Classic Salmon Flies: An Introduction

If the Catskill dry fly and the Carrie Stevens streamer are considered the princes of trout fishing, then the classic salmon fly is undoubtedly the king of all fly fishing.  Originally tied in Victorian Europe for the pursuit of Salmo salar or Atlantic salmon, king of the salmon family, these gaudy flies have today become an art form.  Tied in their original forms, these flies represent the vast global economy of the 18th century.  Exotic feathers, silks and furs imported into Europe were used to make these flies.  Expert fly tiers could turn out hundreds of flies every year using materials that are today considered rare and expensive and even illegal.  Materials such as seals fur, kori bustard, swan, silk embroidery floss, precious metal tinsels, Golden and Lady Amherst pheasant, chatterer (cotinga cotinga), toucan and macaw feathers were all used to create these brightly colored flies.

Today, the decrease in material availability and the attendant rise in prices have limited the production of these flies to a small group of eccentric artisans.  Some specialty sellers struggle to keep these tiers supplied with all but the most illegal materials.  Often tiers substitute commonly available materials for those that are rare and prohibited.  Today, a fly tier may easily spend hundreds of dollars and tens of hours working on a single fly.  The classic patterns are considered the benchmark for skill and material collecting.

Beyond the classic patterns, many modern tiers push the limits of what may be done with traditional materials.  Modern artistic salmon flies often show traces of their Victorian predecessors, but overwhelmingly present modernistic ideas of proportion, balance and color.

While in the past these flies were swum for fish, today, outside of a few handful of eccentric anglers, these flies are destined for walls and display cases.  Enjoy!

Flies tied by me.

Text and images (c) 2011