You can order my salmon flies HERE

Green Butt Salmon Fly  history, legend, video

Red Butt Salmon Fly  history, legend, video

The Undertaker Salmon Fly  history, legend, video, step by step dressing

Stoats Tale Salmon Fly history, legend, video, step by step dressing

Silver Stoat Salmon Fly history, legend, video, step by step dressing

Ally’s Shrimp Salmon Fly  history, legend, video, step by step dressing

Willie Gunn Salmon Fly history, legend, video, step by step dressing

Golden Brown Spey Fly step by step dressing

«Снегирь» / Bullfinch Salmon Fly step by step dressing

Pahtakorva Salmon Fly history, legend

На русском эта статья здесь

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(Version 07.04.2023) My answer to the age-old unsolvable question «Why does salmon attack a fly?» is this: it is a mixture of two instincts — blunting, but not disappearing feeding instinct, and instinct of cleaning the territory from potential eaters of their own caviar. This answer is an explanation of the effectiveness of spey flies. On the one hand, it is an imitation of a shrimp in terms of the contour of a fly, on the other hand, the beards of a heron’s feather are moving very provocatively in the stream. On the rivers of the Kola Peninsula it is illegal but quite successful to catch salmon by natural shrimp with bobber tackle. And in the British film The Occasional Salmon (by Andy Nicholson) no less successfully it is done with a bottom fishing tackle and a worm! Back at sea, salmon «remembers» how to eat. Therefore, I believe that the starvation of salmon in the river is a consequence of the lack of suitable food. A lot of things indicate aggression towards all living things. Almost complete absence of other fish in the salmon parking/passage area. Attacks on various imitations of non-fodder objects — spinners, wobblers, dry flies. Activation of biting in a «nervous state» — the approach of fresh fish to the pool, teasing by the previous fly / flies.

The role of the heron’s feather in spey-flies is very important. The heron’s feather beards taper from the base to the tip, are soft while really strong and durable, have their own pronounced weight and beards of the 2nd order. All this makes the movements of the spey-hackle in the stream very lively. It should be borne in mind that, despite the similarity at the first cursory glance, the heron feathers from different parts of its body are not the same. On sale you can find feathers from the neck / nape or shoulders of the bird. Feathers from the shoulders are less preferable, since they have thinner beards and there are no beards of the 2nd order on them; the beards sit on the awn more tightly, which is less convenient for the formation of a «transparent» and uniform spacer on the fly’s body. In addition, the spine of the shoulder feathers is thicker and more fragile, which also complicates working with it. But shoulder feathers are less expensive and they are more often found on sale. And if it’s a choice between replacing the heron and using its shoulder feathers, then I’ll choose the latter. Steam treatment or pre-soaking makes the feather awn less brittle. The density can be adjusted by the step of winding the feather along the body or by using only one side of the feather. The fragility of the awn can be reduced by pre-soaking the feather.

Attempts to replace the heron with other feathers (or fur) are always a compromise that gives a less «animated» result. But, in the absence of a heron or in countries where its use is prohibited by law, there are also quite working options. I will describe my experience in this direction.

Feathers from the rump of the pheasant. The main problem is to purchase high-quality non-broken feathers. I haven’t had a chance yet. The best option is a wild hunting pheasant. The disadvantages of this material are the fragility of the beards and their density, the awn with suitable beards is short. The ways to deal with disadvantages are as follows: be mentally prepared for the fragility of the fly, use one side of the feather to form a hackle. For large flies, use 2 or 3 feathers sequentially. An example of quite successful use of pheasant feathers and the formation of a hackle of several feathers is a fly Golden Brown Spey. The feathers from the sides of the pheasant are intentionally and purposefully used to revive low water salmon flies: 20200806_121747

I had a chance to try the replacement of the heron beloved by Americans (in the USA it is strictly forbidden to use the heron) — Blue eared pheasant, impressions described here. As of today (April 2023), the opinion is not positive, but it is not completely formed either. I hope to get some more of these feathers and tinker with them. But the replacement in any case is so-so — it’s not easier to buy than a heron.

Marabou. Under this name turkey down feathers are usually understood and sold. The advantages of these feathers are that they are cheap, easy to purchase in any colors and in excellent quality, they have thin and flexible awn. But I don’t like to use them in spey-like flies because of the behavior of marabou grooves in the water. They are light and mobile, but stick together into a homogeneous mass. It is not possible to make the fly «transparent». Not a bad material for training in dressing spey flies. I trained myself and used it during training sessions. More details can be found here and here.

There is another heron-like story. I have several packages with «heron» feathers (as it is written on the packages) of different colors (dyed), but the texture is noticeably different from the heron. Long, thin, little changing length and not thinning to the ends of the beard. And they seem more fragile. There are no beards of the 2nd order. I bought it when I was just starting to tшу in the style of spey and didn’t really distinguish the texture of feathers. Later I found out that it wasn’t a heron at all. These are feathers of Kori Bustard /  Ardeotis kori. The feathers are called Kori Bustard Neck Hackles. In March 2018, I tied up a fly from them, in the same season I took a fly to the Kola River. In short — nothing good, you should not get involved. Details are here.

There are also non-trivial options. For example, as a spei-hackle, use fur — bucktail (fur from the tail of a deer) or caftail / kiptail (calf tail of calf). Examples of such flies:

More about these flies here and here.

How flies from different materials behave in a stream under water can be viewed on my YouTube channel here.

Hooks. As for the single salmon hooks, I agree that there are fewer descents from doubles, and especially from trebles. But for me it is better to get 5 bites and take 2 fish than the same 2 fish with 3 bites. At the same time, personal statistic says that there are really more bites on single hooks, and the realisation with a single hook fly is at the level of 3-4 fish from five bites. And here it is important a style of landing the salmon — as rigidly as possible, without the slightest slack and necessarily with the use of a reel. The same statistic indicates a negative outcome of the landing when trying to select / bleed the cord not with the fly reel, but with your hands.

My favorite hooks for spey flies — Partridge CS10/1 Bartleet Traditional CS10/1. I also use the following salmon single hooks:

Daiichi Alec Jackson — hooks made of thick and powerful wire (series 206 is even thicker than 205). In addition to black wire, they are made in gold, silver and even dark blue.

Daiichi Bob Veverka Classic Salmon — elegant and reliable hooks made of thin wire. Despite the straight shape, the spaну flies look great on them and work perfectly, I recommend it. Also available in gold color.

Tiemco Spey TMC202SP — similar to Bartleet Traditional in shape, but made of thicker wire. Made in China, the quality is decent.

Partridge of Reddich Salar Salmon Single — cheaper than Bartleet Traditional and still available.

Partridge of Reddich Low Water Salmon — not an ideal shape, but high-quality and affordable hooks.

Partridge of Reddich Patriot — more or less suitable in shape, but I don’t really like to use this model — the hook eye and the reverse bend of the eye are made roughly.

For me the most popular size of hooks for single flies is #2. I also actively use neighboring sizes: #1, #1.5, #1/0 #4. For big water I dress up to size #3/0, for low water down to #4 and #6.

Time after time I stare at ancient and author’s beautiful and highly expensive hooks. But for fishing this is clearly an excess, and dressing «in a frame» does not excite yet.

Flies on single hooks, all other things being equal, are more actively buried than on doubles or tubes. On high water, this is an advantage — we can not use sinking flylines or tippets or use them, but not so heavy. In low water, this advantage of single hooks begins to turns into a disadvantage — with a shallow depth and a weak current, the fly falls through, does not hold well in the stream and clings to the bottom. In such cases, I usually use flies on doubles, including spey style:

Flashies, lurexes and things like that — I don’t like them in salmon flies. Dislike began a long time ago, even when I was dressing fur salmon flies on tubes and doubles. I was confused by the heterogeneity of fur and plastic. And somehow, of course, I used flash drives less and less. With the feather wing, this topic disappeared by itself. Despite the fact that several types of lurexes are traditionally used simultaneously in the body of spey flies, I’m not prone to their abundance. To give the effect of brightness / sparkle, I resort to other techniques and materials. I often use a Cock-de-Leon in the tail of spey flies, it is not very noticeable on land, but in the water it flickers and sparkles no worse than a flash. By the way, can you see the tail?..IMG_20220603_092052_583

I like to add polar bear fur painted in different colors to the fur wing. I also really like to use an opossum for a fur wing. Its fur consists of two types of villi — hard sparkling needles and softer wavy villi, similar to a long undercoat. Raccoon fur has a similar structure. In the tail of the shrimps I also use along with the bactails bright sparkling colored hairs of a polar bear. On small shrimp (hook size from #9 and less), I make a complete tail from the polar bear. Such, for example, is the small green shrimp in the photo above.

To add brightness and shine to a fur wing, instead of a flash I also use peacock tail feather beards. Like in this Pakhtakorva fly:20200228_221743

Materials for the body of salmon flies — silk, wool, dabbing. It’s not easy to get used to putting silk evenly. But if you put it, it’s a buzz and beauty. The main thing in this process is that the substrate must be perfectly smooth. Wool styling is simple and pleasant. And it looks withered and natural. And it’s also funny to choose — among the aunts who buy it for socks knitting)). Favorite dubbings are the undercoat of a seal and a bear. Dubbings on flies from the Bob Veverka’s book look attractive — quite voluminous and shaggy, but not «heavy», transparent. Perhaps a different quality of seal undercoat, or maybe mohair. It will be necessary to study this question and try mohair.

Materials for the wing. The best material for the wing of spey flies is large feathers from the sides of the mallard, with a bronze sheen. Mallard Bronze is indicated on the packaging of such feathers. Feathers are not cheap and it’s great if you have hunter friends who can bring you such feathers. The area of the feather where the bronze shade fades and turns into gray is the optimal place for attaching the wing segment. Thus, the optimal ratio of the size of the hook and the feather is selected. Another variable in this equation is, of course, the wing length of the spey fly relative to the body length. There are different styles and approaches to this issue, I prefer the wing plus or minus to the bend of the hook:



Other feathers can also be used to form the wing of spey flies — for example, sectors from the flight feathers of a turkey, goose or swan, from the tail of a pheasant. Here is an example of such a wing, a small effective fly for low water:


The wing of a spacefly can be made from two pairs of rooster feathers. Such flies are called «Glasso style» in honor of the legendary fly fisherman who initiated the renaissance of spey flies in the USA, Sid Glasso. Thanks to the ability to use cock feathers painted in different colors, you can create a very diverse color combinations. My experience shows that such flies are at least no less effective than traditional spey flies. My model of such fly is «Albino Glasso: wp-1658561834535

Quite cute and working spey flies can be made with a wing made of fur. Here is an example of such fly:20200613_001220

Raccoon fur is used for the wing of thу fly above. There is a large selection of types of fur that can be successfully used to form salmon flies Hair Wing. I have already mentioned above my favorite opossum and polar bear. Brown and black bear, squirrel, arctic fox, dog, bucktail — this is not a complete list of such materials. Each of them differs in thickness, rigidity and undulation, and is used depending on the size of the fly and the position of the material bundle in the wing (often the wing can be formed from several types of fur). A wonderful material is the stoat’s tail, no wonder that two famous salmon flies — Stoats Tale and Silver Stoat carry it in their names. But the tail is expensive and there is not much fur on it at all, for 3-4 flies. Therefore, even in these flies stoat fur is most often replaced by a squirrel or a bear, etc. The mystical train has long been fixed for the monkey’s fur. It is not easy to get it and not cheap, some claim that flies with a wing made of Columbus fur are extremely catchy due to the fact that the fur curls in small spirals in the water, others less romantically claim that it is just very strong and flies serve for a long time. I didn’t have a chance yet to thoroughly check it, here is an example of my laconic «The Monkey»:


The awns of many types of fur, once in the water, turn into pulsating springs. For example, bucktail, especially if the material is of high quality — the villi are thin and soft. A curious and, in my opinion, underestimated material for a wing is the tail of a calf. A small number of villi give a voluminous and at the same time transparent wing:IMG_20171013_085953

How different materials behave in a stream under water can be seen in the video, the link was given above in this article.

Tying threads. For several years I used Sheer threads, believing that the thinner, the better. Now my favorite is definitely Danville. It is flat, with an optimal amount of wax and a little stretchable. This allows me to make a smooth thin winding and fix the material with a minimum number of turns. For example, when setting a wing from the mallard on a spey fly, two turns are enough for the first segment (I buid the two stripes one by one), and after 3-4 turns on the second segment I already cut off the excess feathers. An additional plus is a beautiful glossy surface, the head of the fly turns out to be shiny already before the varnish. I put Veniard varnish in 3-4 layers, drying each one thoroughly. I continue to consider the Sheer an excellent tying thread and use them in the dressing of other types of flies

Conclusion. Fly fishing for salmon is a great pleasure. Salmon can be caught on different flies. But catching a salmon on a beautiful fly is a special great pleasure. Let’s respect the beautiful fish and catch it on the beautiful flies.

Teachers and inspirers:

Davie McPhail and his Youtube chanel.

Bob Veverka and his book Spey Flies & How to Tie Them.

John Shewey and his book Spey Flies & Dee Flies: Their History & Construction

Book The Complete Illustrated Directory of Salmon & Steelhead Flies by Chris Mann

Film of Gerald Barttsch Tying Spey Flies with Gerard G. Bartsch

Sergey Fesko

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