Riffling Hitch is a technique that is entwined in the world of dry fly fishing and for that matter also wake-fly fishing.
We would like to separate it from both fishing forms and give it status as a unique sport.
Riffling Hitch is a form of fly-fishing centred around the fly movement on the surface and often very little commotion is needed to get full attention from the fish it originally was designed to catch: the Atlantic Salmon.
For the angler pursuing Atlantic salmon, the Riffling Hitch technique would probably best be described as a quite sport with lightly dressed flies that make a diminutive wake in the surface. Overdo the wake or commotion feature and it may actually scare the fish more than it will tempt them.
The riffling hitch fly works great on many rivers in the Nothern Hemisphere. It is not always predictable at what time the hitch fly is most efficient, but as soon as insects are visible by the river bank – then there will be a good chance that the hitch technique could be up and running – Here a small clear tube fly – The V-FLY silver tippet...seen from the Salmons point of view
Riffling Hitch: Not dry fly nor wake-fly
What does the Riffling Hitch fly represent ?
An adult salmon grabbing a drifting insect in the surface or a small nymph-like wet fly below the surface is a part of the salmon life that easily could be explained with the experience it has had as parr in the river – Experiences that is part of a mutual genetic memory that Atlantic salmon has built on for 100 million years.
But what about the Riffling Hitch fly – what does this odd fly represent?
We know that the parr of the Atlantic salmon is one of the most if not the most surface orientated hunters of the Salmonidae family. Various terrestrial’s like beetles, spiders, and crane flies along with water insects like Stoneflies, Mayflies and Caddisfly may be on the menu card.
Left: Partly dissolve land and water insects – taken from the stomach of an Atlantic salmon in Northern Norway – Some salmon do eat during their stay in the river! …and for some reason, particularly those inhabiting the rivers in the far North of Norway – Something biologist Mr. M Johanesen from University of Tromsø, Norway has made a study on Read more
Caddisfly a historic snack
The Caddisfly is an insect of importance to the juvenile salmon and trout – it will periodically frequent the river systems and trail forth and back on the water surface laying eggs – doing so they will make a fine V-wake behind them. The caddisfly also leaves tracks on the surface when they try to leave the water to become fully developed insects. Even though we can’t be conclusive about what the riffling hitch flies represent – we know that caddisfly patterns like our Monster Tube Caddis and small Riffling Hitch flies are very efficient When caddisfly insects are abundant at the river – in times of caddisfly hatches adult salmon will also be more eager to rise to other floating fly patterns – one could say that the abundance of insects spur a greater awareness in adult salmon entering the river.
It would be naïve to accredit the success of particular flies or fishing methods like riffling hitch to insect life as we see it today – Hunting skills and levels of curiosity with various species of fish could very well have been formed 10´s of millions of years ago when rivers and insect life might have looked different from now.
Photo: A small caddisfly locked in time and space in this piece of amber from the Eocene epoch, lasting from about 56 to 34 million years ago – The caddisfly insect is found fossilized in rock dating even further back – to The Triassic about 250 to 200 million years ago – It could be neat to believe that the success with the Riffling Hitch techniques was linked with the life and behaviour of the caddisfly.
Adult caddisfly fluttering across the river surface – And a caddisfly pupa that just has left the casing trying to get to safety on dry land. Dangerous moments in the life of the Caddis – and maybe it is this particular behaviour of the caddisfly insect that makes the riffling hitch technique so efficient – the insect trying to leave the water
Shimmering material on hitch flies attract fresh running salmon
There is no doubt that shimmering and twinkling material has a great effect on Atlantic salmon this effect is also very prominent with riffling hitch flies, something we have seen with various flies we have used over the years. It is like the combination of clear tubing and iridescent material makes fresh running salmon hit the fly. It could be that the small hitch flies resemble small fleeing baitfish f.o sandeels or small juvenile herrings like these two found in the stomach of a freshly caught salmon. See our separate page on what salmon eat in the sea
Read more about our thoughts and ideas on iridescent and shimmering material in flies here
Tiny fleeing baitfish - is that what the hitch fly resembles?
