What is salmon dry fly fishing? Fishing for salmon and steelhead in the surface is probably the most exhilarating and exciting sports humans can venture into – The sport has become increasingly popular in the last 60 years – but anglers have most likely been fishing steelhead and salmon on the top since the birth of dry-fly fishing.
Special flies for this fishing has been tied in more than 100 years and in general anglers will present their salmon dry flies drifting with no disturbance over known salmon lies (dead-drifting) – Obviously this is not the black & white truth and Atlantic salmon like it´s cousin the steelhead could be attracted to dry fly patterns moving on the surface –
Above: A medium size Chartreuse Tube Bomber ™ – A favourite on the Norwegian salmon river Lakselv in the far north of Norway
Danish salmon angler par excellence; Mr Henrik Mortensen with a bright dry fly salmon from the Bonaventure River – caught on a medium size Monster Tube Caddis ™
100 pages of top water fishing
On this and many other pages here on the Fishmadman site, we will try to highlight the essences of this sport, by showing you technique, know-how and the many fascinating flies made for dry-fly fishing for salmon and steelhead
This particular page on Fishmadman is dedicated to a dry fly fishing technique with the morbid name: dead-drifting… a sport that is anchored in trout fishing traditions also proven to be highly efficient for Atlantic salmon
Right: The Monster Tube Caddis is a modern salmon dry fly tied on a tube – and designed to imitate the caddisfly insect that salmon and trout depend upon as food when they live as parr in the river system
Salmon dry fly through a century
Salmon dry fly 1840’s
Mr Wood was not the first Brit to see the potential in fishing for salmon in the surface. Descriptions of this are to be found in early English fishing literature dating back to 1846
Here from the book: A Manual of modern farriery: A popular and practical treatise on the diseases of horses and other domestic animals … with a sporting section and UK game laws. By Thomas Brown. Published by George Virtue (circa 1846)
Left: the plate shows a wide selection of trout and salmon flies and the text gives quite exact instructions on how to fish in the surface for salmon – It could very well be descriptions on how to fish a salmon dry-fly – But it could also very well be descriptions of forms of dibbling, dapping or Riffling Hitch.
See text and images from A Manual of modern farriery
Major J.R Fraser’s salmon dry fly patterns 1909
The earliest salmon dry-fly description we have come across is from England: The Major J.R Fraser’s salmon dry-fly series listed in a 1909 Farlow and co. catalogue along with a description of his fishing and the tackle he recommends – There are not many facts to be found on the Major J.R Fraser or his fantastic salmon dry fly series other than the introduction made by Mr Fraser in the Farlow fishing tackle catalogue.
Left: The Brits was probably the first to write about salmon on the dry fly! Many angling historians will tell you that it is the Canadian Mr George M. La Branche that was the first angler to describe salmon fishing with the dry fly – But as it is with most techniques and styles of salmon fishing it is UK anglers that take the credit. The colour plates of Fraser’s flies to the right is from a 1919 Farlow catalogue, but Farlow had the same series of flies and writing by Mr Fraser in earlier catalogues dating back as far as 1909
Great help with details on the early salmon dry fly from the Farlow 1909 catalogue came from Nova Scotia angler Mr Perry Munro
See the text and images from the 1919 Farlow catalogue
The Monell and La Branche flies 1920’s
Some of the first North American descriptions of salmon dry fly fishing can be found in the book: The Salmon And The Dry Fly from 1924 By Mr George M. La Branche. La Branche was an avid trout fisherman but also enjoyed fly-fishing for salmon – this he did with his friend and mentor Mr Colonel Ambrose Monell in the clear Upsalquitch River in New Brunswick Canada. Ambrose Monell was probably one of the first salmon anglers to intentionally catch Canadian Atlantic salmon on a dry fly.Above: The Pink Lady Palmer a salmon dry fly pattern by George M. La Branche.
La. Branche does the Dee –
In 1925 La Branche made a visit to the Dee in Scotland, invited by the celebrated angler, Mr. A.H. Wood. Wood was curious to see how the Canadian salmon dry fly technique would work on the Dee salmon – Poorly weather and a lack of fresh running fish made things very difficult for La. Branche who did not succeed in landing a salmon that week. But all in all La Branches did actually raise some 20 fish to his salmon dry fly – two of them was hooked but lost. Undoubtedly he would have had fish on the bank had the conditions been somewhat better.
Right: Ambrose & George all dressed up for a day of sport, in what looks to be a 1920’s sports-casual outfit. Anglers with the same fascination for salmon dry fly fishing as you and I.
Read more about these salmon dry fly pioneers
One can only guess on how much different the world of salmon fishing would have looked had their been – fresh water and fish in the Aberdeenshire Dee that jinxed week in 1925..
