Fly Fishing for Salmon: Selection and Techniques for Best Flies

There is a lot to learn and get right to be successful in fly fishing and that goes for salmon fishing as well. You have to master your cast, learn how to read a river, get your drift right, fish at the right depth, and so on. Today we’ll discuss the best salmon flies!

But, even if you make every cast perfectly, it’s not going to matter one bit if the salmon isn’t interested in eating your fly, which is why your need the best salmon flies in your fly box to have any chance of success. Here are some must salmon fly patterns that should always be in your fly box.

Cascade Fly

cascade fly

The cascade fly pattern is one of the best salmon flies in the world and is an all-around classic in fly fishing for salmon. The cascade fly pattern works for all kinds of salmon species from chinook in Alaska to steelhead and oregon trout fishing. It’s one of the most effective flies for Atlantic salmon too.

The cascade pattern is usually tied on a size 6-12 double or treble hook and features an orange head, black body, and an orange tail with a bit of silver flash or tinsel. The pattern can be fished in high or low water and is an imitation of a shrimp/baitfish.

This fly pattern should be fished on a swing or with a strip.

Egg Fly – The Glo Bug

Egg Fly The Glo Bug

The Glo Bug is a pattern designed to imitate an egg that is floating down the rivers. At the right time of the season, this fly can be deadly and is one of the best flies to use in Alaska for a range of salmon species including king salmon, sockeye salmon, dolly, chum, pink, and silver (coho) salmon.

The egg pattern comes in a range of colorful options from pink to orange, blue, and green. Be bold with your colors, especially if fly tying your own, and use a size 10-14 hook.

You should fish these egg flies on a natural dead drift upstream. You can let them float on the surface or sink them with a split shot.

Hex Nymph Fly

Hex Nymph Fly

The Hex nymph is one of the best salmon flies to use when fishing in the mid-west around rivers that run out of the Great Lakes, and anglers find they are particularly successful in Michigan. They imitate a Hex nymph which hatches in mid-June to mid-July and the pink, silver, sockeye, and king salmon go nuts for them.

The pattern has a greyish body with a bright green head and is usually tied on a size 10-12 hook. They are best fished on a natural upstream drift like a normal nymph for trout and add some split shot if you need to.

Ally Shrimp Fly

Ally Shrimp Fly

The Ally fly pattern is a classic and looks just like a shrimp. It’s pretty much an orange fly with an orange head and tail, with a touch of black and red on the body. It’s of the best salmon fly patterns for Atlantic salmon but it’ll also work for other species like chum, sockeye, and silver salmon, and even trout. It’s one of the best flies in terms of versatility as well and can be used on all types of rivers.

This pattern is usually tied on a size 4-10 hook and you should be fishing it on a swing or with a strip for the best chances to catch a salmon.

It’s quite a bright fly and the larger sizes suit high/murky water and the smaller patterns are for low/clear water.

Spey Fly

Spey Fly

The Spey fly gets its name from the Spey river in Scotland and is one of the best salmon flies for Atlantic salmon, particularly in deeper rivers that are in spate but in a smaller size are great for fishing in shallower waters too. Spey flies also work for steelhead and other salmon species too like a dolly or sockeye.

These flies are black with a large wing and feature a touch of silver flash and red. They are usually tied on a size 4-10 hook and you’re best fishing them on the swing with a sinking tip or with some split-shot to catch a salmon.

Stoats Tail Fly

Stoats Tail Fly

The stoats tail is one of the best salmon flies when salmon fishing in skinny water. The pattern doesn’t use much material, has a low profile, and dark colors, mostly black with a touch of yellow and silver flash. This is what makes the fly so effective in shallow rivers, as it’s subtle and doesn’t put the salmon off.

This salmon fly is tied on a size 6-12 hook and should be swung or stripped across the river mid-season when the water is low.

Red Francis

red francis

The Red Francis fly is another classic salmon fly and is one of the best salmon flies the world over. It is particularly effective in Iceland but works everywhere. The fly comes in all colors and in every size/version you can think of including red, black, green, blue, and even pink.

You can tie it on a tube, double hook, and when tying make sure to add some weight to the head and make the tails long and annoying. Anglers around the world have differing opinions of this fly. Some say salmon love these flies as it looks a bit like shrimps, others say salmon hate the flies and eat them because they are so annoying. Either way, these salmon flies work.

You should have a few of them in your fly boxes in a range of colors and sizes so you can match the water quality and level depending on the season. Put them on your fly rod for salmon, at least once in each pool when salmon fishing and swing or strip them in.

Dirty Hoh Fly

Dirty Hoh Fly

This is one of the dirtiest salmon flies around but it’s something you’ll want on the end of your line when targeting king salmon. It’s a big and bold salmon fly that has dark colors and is usually on a size 0 or 1 hook.

Use this salmon fly no matter the water quality, high/low, dirty/clear, this salmon fly does the job. It works best when fishing it with a strip or a swing and is one of the best salmon flies to force a bite with.