Here the very effective Hitchman fly available in the Fishmadman shop – A clear tube fly with small iridescent features. A perfect combination for fresh running salmon
Fresh from the sea …87 cm (34 1/4 inch) This Atlantic Salmon…did not hesitate one second when it took the tiny Hitchman riffling hitch fly (This series of iridescent tube hitch flies will be avaliable in the Fishmadman shop from 2020)
During dusk the fish had moved out of the main stream into 20 inches of slow water and fly had to be worked (fished with added speed) to gain the needed hitch effect.
Hitching in fishing history
Riffling Hitch as a fishing technique arose during almost a century of fly fishing traditions. Allegedly the method was developed as a coincidence by Newfoundland anglers who in the beginning of 20th century would have recycled damaged gut-eye flies discarded by English visitors …
Flies were recycled by tying them directly to the leaders using a series of hitches… Evidently, that would have made the flies trail in the surface – creating that all-important V-shaped wake
Victorian salmon fly The Beauly Snow fly – with an eye of twisted gut. Allegedly the Riffling Hitch method was developed as a coincidence when anglers from Portland Creek in Newfoundland started re-using discarded gut-eye flies
Flies were recycled by tying them directly to the leaders using a series of hitches… Evidently, that would have made the flies trail in the surface
During the 1940’s Lee Wulff saw local salmon anglers at the Portland Creek in Newfoundland using the Riffling Hitch technique or riveling hitch as it also is called by the Portland Creekers. Through his life as an outdoor journalist, he popularized the Riffling Hitch sport. Still today it is a favored sport on many Canadian salmon rivers and accounts for thousands of fish being caught every year.
Portland Creek - the cradle of the riffling hitch technique
Fly tied to the tippet the traditional Portland way – Here done on one of our special Riffling Hitch Blue Charm flies – Fly is attached with a normal grinner knot…then a double hitch is tied to the head of the fly…When tying flies for riffling hitch fishing remember to make enough room in front of the head of the fly to be able to make the double hitch.
See our many riffling hitch hook flies in the Fishmadman shop
Hitch flies the European way
Also, the UK and Scandinavian anglers enjoy the fruit of the Canadian coincidence, but where anglers in Canada will work the Riffling Hitch the traditional Portland way with hitched knots and flies tied on single or double hooks – Scandinavian and UK anglers will use a small tube fly with a hole in the body. The hole or holes will either be on the side or as on our V-FLY: in the center of the belly.
Read more about Riffling Hitch know How and the Portland Hitch Knot
1976 the earliest mentioning of riffling hitch flies tied on a tube
It is probably in an issue of the UK fishing magazine Trout & Salmon from May 1976 that the angling society learns about the very first riffling hitch fly tied on a tube.
It is probably in an issue of the UK fishing magazine Trout & Salmon from May 1976 that the angling society learns about the very first riffling hitch fly tied on a tube. The author Mr. Geoffrey Hopton mention how to add a hole to the side of the tube to make the tube go to the surface.
The Trout & Salmon story from 1976 does sadley enough not show any photos of the very earlie tube-hitch fly but the text decribe it in detail how it is made and a small b & w illustration showes the principal of the design. Please take the time to read this fine article on surface fishing for salmon…Find article here
Special thanks go out too long time riffling hitch angler Mr. Martin Stansfeld for helping us find this historic piece of data. Martin is also the proude owner of the Kinnaber beat on the North Esk River in Angus Scotland. A great beat for fishing the riffling hitch fly
The Trout & Salmon story from 1976 does sadley enough not show any photos of the very earlie tube-hitch fly but the text decribe it in detail how it is made and a small b & w illustration showes the principal of the design.
