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  • Writer's pictureThe Drift Team

Wingin'It with Christopher Krysciak

What Is A Salmon Fly And How To Dress It

A plate from George Kelson's book, "The Salmon Fly". (Photo by Martin Joergensen)

Salmon flies are widely regarded to be some of the most difficult and time intensive flies to tie today. There is reason behind this claim, however, it may not be as daunting as many imagine it to be.

Between Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and a few other European countries fly fishing for salmon has been practiced for centuries now. In that time the rods, rivers and flies too have all evolved greatly. The earliest Scottish and Irish salmon flies recorded were from the late 1400’s. in Norway salmon were targeted for long before this but not on a rod and reel until the British brought the sport to Scandinavia.

Early salmon flies were usually fairly drab, tied with materials that could easily be had by local tyers, turkey, duck, bittern and chicken feathers were all common materials, far from what we usually see in today’s salmon flies. As salmon fishing grew in popularity so did fly tying, numerous fly producers started to pop up and with them they brought all sorts of different exotic materials. Fly fishing was becoming a sport of the rich and fly tyers catered to them by creating patterns specific to each river they fished, adding a certain intellectual aspect to the sport. From there the most famous names in classic fly tying started to spring up, William Blacker, Herbert Maxwell, George Kelson, T.E. Pryce-Tannat, and Major John Traherne were among those few. Each tyer brought something different to the craft with all having different opinions on how best to dress an effective fly.

The most common styles of winging seen today are derived from Kelson and Pryce-Tannat. The four common ‘families’ of winging would be built wings, married wings, feather wings, and mixed wings, all of which create very different looks to flies. A built wing was one of the most common early forms of winging and still creates a wonderful effect. It comprises of smaller married wings overlapping each other, it allows you to create the effect of a large wing with minimal material, ideal for fishing.

A plate showing the "Beaconsfield Fly". (Photo by Chasing Silver)

 A full married wing was first seen later in the game and was popularized by Pryce-Tannat, it requires more materials in the wing and is more difficult to mount, it does look nice to anglers, though may not be as practical to fish as other styles.

This illustration depicts one of Kelson's most famous patterns the "Jock Scott". (Photo from "The Salmon Fly" - George Kelson)

Full feather wing flies were tied by many tyers, however, the most famous are probably the Traherne series. Feather wings are typically very gaudy and on the larger side. They are tied with the wing made of a pair of full feathers and give you a very large profile, they also require a wide gape hook to get the correct balance.

"Nelly Bly" Tied by Christopher Krysciak

The other commonly seen style of fly is the mixed wing, every tier had a different way of assembling them but what they have in common is that the individual fibres are separated and not married at all, they are typically comprised in different layers of materials. These wings allow for great colour blending effects and don’t require A grade materials as they don’t show through as easily.

"Mixed Wings" can be tied in many different ways but all produce similar results. (Photo from "Jones’s Guide to Norway")

Most flies do share some of their characteristics regardless of origin. The anatomy of salmon flies usually comprises of just a few different components in the body work. Meaning that once you get all of the basic body work steps down you can use those same techniques on other flies as well.

Sign up for a fly tying class at Drift Outfitters where we’ll go over everything you need to know to tie great looking flies. Tying flies can be intimidating and there is a lot of unfamiliar territory in it for beginners, with a little practice though it can be a very rewarding and fun experience!

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