An early unorthodox salmon dry fly from Allcock
A very unorthodox salmon dry fly from British Allcock dating back to 1938: The Allcock’s aquatic spider – Special thanks for getting details on this fly goes out to Finish fly fishing historian and author Pertti Kanerva. Pertti told us that the Allcock’s Aquatic spider was available in Finnish fly fishing shops since in the 1920s. It was sold in three sizes 5, 10 and 12 – original the flies came in a tin box – later in a box of plastic. Allcock ceased to sell the fly in the early 1970s
Read more about the Allcock Aquatic Spidere here
The Wulff flies 1950
Another couple of decades came to pass when salmon dry fly yet again made the headlines.
With the book, The Atlantic Salmon – published in the late ’50s, author and famous angler Mr Lee Wulff made the salmon dry fly sport popular in North America. In his book, Lee Wulff presented a new line of dry flies named the Wulff series that he and fellow angler Mr Dan Bailey had designed. The flies were big bushy cartoon-like imitations of mayflies and was originally intended for trout fishing – but soon proven to be just the right dry flies for Atlantic salmon. The Wulff series was designed almost 50 years ago – but still today these flies are closely linked with everything concerning salmon dry fly
Tribute to Lee Wulff
Lee Wulff has greatly influenced the fly fishing sport as a whole and salmon dry fly fishing in particular. Without his dedication and profound insight into the world of the Atlantic salmon things like salmon conservation, fly fishing equipment and fishing techniques would have looked much different from what they do today – We recommend reading Lee Wulff’s book: The Atlantic Salmon
Right: A selection of original Lee Wulff Surface Stonefly as described in the 2nd edition of The Atlantic Salmon.
A salmon fly Lee Wulff produced with a cast resin body. Lee Wulff used this cast resin technique on other types of flies for salmon and trout and he even did a do-it-yourself kit for anglers wanting to try the cast resin technique on their own fly patterns.
The Bomber’s 1960
The Bomber dry fly was originally designed as a commotion fly for fishing in the headwaters of the Miramichi River in New Brunswick. It was a Mr Elmer Smith that allegedly tied the first Bomber – Initially, he intending the fly to be fished sub-surface he later thought it to be well suited as a salmon dry fly and had various versions of the fly made. Today the Bomber is the No. one salmon dry fly for most salmon anglers and it is tied in multiple colours and sizes.
The story goes: that Mr Smith got his inspiration to the Bomber fly after seeing a salmon rise to the cigar-butt he had just thrown in the river…
The Bomber: Probably the most versatile salmon dry fly ever made. Here a bright summer fish caught on a white Tube Bomber ™
Fishmadman Tube dry flies 1990
White Tube Bomber ™ a favourite patter among many Scandinavian salmon anglers fishing clear rivers in Norway – made in 3 sizes it will cover the season and all kinds of rivers. See our flies in the E-Shop
In 1979 Lee Wulff wrote in his book Lee Wulff on Flies about his experiments with dry flies and skaters tied on a plastic tube. Lee was intrigued by the possibilities of making flies up of sections thus designing the right size fly at the riverbank – without having to change the size of the hook.
We at Fishmadman took the concept of tube dry flies a bit further and in 1995 we tied the classical Bomber patterns and other salmon dry flies on very thin tubes. With this approach, we created light dry flies with a very different hook-hold than that of the traditional salmon dry fly. Our flies can be fitted with small wide gape hooks with no considerable weight and superior hooking abilities. Our first tube salmon dry fly was the Tube Bomber™ designed for fast flowing waters of big rivers…A big +2 inch salmon dry fly that would have been a very heavy salmon dry fly – if tied on single hooks.
Bombers made for wake-fishing
Left: Most of our Tube Bombers ™ are designed to be fished at dead drift – but we also do a range of Bomber’s tied to be fished as wake flies. Here the Aqua Bomber – especially styled for steelhead rivers like the Babine and Kispiox
The Monster Tube Caddis salmon fly
In the 90’s we also made an imitation of a caddisfly found in great numbers at the rivers we fish in Northern Norway. The Monster Tube Caddis ™ is also tied on our thin hard tube – A salmon dry fly with a fantastic ability to pull big salmon to the top – A must have… in the fly box of any modern salmon angler.
Read about the Monster Tube Caddis in Norwegian
Salmon micro bug flies
Above the Crimson Butt Bug – A favoured pattern among Atlantic Salmon anglers on Newfoundland.
Positioning the dry fly correctly – is a great part of the success of dry fly fishing
A great part of salmon dry fly fishing is positioning the fly – and as it is with the positioning of the wet fly, anglers rely on the salmon to rise and intercept the fly when it passes by the place the salmon hold – Rarely the salmon will move far away from its lie to seize the fly – And a well-positioned fly is needed – We have had a talented 3-D animator to do a film on some of the dynamics behind the positioning of the fly – and we have a newsletter that goes much deeper into the subject fly – positioning and the term Snells`s Window