Atlantic Salmon FAQ- Flies and fly selection

Contributed by Bob Boudreau (copyright)


Unlike trout, the Atlantic Salmon does not feed after it enters fresh water. Trout flies generally imitate a trout's food source which is not the case for salmon. It is quite obvious that when trout are feeding on ants, fishing an ant pattern should prove successful if the fly is presented properly. When the fish are not feeding on the surface you are able to analyze, through various methods, the probable food sources and you can narrow you fly selection to a few different patterns. Salmon anglers do not enjoy the benefit of this logical approach to fly selection. Fly selection for salmon is primarily a learned art with some guiding principles. Patterns can be river, region and/or season specific. A pattern that works well under one set of conditions, may not be productive under others. Variables include water depth, speed, color, temperatures, brightness of day, time of year, how long fish have been in the river etc. Local knowledge from fellow anglers, guides and fisheries officers is invaluable.

There are many theories as to why salmon will take a fly, although no one knows for sure. The theories include:

It is still a mystery why, after hundreds of casts and dozens of flies, a salmon decides to take the next fly.

There are thousands of fly patterns used to fish for the Atlantic Salmon. Some flies have been proven on numerous rivers and throughout the world while others are river specific in terms of their effectiveness. Below is a limited selection of patterns and sizes that have become popular in Atlantic Canada.


Bomber Series - sizes 2,4, 6, 8 on 1X to 3X long hooks
Colors - natural, white, brown, green and orange bodies with various colors of hackle e.g. orange, brown, grizzly etc.

Bug Series - sizes 4,6,8,10
Colors - natural, white, brown, green and orange bodies with various colors of hackle e.g. orange, brown, grizzly etc.

Wulff Series - sizes 2,4,6
Colors - white, grey etc.

Cosseboom (dry) - sizes 2,4,6, 8

MacIntosh - sizes 2,4,6, 8



Sizes for the above are 2,4,6 with 8,10,12 for low water conditions.


Although most of the summer wet flies are also effective in the fall, the following flies are most effective for late run fish. Sizes for the above are 2/0 to 6

Note: In Atlantic Canada fishing for Atlantic Salmon is regulated to flyfishing only with unweighted flies having not more than 2 hooks (single hooks only in Newfoundland).

The detailed fly tying patterns for the above referenced flies can be found in numerous books and magazines as well as various sites on the World Wide Web. Dave Liverman has a collection of Newfoundland patterns archived by Martin Erikson, on whose site you will also find some information on salmon fishing in Sweden.

Fly Selection

Guiding Principles/Rules of Thumb -

Other Issues

  • Water temperature over 70 degrees, difficult to get salmon to take a fly.
  • The longer a salmon has been in the river the less likely he is to take a fly. Fresh fish or those that have recently entered the river are more likely to take a fly.
  • Traditionally the Gaspe region of Quebec uses flies with double hooks. Common wisdom suggests that you land more fish using double hooks but you hook more fish with single hooks. There are exceptions to all of these "rules of thumb" and tying on something different is always worth a try and at times, is the only thing that works. The best source for selecting fly patterns is to talk to an experienced salmon fisherman in the area where you plan to fish. Each area can vary significantly and fly patterns and sizes will vary with water conditions.
    salmon pic
    Contributed by Dave Liverman and many others..
    Any corrections, questions or comments to Dave Liverman