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The Backstage Pass

A Guide to the Best Atlantic and Pacific Salmon Fly Patterns

May 03, 23

Fly fishing is an exhilarating way to catch this hard-pulling and acrobatic anadromous fish. Salmon are especially feisty when they are fresh from the ocean and can put up an incredible fight on a fly rod.

Salmon comes in various species, so fly selection can vary based on location and if you are targeting Atlantic or Pacific salmon. This article includes both Atlantic and Pacific salmon flies.

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Salmon flies
are generally colorful and designed to imitate squid, shrimp, stoneflies, or baitfish. Traditional salmon fly patterns will feature an upturned eye, and they are designed to swing across the current. Many modern flies are designed for single-hand rod techniques, like the Dolly Llama or egg-sucking leech.

General Overview

Various techniques are used when fishing for salmon, and the gear varies greatly depending on whether you are spey-fishing or using single-hand rods. If you plan on chasing King and Silver Pacific salmon species a 9-10wt rod will be the best rod to stop the harder fighting fish. But if you plan on fishing for smaller Atlantic or Pacific salmon a 7-8wt rod will be the right match.

Spey fishing is also a popular and effective salmon fishing method but requires completely different gear. Plan on using a 7-10wt spey rod depending on how you plan to fish and what species you are after. Before your trip, inquire about the best gear for the species of salmon you're targeting and the river.

The flies vary greatly, and hundreds of options for fly patterns work for salmon. There are topwater poppers for Silver, Pinks, and Chum, as well as traditional and modern streamer patterns. Essentially the fly needs to be bright, and the goal is to trigger a strike. Salmon do not feed much when they enter freshwater, so a bright fly is an ideal attention-getter.

Here are some of the most productive and universal salmon patterns to know before you go on your next trip.

Yellow Dog’s Top 10 Pacific Salmon Flies

  1. Dolly Llama
    The Dolly Llama is a great streamer for both salmon and trout fishing, so it is a must when heading to Alaska. This large streamer is effective both swinging or stripping when casting for salmon. They also come in a variety of colors and size options.

    #2-1/0: Black/Purple, Fuchsia/White, Fuchsia/Blue, Black/White
  1. Egg Sucking Leech
    The Egg Sucking Leech is the number one fly to bring to Alaska or any Pacific salmon fishery. It is a tried and tested pattern that is guaranteed to catch salmon and trout wherever salmon are spawning. They come in a variety of styles in order to either increase or decrease the weight. Make sure to add this leech as a firm addition to the fly box.

    #6-2/0: Purple, Black, Pink, Brown, Black/Chartreuse
  1. Foam Top
    Every fly angler relishes the chance to catch large fish on topwater flies and the Foam Top is a popper that elicits violent swipes from Silver salmon. Silvers are especially liable to strike a popper when it is stripped through calmer shallower backwaters.

    #1/0: Pink
  1. Alaskabou
    The Alaskabou is a simplistic fly that works extremely well for Alaskan Salmon. The materials of the fly allow it to swim and pulse in the water. The Alaskabou works well for spey anglers as it has an upturned hook adept to swing through currents.

    #1/0, 4-6: Popsicle, Volcano, Blue Moon
  1. Mark’s Goblin
    The Goblin does not imitate anything in particular but it is an extremely useful fly for anadromous fish. Salmon and steelhead both crush this fly and it can be used across many river systems.

    #4: Blue/black, Copper/black, Purple/black
  1. Bunny Leech
    Leech patterns are a staple for fly anglers during the Pacific salmon spawn. During the spawn leeches are prevalent in the water and salmon will swipe at them to protect their eggs. They also serve as reaction patterns when they are used in bright coloration.

    #4-8: Black, White, Pink, Purple, Red
  1. Clouser Minnow
    The Clouser Minnow in bright colors can be effective Pacific salmon flies. They are a classic baitfish pattern that are especially useful when targeting fresh salmon. Fishing this fly on the swing or stripping the fly can produce big fish.

    #2: Pink/White, White, Black/White
  1. Jerry’s Wake Maker
    The Wake Maker is a gurgler-type surface fly intended to catch silver salmon on the surface. The added legs increase the profile and movement of the fly and the stinger hook helps ensure that you don’t miss any hook sets.

    #4: Pink, Black/Chartreuse
  1. The Kriller
    The Kriller is an aquatic snack for Pacific salmon species. This pattern is tied in vivid colors and the shrimp-like profile gives the fly a persuasive presentation.

    #2: Red, Chartreuse, Pink, Orange
  1. Hareball Leech
    The Hareball leech is another phenomenal pattern for targeting Pacific salmon. Silver, king, and chum salmon love this fly in pink or purple, and it is also an effective trout pattern to hook aggressive rainbows and char.

    #1/0, 4: Fuschia/Pink, Chartreuse/Black, White, White/Chartreuse, Pink/Red

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon share many traits with Pacific salmon but are found in different oceans Atlantic salmon have the ability to survive the spawning stage of their life. Therefore, they can grow to extremely large sizes.

The flies and gear used for Atlantic salmon typically feature spey rods and traditionally salmon flies. While it is possible to use a single-hand rod, many anglers opt for a spey to cast farther and more efficiently. Traditional salmon flies have many variations. After all, some were developed hundreds of years ago, and many anglers have sought to improve on traditional patterns.

Here is a list of salmon fly patterns to target Atlantic Salmon.

Top 6 Atlantic Salmon Flies

  1. Bomber
    The bomber salmon and steelhead flies are made with a deer hair body and hackle. When anglers swing bombers they float high in the water column and are primarily used for Atlantic Salmon. They can also be dead drifted. Bomber-style flies come in an assortment of colors, sizes, and variations.

    #2-8: Blue, White, Black, Orange/White
  1. Red Frances
    The Red Frances is a fantastic, dynamic spey pattern to keep in the box. It functions well in any water conditions and is a confidence pattern for those who routinely fish for Atlantic salmon.
  1. Ally's Cascade Shrimp
    The Cascade Shrimp is an extremely versatile salmon fly pattern and can catch fish in variable water conditions. Different variations, like the conehead and tube, allow the fly to sink quicker and fish faster deeper water.

  1. Green Machine
    The Green Machine was designed for salmon fishing in Eastern Canada and was originally tied in a Bomber style. It is fished in a similar way, by swinging the fly through the water close to the surface.

    #10-6: Green
  1. Sunray Shadow
    The Sunray Shadow is a simple, minimalist fly for Atlantic Salmon that is a heavy favorite for many anglers. It is fished traditionally by casting down and across or it can be fished by casting upstream. It is a quintessential fly to bring on an Atlantic Salmon fishing trip.

    #2: Black/Yellow, Black/White, Black/Orange

Where to Go

Yellow Dog offers various trip locations in pursuit of Pacific Salmon in Alaska, Canada, and Russia, as well as Atlantic Salmon trips in Canada and Iceland.

You can also expect to find world-class trout fishing in destinations that feature salmon. Flyfish for monster rainbows and grayling in Alaska or brown trout and Arctic Char in the rugged scenery of Iceland.

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