Wednesday, September 28, 2011


A handful of Wulffs; Grey, White and Royal

It seems as if there are more varieties of Wulffs than a fly fisherman could shake a stick at, however, it all started with the Grey Wulff. Tied to imitate the Isonychia mayfly, fly fishing and tying legend Lee Wulff realized how valuable this fly could be for Atlantic salmon fishing. The Grey, White and Royal Wulffs are the grandparents of the Wulff family of flies. Of all of the Wulffs in use for salmon fishing, it seems as if the White Wulff has best stood the test of time. Believe it or not, Lee Wulff used a 1/0 White Wulff that he nicknamed "the seagull". I have no idea where one would find hackle large enough to tie such a fly!

Below are the instructions for tying the Wulff series of flies, given by the man himself. The instructions were originally published in the United Fly Tyers of Boston, MA Bulletin (issue #68). Give it a try sometime. It is a bit different than the modern method and is quite a challenge!

The original Wulff series, tied by Lee Wulff

“In tying a Wulff dry fly I still prefer to use bucktail, the original material, although calfʼs tail is somewhat easier to use since it doesnʼt take the extra time to match up the hair ends and and is just about as effective. Tying them in my fingers, my first step is to pick up the hook and start the dinging [attaching thread to hook] with a piece of thread long enough to tie the fly. For these flies the thread should be fairly strong as it takes a firm pressure and a small wall of thread around the base of the wings to hold them in position.

I hold the eye of the hook between the nails of thumb and first finger of the left hand, doing the winding of the thread with my right. When the shank is wound I can either hold the thread in place by pressure between thumb and finger below the eye of the fly, or take a couple of half-hitches to hold the thread in place.

Next I cover the wrapped shank with lacquer. I like to feel that the flies I tie will stay together for catching a lot of fish and so want the solid body permanence lacquer gives as well as the security against twisting. I use unwaxed thread as waxing prevents the lacquer from penetrating into the thread. The tail is cut to length and wrapped to the shank. I like a good thick tail to hold up the heavy end of the hook and having the bucktail run the length of the shank [1X long hooks preferred] starts building up the body as well as making the tail more secure.

Again the thread is clamped between the left thumb and finger, or the head of the fly may be put between my lips to keep the thread from unwinding while I pick up the Angora wool, or roll rabbitʼs fur around the thread to make the body. Normally, I use wool as itʼs easier to handle and, seemingly, just as acceptable to the fish. I wind the body from head to tail and back again, shaping it into a natural insect form, and winding over it with thread near the head.

The fly at this stage is either held between the lips or the thread is given two half-hitches to hold it while I cut the bucktail for the wings. I cut it long and then pull out the longer hairs and reset them until all
the natural ends are approximately even and the hair is matched up. Then itʼs cut to length which is about 1/8 inch longer than the wings should normally be.

The hair is placed, facing forward, at the right place at the head of the body. It is wrapped tightly with several turns of the thread about 1/8 of an inch or less behind the winding. Then the hairs are lifted and thread is wound in front of the vertical hair until it stands upright and can be split by winding around the shank and a figure eight or two. The butt ends of the hair, protruding behind the first windings, tend to give a natural humpbacked look when the fly is finished.

Next, two saddle hackles are set in with two winds of thread. They face forward, on top of the hook, their bare butts fitting in between the rising wings. The fly, in all this tying, is still held between the nails of the left thumb and forefinger. A big drop or two of lacquer is then put on the base of the wings to penetrate well and set everything up when it dries. While it is still wet the two hackles are wound. The first wind is through the top between the wings, then two or three winds behind the wings and a wind back through between the wings. The tip is gripped between finger and thumb to hold it until ready to tie off. The second hackle is wound entirely in front of the wings and its tip secured along with that of the first hackle. Now the final wind or two at the head, three half-hitches to secure things, and a drop of lacquer goes at the head and the place where the tail joins the body to make everything secure.” 

-Lee Wulff

Tidal Pool grilse taken on a #6 White Wulff

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Blue Flies

Top to bottom: Blue Bomber; Big Intervale Blue; Smurf Variation

Recently, I read an online article by the late Len Rich. The article was about how and why he created the Big Intervale Blue. While autumn may be the prettiest time of year on the eastern seaboard, the October angler must deal with the annoyance of fallen leaves. At least consciously, it never occurred to me to try a cool colored fly to stand out against all the warm colors floating downriver. A couple of Octobers ago, I hooked a salmon on the Priest, an all white fly. Maybe that fly was extra visible at that time of year? This season, I will try blue and white, as the colors will contrast with the leaves, as well as with each other. I've had luck with high contrast flies just before dark, so I hope these flies can serve dual purposes.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Excitement on the Cains River

Hooper Pool-Cains River, NB

I usually fish Canada in the fall, but I decided to go up in July this season. I have a few stories to tell, but the final day of this trip was a unique one for me. The Cains is best known as a supreme river for autumn salmon. My friend Marc had some intel that a fresh run of fish was entering the river. Folks at the fly shop told us, "I dunno, it's a little early for the Cains..." We might have been foolish to continue with our plan, what with fish being caught all over the Miramichi system. Something drew us to the Cains and thank goodness it did! 

We hit the the meat of the summer grilse run in the Cains. I think we missed a lot of fish because they seemed to be tearing right through the pool, radars set to upstream. Despite all the hit and runs, I still managed to hook three fish, while rolling at least a dozen others. The water was rising, which is not good for the take, but there were so many fish coming through, we still managed to get pulls each time through the pool. There were three other anglers there and everyone caught fish that day. 