The Executioner

The Executioner

This is another one of the best salmon flies to use when the water levels are down and it’s super clear. It’s a similar pattern to the stoats tail with dull, not very bright colors and a flashy midsection. If you’re planning on tieing it, be sparse when it comes to material, use a size 6-10 double hook. You could also use a tube to make a different version if you like.

These salmon flies are particularly effective patterns on Atlantic salmon rivers but you could use them anywhere. The patterns are designed to be swung or stripped on your rod and are a must for every salmon fly box.



This is a fly that works for all species from chum salmon to trout, steelhead, bass, and even pike. These salmon patterns are big, furry, and usually, have weighted cones or dumbbell eyes to sink them into the fish zone. You can tie them on a size 2-8 hook but bigger is better with these salmon flies.

These patterns are usually black but can also be green and even pink. You should fish them when the water is high or dirty on a strip of swing. They are also deadly for sea trout too and a must for every salmon fly box.

Tube Flies

tube flies

Tube salmon flies are a broad type of flies and it is best to have a few tube patterns in your box. Tubes, especially hitched tubes, are the best salmon flies to use in Iceland for Atlantic Salmon. They can be tied in any of the patterns we have mentioned above and range in sizes from 0-12.

Anglers find tying these salmon flies easy, and the tubes protect them from damage from the sharp teeth of salmon so the flies last longer.

They are great for salmon fishing in deep or shallow water, just change the size/color depending on the water you’re fly fishing on.

Free Salmon Fishing Tips

Free Salmon Fishing Tips

Having the best salmon flies with you is one thing, but picking the right fly to match the water you’re fishing is another thing entirely and is key to your fly fishing success.

Matching Your Fly To The Water

I’m going to share a tip and old gilly in Scotland taught me in regards to picking the right flies/patterns for the end of your line for each occasion, for free..and it works too.

It’s all about matching the color and size of your patterns with the water level and clarity. When the water is low, the best salmon flies to use are small patterns like a size 12. Fish will see the fly but not be put off it like they might a large fly.

When the water is high, pick a larger size like a size 4 so the fish have a chance of seeing it in all the volume and turbulence rushing past them.

If the water is dirty bright flies in pink, orange, and red are best as the bright colors give the fish the best chance of seeing the flies. If the water is clear, darker colored flies like black or olive are far more subtle and less likely to turn the fish off from eating.

Now you can mix and match the water conditions with your fly choices.

  • Low and dirty waters = small bright flies.
  • High and clear waters = large dark flies.
  • Low and clear waters = small dark flies.
  • High and dirty waters = large colorful flies.

Variety Is King

When you fly fish for salmon, you want a lot of flies in every color and size as mentioned above and you want to keep changing them while fishing every pool.

Salmon are weird fish and they don’t eat in rivers but attack the fly out of habit. You never know when they are going to turn on and start feeding and you never really know what fly they are going to prefer.

When fishing a pool or run, I’d suggest starting with a small and subtle fly and going down the pool once. If this doesn’t work up the size and color on each run-through to try and provoke a bit until you have used the largest and brightest fly in the box. Repeat this on every pool or run you fish until you have hooked a salmon and know what fly is working best.

I know this goes against the formula above, but if your mix and match them together your chances of success should soar.

Visit the local fly shop

No matter where you’re fly fishing for salmon, it always pays to go to the local shop for flies. The staff in there will know what the fish like at each time of year, tie their own versions of flies for their local fish, and give you the best insight into what the fish are doing at the moment. You might even pick up a few fly-tying tips while you’re there.


What do salmon flies imitate?

Salmon flies are designed to imitate a variety of aquatic insects, crustaceans, and bait fish that salmon feed on. They can also be used to create movement and disturbance in the water that can draw the attention of salmon.

What size fly rod do I need for salmon?

The size of fly rod you need for salmon depends on the size and type of salmon you are fishing for. Generally, a 9-foot, 8-weight rod is a good choice for salmon fishing.

Is fly fishing better for salmon?

Fly fishing is a great way to catch salmon, but it can be challenging. Fly fishing requires a lot of skill and patience. For novice fishermen, using traditional tackle can be an easier way to target salmon.

How do you choose salmon flies?

When choosing salmon flies, you should consider the type of salmon you are fishing for, the water conditions, and the type of food salmon are feeding on. You should also consider the size and color of the flies and the action of the fly.

What scents attract salmon?

Salmon are attracted to a variety of scents, including shrimp, crawfish, and baitfish. Other scents that can be used to attract salmon include salmon eggs, cheese, and anise oil.

Flying Out

Flying Out

Thanks for reading my article, I hope you enjoyed it. You should now be armed with all the flies and tips you need to successfully target salmon on your local river and abroad too.

The real key to catching salmon in my experiencing is perseverance and timing. Make sure the weather, river levels, and the number of fish in the river are all in your favor, and then use the best flies and techniques and you should be in with a good chance.

Thanks again for reading and good luck with your salmon fishing, until next time, tight lines.

Photo of author

Jamie Melvin

Growing up fly fishing on trout streams in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fly fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles, there aren't many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.

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