A professional Scottish salmon fishing guide's career based insight into what colours of salmon fly work best and when to use them.
Salmon fly colour selection to match the differeng water and temperature conditions of the season has been one of the most intriquing and fascinating thought processes of all for me as a professional salmon guide. I need to start by saying the following though that salmon will only ever take the fly you're using so my views are maybe a bit biased however what I'm about to state I have complete and utter career based faith in when it comes to the salmon fly colours that will consistently obtain sub-surface investigations from our amazing silvery underworld!
Let's start in the cold often high water of early Spring when the rivers are registering a foot or two over the Summer low level. This time of year for me as a former River Tay boatman once tuned 'daily' into effective harling swings of a long range tube fly would be either the old 'Orange & Yellow' on dull clouded days or a 'Black & Yellow' on brighter light days. The books say 'a bright fly on a bright day' and 'a dark fly on a dull day' but that formula never made logical sense to me as I always want my fly to stand out in the water so a bright fly in dull conditions (like the the Jock's Shrimp accompanying video) and a dark fly in bright conditions looks much better in the water to my eye and made much more logical fishing sense to me and to the many salmon I've caught!
Through late Spring and early Summer I'd be more focussed on flies that include a combination of orange, black and yellow like my highly successful 'Copperass' pattern which accounted for at least 50% of the salmon I've caught in my professional career. This fly was named & tied with a copper tinsel body usually always sealed in for longevity (and for added salmon eye detection) with a double coat of UV varnish. The reason for the copper body was due to my late River Tay mentor Willie 'the ghillie' Laird who always picked the fly or lure for me to use as a boy and either would never be without the inclusion of copper! He swore by copper in all lures or flies I fished and he was speaking from the benefit of 50 years of professional River Tay salmon fishing experience and the experience of his father who served on the Tay for 50 years prior to Willie's career.
Through late Summer and into the Autumn months I'd switch my fly to mainly include the colours of orange, red & dark brown but always with a couple of strands of copper holographic tinsel tied into the wing to keep my late friend on board! My 'Jock's Shrimp' salmon fly pattern was the fly I used with complete faith whether tied on a small single, double or a large weighted tube fly for late Autumn colder water deep swim work. On bright low clear water Summer days the Silver Stoat with its subtle black wing and silver body is a very credible inclusion in my fly box and in the fly boxes of many other highly experienced salmon fishers too.
The one colour I've noticed that's effective throughout the year for salmon on a fly or lure is bright or ruby red. It's not a colour I tend to fish on its own unless on a pot bellied pig fished down deep when resident Summer salmon are being difficult but at the back end I've taken multiple salmon on this colour of lure or fly when other anglers have touched nothing on other fly/lure colours. On the Tay at the back end a deep fished devon minnow in black & red was very hard to better for those who like to spin or a big 'Jock's Shrimp' or 'Editor' (red winged version) would be equally as effective. On numerous ocassions I recall multiple fish on red lures or flies during the Autumn months on busy Tay beats when all other anglers completely blanked. I've also seen a bright red lure or fly perform well in the Spring and one memory I recall vividly was a brace of scale perfect 20 pounders from the River Teith during March.
The above information I have complete faith in for salmon take 'consistency' although sometimes it pays to think outside the box especially when you're faced with a pool of older resident salmon that have had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them! When you're in a situation like that get into shock tactic mode and pick a colour and fly that they'll not be expecting. A fluorescent purple wing with a pearl green and red ribbed body with a flourescent orange hackle was always my 'stirrer upper' when the going was tough and often the reaction from old educated resisdent salmon was instantaneous! If you want to learn how to present & swim a salmon fly effectively find a professional salmon guide to show you exactly how to fish for salmon in Scotland.