I experienced a first which, at least to me, seems like a total oddity...

I had just hooked and lost a grilse above the hot spot of the pool. The fish took a #6 Shady Lady, but spit it out while airborne. As I reached the hot spot, another grilse rose for my Shady Lady. I let the swing terminate and cast it again, throwing an upstream mend in the line to slow down the drift. This time, TWO grilse rolled on the fly! I have learned to stay calm while working a potential taker, but I could feel my heart beat a little faster when that second fish rolled. 

I let the swing finish and I rested the two grilse while I tied on my #10 Sugerman Shrimp. I cast and let the fly swing briskly through the pod of grilse. No dice...I threw it again, this time slowing down the swing. Almost immediately, a grilse leaped out of the water when the fly passed over him. A couple seconds later, a second fish rolled for the passing fly. A second after after that, a THIRD grilse rolled and then grabbed the fly! All three fish rose in different directions. My heart was really beating now! I had a fresh fish on, but seeing three fish rise in one swing almost unnerved me. Around the time the fish was hooked, it began to pour...

Fish on!

After a spirited fight, I landed the grilse and Marc snapped a picture. The fish was squirming and I wanted one more pic, just in case. Unfortunately for me, after removing the fly from his mouth, the grilse wiggled from my grasp and fell back into the river. He quickly sped off, but swam the wrong a giant crescent-shaped arc, then beached himself! A self-beaching, unhooked salmon was another first for me. We got a better pic and quickly released him. He splashed water into my face as he made his second getaway, this time successfully. 

Grilse #3 on swing-Photo shoot, take 2

From the rise of the first grilse, to the second release of the grilse that was finally hooked, I will never forget that series of events. Part of the reason I love Atlantic salmon fishing is the utter unpredictability of it. Of course, most of the time is spent NOT hooking fish. That much is very predictable, especially in North America. When one finally decides to take, damn near anything can happen. I think the mystery is what attracts me the most. 

This trip to the Cains has been on my mind lately, as I just finished tying a box of flies for a customer's upcoming first Atlantic salmon trip. He will be fishing the Cains in early October. If he experiences even a fraction of the memorable events I witnessed that day in July, I'm sure he'll be hooked for life, too. 

Cains River Fly Box - Autumn 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Favorite Flies for the Naugatuck River

Clockwise from top left: Same Thing Murray,
Sugerman Shrimp, Mickey Finn, Claret Shrimp

That's right, it's almost time to fish for those dirty water brutes again. These are my four favorite flies for Naugatuck River broodstock Atlantic salmon fishing. The Mickey Finn (#4-#6) works well for me while there are still leaves on the trees. Once the leaves fall, I see more action on the Same Thing Murray(#4-#8) or the Sugerman Shrimp (#1/0-#6). I find the Claret Shrimp (#2-#6) works well in the last hour of daylight. Maybe it's the high contrast between the front hackle and the dark body?

Honorable mention goes to Ally's Shrimp. The trout like them, too. I didn't hook a Naugy salmon on one last season, but I caught a good sized holdover brown with a big kype.

Honorable, honorable mention goes to the Sunray Shadow, which seems to be a good fish locator, and the Butterfly with a red butt (which I caught a Naugy salmon on my first day of fishing with a two-handed rod).

UPDATE - 9/4/2013: Since originally posting this, my tastes have changed a bit. The Mickey Finn and the Same Thing Murray are still at the top of the heap, no doubt. For some reason, I do less and less with the Sugerman Shrimp every season (for CT broodstock's still my favorite fly for wild salmon). The Claret Shrimp has moved down to honorable mention. Moving up the list are the Sunray Shadow and the L.T.Special. Ally's Shrimp is a solid fly and I always have some with me. Some fles are hotter than others certain years, but the Mickey, Murray and Sunray have become my mainstays.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Orange Parson

Orange Parson 1/0

The Orange Parson is a fly from Dr. T.E. Pryce-Tannat's 1914 classic "How to Dress Salmon Flies." It's a variation on the old Irish Parson series of flies. I'm a sucker for the color orange and, aesthetically, this is my all-time favorite classic salmon fly. The orange feathers in the wing and throat are from the rare Cock-of-the-Rock. I used subs for this fly. I have some of the real thing, but you'd have to be crazy to use those feathers on a fly which will be (hopefully) covered in salmon spit! I have yet to hook a salmon on an Orange Parson, but I hope to very soon. It looks like it would make a great fly for high and/or dirty water.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sugerman Shrimp

Sugerman Shrimp #2 Double

     To open this blog, I'd like to post my all-time favorite salmon fly, the Sugerman Shrimp. This fly was created by Stan Sugerman for fishing in New Brunswick, Canada. My buddy Doug showed me how to tie it before my first salmon fishing trip. It's a deadly fly in all sizes. My favorite is a #10, tied on a double hook. My first salmon hooked took this fly, my first salmon landed took this fly, my largest salmon took this fly and the last salmon I hooked took this fly, as well as some others in between!

Sugerman on a #8 Daiichi single

Sugerman Shrimp

Tip: Oval silver tinsel or wire
Tail: Golden pheasant breast feather
Rear Body: Fluorescent green floss, ribbed with oval silver tinsel or wire
Mid-Body Hackle: Fluorescent green hen
Front Body: Black floss, ribbed with oval silver tinsel or wire
Front Hackle: Black hen
Head: Black