Best Salmon Flies – Fly Selection Guide

best salmon flies

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Fly fishing for salmon is a captivating blend of knowledge, skill, and a sprinkle of luck. You could be a master of casting, an expert in reading rivers, and possess an uncanny knack for achieving the perfect drift, but it all comes to naught if your fly doesn’t entice the salmon to bite.

That’s where having the best salmon flies in your fly box comes into play. Let’s dive into the world of salmon flies and uncover the top patterns that should always grace your fly box.

Best Salmon Flies

Cascade Fly

cascade fly

The Cascade fly pattern is a world-class salmon lure, a timeless classic in the arena of fly fishing. Its versatility is commendable, proving effective on a range of salmon species, from chinook in Alaska to steelhead, and even trout fishing in Oregon. It’s a potent weapon against Atlantic salmon as well.

Designed on a size 6-12 double or treble hook, the cascade fly features an orange head, black body, and an orange tail with a glint of silver flash or tinsel. This pattern, which mimics a shrimp/baitfish, is equally effective in high or low water conditions. For optimal results, fish this fly pattern on a swing or with a strip.

Egg Fly – The Glo Bug

Egg Fly The Glo Bug

The Glo Bug fly is a replica of an egg drifting down the river. When used in the right season, this fly can deliver excep tional results, making it one of the go-to flies for various salmon species in Alaska, including king, sockeye, dolly, chum, pink, and silver (coho) salmon.

This pattern comes in a vibrant array of colors, from pink to orange, blue, and green. Don’t shy away from bold colors, especially if you’re tying your own flies, and use a size 10-14 hook. Fish these egg flies on a natural dead drift upstream, letting them float on the surface or sinking them with a split shot.

Hex Nymph Fly

Hex Nymph Fly

The Hex nymph is a proven winner when fishing in the mid-west around rivers that flow out of the Great Lakes. It is particularly effective in Michigan, where it successfully imitates a Hex nymph that hatches from mid-June to mid-July, enticing pink, silver, sockeye, and king salmon.

The pattern, tied on a size 10-12 hook, has a greyish body with a bright green head. Fish them on a natural upstream drift, akin to a regular nymph for trout, and add some split shot if needed.

Ally Shrimp Fly

Ally Shrimp Fly

The Ally Shrimp fly, a classic pattern that closely resembles a shrimp, is an orange fly with an orange head and tail, accented with a touch of black and red on the body. It is one of the most effective salmon fly patterns for Atlantic salmon but proves equally successful for other species like chum, sockeye, silver salmon, and even trout. This fly showcases versatility and is adaptable to all types of rivers.

This pattern, usually tied on a size 4-10 hook, should be fished on a swing or with a strip for the best chances of landing a salmon. It’s a strikingly bright fly, with larger sizes suitable for high/murky waters and smaller patterns designed for low/clear water conditions.

Spey Fly

Spey Fly

Named after the Spey river in Scotland, the Spey fly is a top performer for Atlantic salmon, especially in deeper rivers experiencing spate conditions. However, it can also be used effectively in shallower waters when tied in smaller sizes. It’s also a good choice for steelhead and other salmon species like dolly or sockeye.

Spey flies are predominantly black, featuring a large wing with a hint of silver flash and red. They are usually tied on a size 4-10 hook, and it’s best to fish them on the swing with a sinking tip or some split-shot to attract a salmon.

Stoats Tail Fly

Stoats Tail Fly

The Stoats Tail fly is an exceptional choice when salmon fishing in skinny water. Its low profile and dark colors, predominantly black with a hint of yellow and silver flash, make the fly subtly effective in shallow rivers, as it doesn’t startle the salmon.

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 level is low.

Red Francis

red francis

The Red Francis fly is an age-old salmon lure that enjoys global recognition. It is particularly effective in Iceland but has proven its worth in various parts of the world. This fly comes in all colors and sizes, from red, black, green, blue to pink, and can be tied on a tube or double hook. When tying, add some weight to the head and make the tails long and ostentatious.

There’s a difference of opinion among anglers regarding this fly. Some believe that salmon are attracted to these flies because they resemble shrimps, while others hold that salmon despise these flies and bite them out of annoyance. Either way, these salmon flies work.

It’s wise to have a few of these flies in your fly box in a variety of colors and sizes, so you can match the water quality and level depending on the season. Give them a try on your fly rod for salmon, at least once in each pool, and swing or strip them in.

Dirty Hoh Fly

Dirty Hoh Fly

The Dirty Hoh fly might not be the most glamorous salmon fly, but it could be your secret weapon when targeting king salmon. It’s a large and bold salmon fly featuring dark colors, usually tied on a size 0 or 1 hook.

This fly is versatile and can be used irrespective of the water quality, whether high/low, dirty/clear. It performs best when fished with a strip or a swing and is one of the most effective salmon flies to trigger a bite.

The Executioner

The Executioner

The Executioner is another top-tier salmon fly to use when the water levels are down, and visibility is high. Its pattern is similar to the Stoats Tail, featuring dull colors and a flashy midsection. If you’re planning on tying it, be spartan with material usage and use a size 6-10 double hook. You could also use a tube to create a unique version if you wish.

These flies are particularly effective on Atlantic salmon rivers, but they can be used anywhere. They are designed to be swung or stripped on your rod and are a crucial addition to every salmon fly box.



The Woolybugger is a versatile fly that works wonders on a range of species from chum salmon to trout, steelhead, bass, and even pike. These salmon fly patterns are large, furry, and usually feature weighted cones or dumbbell eyes to sink them into the fish zone. You can tie them on a size 2-8 hook, but the bigger, the better with these salmon flies.

These patterns are usually black but can also be green and even pink. Fish them when the water is high or dirty on a strip or swing. They are also highly effective for sea trout and are an essential addition to every salmon fly box.

Tube Flies

tube flies

Tube salmon flies are a broad category 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 a breeze, and the tubes protect them from damage from the sharp teeth of salmon, thereby extending the flies’ longevity.

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

Having the best salmon flies at your disposal is only half the battle. Choosing the right fly to match the water you’re fishing is the other half, and it’s crucial to your fly fishing success.

Matching Your Fly To The Water

Free Salmon Fishing Tips

Here’s a free tip that an old gilly in Scotland taught me about picking the right flies/patterns for each fishing condition, and it works like a charm.

The trick lies in 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 deterred by it like they might a large fly.

When the water is high, pick a larger size like a size 4, so the fish get a chance to see it amidst all the 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 deter the fish from biting.

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

Variety Is King

When you fly fish for salmon, you want an assortment of flies in every color and size. It’s also a good idea to keep changing them while fishing every pool.

Salmon are peculiar 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 bite 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 you 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 visit the local fly shop. The staff 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 mimic a variety of aquatic insects, crustaceans, and bait fish that salmon feed on. They can also 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 your fly rod for salmon largely depends on the size and type of salmon you are fishing for. Generally, a 9-foot, 8-weight rod is a solid choice for salmon fishing.

Is fly fishing better for salmon?

Fly fishing is an excellent method to catch salmon, albeit it can be challenging. It 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, consider the type of salmon you are fishing for, the water conditions, and the type of food salmon are feeding on. 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 found it engaging and informative. Now, you should be equipped with all the flies and tips you need to successfully target salmon on your local river and abroad.

The real key to catching salmon, in my experience, is a combination of perseverance and timing. Ensure the weather, river levels, and the number of fish in the river all align in your favor. Then, employ the best flies and techniques, and you should stand a good chance of success.

Thank you once again for reading, and good luck with your salmon fishing. Until next time, tight lines.

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