1980´s Derek Knowles Yellow Dolly Fly - One of the first riffling hitch tube flies
Mr. Derek Knowles was one of the first anglers who deliberately used plastic tubing to tie hitch flies on – Derek Knowles both used his tiny tube flies – waking across the river… but also fished his flies at deaddrift
In a chapter in Hugh Falkus book: Salmon Fishing from 1984 and later in the book; Salmon on a Dry Fly from 1987 by Mr Knowles, European anglers learn a new approach to salmon fishing, with tiny floating flies fish across the surface.
Right: The Yellow Dolly fly from the 1980´s – From the hands Mr Knowles. one of the grandfathers of the riffling hitch tube flies European anglers use today.
1988 Mr. Crawford Little writes about the riffling hitch tube fly with a hole in the side
English salmon guide and author Mr. Crawford Little who in his book: Success with Salmon from 1988, was one of the first anglers to published an example of the special tube that would pull to the surface – A tube that would have the leader inserted through the side or belly of the tube as opposed to the conventional way where the tube was inserted through the front of the tube.
Crawford Little used the analogy between the technique of ottering a rowing boat in a river and the way one could build a tube fly that would pull to the surface
Crawford Little Success with salmon hitch tube fly Mr. Crawford Little used the analogy between the technique of ottering a rowing boat in a river and the way one could build a tube fly that would pull to the surface. Ottering is best described as the way one can force an object to cut away from you by pulling from the side of the object. Here it is trolling anglers using a so called: Sideplaner or planer board to pull plugs and bait away from the boat.
Here the popular Munroe Killer on a tiny Riffling Hitch tube. This fly is made with holes in both sides. This version can be used from left and right bank of the river – using either left or right side hole on the fly.
Hole in the side or in the belly of the riffling hitch tube fly?
We have a highly technical page explaining some of the aquadynamic aspects of building the ultimate hitch tube flies …Take me to this nerdy page.
Riffle hitch and waking fly - tricks and inspiration
Salmon flies are not equally good to use as Riffling Hitch flies ! There will be fly patterns that work better than other
Use thin hair! We have through the years noticed how Riffling Hitch flies tied with squirrels hair has a particular alluring ability… The best hair is to be found on tails from small or young squirrels, we, therefore, recommend you hand-pick the squirrel tails for your fly tying – or buy them from us.
If you tie your Riffling Hitch patterns on a single or double hook you should leave enough room in front of the hook so you will be able to fit in the hitch knots.
Riffling Hitch in high & brown river
Fishing a tiny fly on the surface during periods of a rising river going muddy – might not be the first thing that springs to mind… never the less… Riffling Hitch can be an extremely efficient technique under such circumstances. Fish will be traveling close to the bank and surface… keep the fly on a short line – work yourself downstream with short casts and a rod held high. Be ready for a pounding heart when Mr. salmon comes hammering out of the surface. In case you hook up on such a short-line – strike immediately
The Riffling hitch fly will fish well in many of the same places you normally would want to fish with a sub-fly – But a small hitched fly will also fish slow water, which could be otherwise very difficult to fish. Broken water like this small run is in my book the best kind of hitch water – the take can almost invisible to that of cascades of water as the salmon hit the fly.
Shallow rivers is normally prime rivers for the riffling hitch technique – but the depth of water is not a bar for the riffling hitch technique and big fish will readily rise from the depth to intercept a micro riffling hitch fly
Longwing version of the Riffling Hitch V-FLY ™ with a shiny body…May look like nothing on a turbulent river – but will be seen by salmon that will pluck it out of the surface in much the same way as the trout feeding on drifting insects. Generally, riffling hitch flies are small lightly dressed flies equal to # 10 – 12 wet flies
The late Riffling Hitch angler, Author and Chairman of NASF (National Atlantic Salmon Fund) Mr. Orri Vigfússon also tied his Riffling Hitch flies on small pieces of tube here a tiny black and blue version from Orri´s fly box
If you consider going to Island remember to bring small riffling hitch tubes – dressed sparsely like this one – seen to the right
To see two of the magnificent rivers Orri fished go to Angling Club Strengur
Hitch water on Island
See the large selection of Riffling Hitch flies we have in our online-shop