strike. It doesn’t exactly have to match what they’re eating! They see something, their predatory instinct kicks in and strike.
Don’t miss out on a chance to fish this fly for salmon!
The Fighting Gravity pattern is a newer option on the market. This has a somewhat similar appearance to the Chernobyl Ant, but the extra hackle at the bottom of the fly is just enough of an added feature that these fish love to eat it. You can find this pattern in size 4!
When To Use a Dry Fly For Salmon?
You can use dry flies for salmon in a variety of scenarios. If you see salmon breaking the surface and appearing to eat, go ahead and throw on a pattern and see what happens.
Salmon don’t have strict feeding times like trout might so don’t put yourself in a box and limit yourself on when you can use a dry!
Your salmon fishing experience is going to be different every time you hit the water. Fish are going to behave differently and you’ll have to take some risks to learn what the fish want and the best way to target them.
Speak with your local fly shops and do some research before you choose what flies you’re going to use. When it comes to salmon fishing, local knowledge is key!