Fishing Flies for Trout, Sea-Trout and Salmon

Trout Flies — General

Probably no branch of angling has had so much time, expertise, and sheer ingenuity squandered on it as this — the creation and design of the trout fly. The intention at root is simple — to persuade trout that scraps of fur and feather wrapped together in certain ways are in fact an insect of the water. The fascination of the trout fly lies in trying to make it perform this illusion. No matter how often the angler gets away with it, the trick never loses its interest.

There is no exact parallel elsewhere in fishing. Salmon flies are lures and are taken for the same greedy reason that pike snap at a spinner — because they glitter and because they move. There is no real illusion there. There is even less illusion in coarse fishing, where anglers use as bait tasty food which fish eat readily.

A mere catalogue of trout flies would make dull reading. In any case, each expert angler has his own preferences. Some fishermen use fewer than half a dozen patterns throughout the season.


Size of fly is at least as important as pattern, perhaps even more so. Trout can be very particular about fly size. Essentially, this can be traced to the factors of relative visibility and (in wet flies) to the depth at which they are fished. Other things being equal, the larger the wet fly the quicker and deeper it will sink. Conversely, the larger the dry fly the greater the depth at which a fish may be lying and still see it.

In Britain we are still afflicted with a quite nonsensical system of ambiguous hook numbers. Despite protests from anglers over the years, the British Tackle Federation has not standardized its hook sizes. Currently, anglers and angling writers refer to either the Redditch Scale or the New Scale. Sometimes anglers mention hook sizes without indicating to which scale they are related! The New Scale was introduced by Pennell, who later expressed regret at the confusion he caused. The Redditch Scale of trout hooks runs from size 20 to size 7. A size 20 hook measures 3 mm (5/32 in) overall, not counting the eye. A size 7 hook measures 1.91 cm (3/4 in).

Quality and type of hook become increasingly important as the angler gains in experience and learns to discriminate. Bad hooks are not common, but they do appear. Trout-hook making is a highly skilled operation because of the fineness of the wire used. Tempering is all-important. Under-tempered hooks tend to be soft and will straighten in the fish. Over-tempered hooks are brittle and will snap. The correct mean is a tough, springy hook carefully balanced between these two extremes.

Hook shape is very much a matter of individual opinion and preference. The trade rely mainly on what they describe as `Wide Gape Trout’, ‘Limerick’, and ‘Round Bend’ — most makers list their own specialties, but these are essentially more or less ingenious variations on the above.

Sneck — the amount the point is off-set to the shank — is again a matter for preference. On the whole we prefer hooks with little or no sneck. A sneck-less hook with a widish gape and a round bend meets all reasonable requirements.

Eyes are traditionally upturned on dry-fly hooks and down-turned on wet-fly hooks. This is largely a fad. Down-eyed hooks suit either dry or wet flies.

Most anglers buy their trout flies, but an increasing number find that simple fly-tying is a relaxing and interesting winter hobby.

The traditional home of the dry fly is the English chalk streams. Yet floating and semi-floating flies were used in other parts of the country long before the day of Halford and other notables. The chalk-stream anglers rediscovered the dry fly, exploited its possibilities on their particular waters, and turned the whole thing into a high cult.

Chalk-stream dry flies are mostly small in size and are modelled on specific natural flies. Dry flies, as used in rain-fed rivers and lakes, are often larger and less specific in design.

The ‘basic’ trout fly, so to speak, is the simple wet fly. It has a rich history. There have been many schools of fly-dressing and we can only admire the artistry and observation of those long-dead anglers, often anonymous, who contributed details to fly-design which have since become universal.

Essentially, we must begin the story of the wet fly in Ireland, where it was first elaborated in all its fullness. Each district had its dresser of note, and as the work of these dressers became tested and approved they often turned professional.

The Irish were impressionists and manipulated their home-produced materials into fluid shapes around the hook. Colour and texture were considered of prime importance; form and size less so. Even today, it is by no means certain what the old-style Irish flies were intended to suggest. But years of painstaking trial and error ensured that they caught fish.

Scotland, too, had its impressionists. A famous school of dressers sprang up on the Clyde. Clyde flies are often winged; and they are long in the wing. The wings too are often mounted at a steep angle, thus breaking the fundamental wet-fly rule. Out of the water Clyde flies look almost ungainly. But in the water, fished according to Clyde methods, they catch fish. And this must always be our final criterion of a good fly; it is our only sure indication of what a fish sees.

The Yorkshire and North Midland schools had different ideas. The streams they fished were often stony and fast and their flies were sparsely and softly hackled, with slim bodies. Some of our best impressions of nymphal water-flies come from this area, patterns which have been in constant use for 150 years. Silk bodies with hackles of water-hen, coot, or partridge were developed into the so-called ‘spiders’ which have earned a place in the box of every trout fisher.

Wales too has made her specific and general contributions to the art of fly design. Vaughan senior is a famous name among trout fly-dressers and that splendid all-purpose fly the Coch-ybondhu is unlikely ever to lose its appeal. There are a great many excellent and effective traditional Welsh patterns.

Modern developments in trout fly-dressing stress the value of synthetic materials. Nylons, Perlons, polymides, and plastics of every shade and type are now in common use to augment the traditional fur and feather of the older schools. Although professional fly-dressers skilfully weave their way through the welter of materials there is a real danger of the amateur getting lost. A good rule is : when in doubt, use the simplest material for the job.

The basic intention is the same today as it was in Walton’s time — to deceive the trout. Whether you do it with a piece of polyvinyl material or with a scrap of common sheep’s wool salvaged from a fence makes no matter.

Sea-Trout Flies

By quaint reasoning there is still a tendency to equate lake flies and sea-trout flies. They are not synonymous and never have been. Big tinsel-bodied lake wet flies will catch sea-trout sometimes just as sedge-suggesting river flies will catch lake fish. But, as groups, flies for lakes and flies for rivers are apart. Sea-trout in lakes often respond best to flies you would never use in a river.

On the whole, sea-trout flies are mostly ‘fancy’ flies of traditional design, the most important innovation since the war being the introduction of fluorescent wool, chenille, and monofil. Used correctly, fluorescent materials catch more sea-trout.

Used incorrectly, they catch no better than any other dressing.

With sea-trout flies self-weighted tubes were another useful development. These tubes, of aluminium lined with plastic, carry a sparse dressing, frequently of hair. A fine wire treble is mounted at the tail. A small brass head can be used as a sinker

Salmon Flies

The modern trend is quite definitely towards hairwing flies dressed on self-weighted tubes with a treble at the tail. Salmon anglers find that these inexpensive flies catch quite as many fish as the glorious traditionals with their kaleidoscopic colouring. Moreover, hairwings fish better.

Yet there is still a place for the Jock Scotts, Black Doctors, Silver Wilkinsons, and so forth if for no better reason than sentiment. After all, salmon fishing is largely a ritual, and the ritual killing of our greatest game fish does seem to argue the poetic rightness of using something more aesthetically satisfying than a bunch of brown dog-hairs mixed with a bit of bottle–

top foil. It is a great pleasure to select, mount, and fish the traditional fully dressed salmon fly. But if the reader is interested in results at a low cost he is advised to stick to tubes.

18. July 2011 by admin
Categories: Fish, Game Fishing | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Fishing Flies for Trout, Sea-Trout and Salmon


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: