Fly Pattern or Profile – Which is More Important?

When fly fishing for salmon, one of the first questions we ask ourselves is, “What fly should we use?”.

This is probably the most commonly asked question by most salmon anglers. We are always looking for that killer pattern, that will produce the best results and often we get preoccupied with this.

You sometimes have to ask yourself whether the subtle changes in fly pattern actually matter? For example, can a salmon tell the difference between a standard Willie Gunn or the gold bodied version?

Does a Park Shrimp look that different to a Cascade under the water?

Of course, we will actually never know the answers to these questions, but you can probably say that the profile of a fly makes more of a difference than the pattern itself, as it is more distinguishable.Fly profile encompasses a number of different parameters. These include the length and size of the fly, the style and tone of the fly, as well the speed and depth at which the fly is moving through the water.

When it comes to the length and size of the fly, many anglers believe that this is the same thing but actually these two parameters are quite different. The size of the fly refers to either the hook that the fly is tied on, whether that be a single, double or treble or if it is a tube fly, the length of the tube body itself. The length of the fly, refers to the overall length of the fly which includes a long wing or tail. For example, if you are fishing a half inch bottle tube, with three-inch wing, the size of the bottle tube is half an inch, but the length of the total length of the fly is three inches.

So, by changing both the length and size of the fly, visually there is quite a difference, especially under the water. This change can often make the fish more aggressive and inclined to take.

The style and tone of the salmon fly is also very important. We have already touched on style when we talked about dressed and tube flies. These are the two main options when it comes to salmon flies.

Dressed flies are either tied on single, double or treble hooks. They appear to be much less bulky, compared to tube flies. They can also often be tied with less material, giving them a sparse appearance and this can be very effective, especially in low water.

Dressed flies are normally used when the water is low and warm. They are much lighter than tube flies and can be particularly effective when the water is clear.

The great advantage of the tube fly is that the body of the tube can be constructed from various materials, which all differ in weight. Tube flies can be made from plastic or aluminium, which are the lightest materials, through to copper, brass or tungsten.

They also vary greatly in length from a quarter of an inch up to three inches. So, if you need to get your fly to sink quickly once it hits the water, the tube fly is perfect for the job.

Tube flies are commonly used, when the water is high and cold, and the fish are lying close to the riverbed. They are very effective during the early spring months, when a larger fly can work well.
The tone of the fly is also an important parameter which makes up part of the fly profile.

When it comes to tone we are referring not to the subtle changes in colour but to the more obvious changes. A lightly toned salmon fly would be something like a Garry Dog or a Junction Shrimp as opposed to a Stoats tail which is much darker. Such drastic changes in colour can definitely illicit an aggressive response for the fish.

The final two parameters to consider involve not so much the fly itself but more at what depth and speed the fly moves through the water. This of course can be controlled by the angler after casting by making a few minor adjustments to technique or by changing the weight of the fly itself.

Generally, if the water is cold and high during the early spring months, salmon lie close to the riverbed. You therefore want your fly to be moving through the water column at a sufficient depth, just above the bottom.

This can be achieved by either using a sinking tip or full sinking fly line, or a weighted tube fly. Brass and tungsten tube flies are the heaviest, and these sink quickly after casting. If the water if high and cold, they can both work very well. Another way to alter the depth at which your fly is moving through the water is by mending the fly line after casting.

This can be performed by flicking the tip of your rod in circular motion upstream after casting, thereby creating an upstream belly in the fly line. This gives the fly extra time to sink through the water column before it is caught in the current and starts to swing around towards the bank.

Alternatively, by performing a downstream mend, you create a downstream belly in the fly line, and this encourages the fly to move faster and closer to the surface, as it is swinging around in the current.

This tactic can work well during the summer months when the water is warmer, and the fish are more active. Often, they can be more inclined to follow and chase a fly before taking.
When it comes to the speed at which the fly is moving, this can be closely related to the depth at which the fly is fishing.

Usually when the water temperature is low, during the early spring months, salmon are not keen to chase a fly long distances. It can therefore pay rich dividends to try and get the fly to move as slowly as possible. This also gives the fish the maximum amount of time to see the fly.

The speed of the fly can be changed, by either using a heavier tube fly or performing an upstream mend after casting. Both these actions will slow down the speed of the fly.

During the summer months, if the fish are lying close to the surface and quite active, a lighter fly and a downstream mend after casting might just do the trick, as often a faster moving fly can elicit and aggressive response.

As salmon anglers, we all fall into the trap of getting too preoccupied with the pattern of the fly that we are using. We as humans we notice the subtle changes in fly patterns and can distinguish minute differences in colour but that does not necessarily mean that the fish can. It is therefore probably better to concentrate more on the profile of the fly than subtle variations in pattern, as these are more distinguishable. The question you the have to ask yourself is “Do you have the right profile?”.



This article was written by Sandy Datta who together with his wife Samantha are co-founders of Scottish Salmon Fishing Surgery (SSFS).  This is Scotland’s first and only online salmon fishing magazine. The magazine has proved to be a great worldwide success and now has readers in over 77 countries. Sandy and Samantha together have over 35 years’ experience, salmon fishing in Scotland.

In addition to this, they also launched a company called Salmon Fishing Holidays Scotland . This company is dedicated to providing bespoke tailor-made salmon fishing holidays in Scotland.
In their spare time, Sandy and Samantha are both very passionate about their salmon fishing. They are never found too far away from the river bank, and they usually have a rod in their hands!

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