There are many patterns of salmon flies and my top ten selection comes from experience; you gain tremendous confidence if you have hooked a salmon or two on a particular pattern. You will disagree with some, if not all of my choices, but your choice will be based on your experiences, not mine. If you have yet to catch your first Scottish salmon, then believe me, the flies mentioned here will do the job extremely well.
WILLlE GUNN: the archetypal Scottish salmon fly; a staple pattern with many versions of its basic dressing but each version has most of the standard attributes including: a subtle blend of colour in the 'wing', dark contrast in the body and a glowing glint from the rib, which are all crucial elements in any successful pattern. The Willie Gunn is tied as a single hook or, using double or treble hooks, with long wings or short wings, on waddingtons and on tubes. It is a truly versatile fly and an essential addition to your fly box. Use versions with vibrant yellow and orange colours in the hair wing mix when the water is coloured, and smaller, more lightly-dressed versions when the river is low and clear. One of the best variants is the Golden Willie Gunn, which simply screams and begs for every salmon to take it!
ALLY'S SHRIMP: a hugely successful pattern, Alastair Gowan's shrimp styled fly is a cracker. It must take more salmon than any other Scottish pattern, but it is used more than any other. There is a very good reason for its universal use - it is truly effective! Ally's Shrimp is dressed on tubes, waddingtons and standard irons. But in my experience, the standard version used on doubles or trebles, catches the greatest amount of salmon. When we were boys, Alastair Gowan fished with me for finnock and sea trout on the banks of the Tay. This fly is an absolute must when you fish for salmon in Scotland.
SILVER WILKINSON: a fancy, shiny pattern, which is particularly useful when the water is cloudy or coloured. It is in this situation that you benefit from the bright blue and magenta colours and the iridescent tinsel that gleams in the murky water. This pattern has a long history; first tied in the late 1850s by its originator, the Reverend P. S. Wilkinson, it was used on the Tweed with great effect, and still is 150 years later.
STOAT'S TAIL: after many years of fishing, I have come to the conclusion that some of the variants of fly dressings perform better than the originals. I believe this to be the case with the Stoat's Tail. Although, the original Stoat's Tail catches many fine salmon and grilse, I have found that the Jungle Silver Stoat's Tail, with jungle cock cheeks, is a much more effective salmon fly. The addition of jungle cock cheeks adds a further dimension, which increases the chance of a decent catch; the vibrant silver body almost guarantees a bite from a freshly-run grilse. An added bonus is that sea trout queue up to take it, which makes it an absolute essential for summertime river excursions.
BLUE CHARM: a more elegant, yet simple salmon fly would be hard to find. Using this fly enables consistent catches of summer salmon, especially in low water conditions. Like most patterns it is tied in a multitude of dressings, but the best is the original, which is tied on lightweight irons and is to be fished with finesse and sensitivity. The Blue Charm is an old design, and was particularly popular when A. H. E. Wood extolled its many virtues in relation to his development of 'greased line' fishing on the Aberdeenshire Dee in the 1920s. Since then, it has held pole position as a standard and trusted pattern.
GARRY DOG: invented by James Wright of the famous Sprouston Beat on the Tweed, who allegedly named it after his Golden Retriever 'Garry'. This pattern has embedded itself firmly into Scottish salmon fishing and is often used as a coloured water pattern, due to the contrasting red and yellow on the wing. The tying was one of the first to break away from fully-dressed patterns in favour of the slimmer and longer lasting hair-wing style. Small Garry Dogs also attract sea trout when the fly is tied on low-water irons. It is a versatile and effective pattern and a worthy addition to your collection.
MUNRO KILLER: this very successful Speyside pattern derived from Munro's tackle shop in Aberlour, on the banks of the River Spey - was originally developed for use on the lovely Spey. Similarly to other salmon patterns, the Munro Killer has an attractive contrasting colour scheme, including the almost mandatory yellow underwing, which aids visibility in coloured water. Not everyone uses a dropper when fishing for salmon; some believe that it causes more problems than it catches fish - but there can be no better pattern to try than a small Munro when using a dropper.
HAIRY MARY: a grand summer pattern, especially in finer dressings, the Hairy swims through pools of salmon and draws many a cold-eyed glance, sometimes followed by a great surging run. Is it the hair-wing translucency, the gold-over-black contrast, or the cobalt blue throat hackle, which gives this pattern its life and resonance? Who knows? What is important is that the fly works, and does so consistently, in all Scottish rivers.
JOCK SCOTT: possibly the best known salmon fly in the world and emanating from Victorian times, when exotic plumage was 'busked' onto large irons, this pattern originated on the high seas. The pattern was fathered by John Scott, better known locally as Jock, who was retained as a ghillie by Lord Scott of Bemersyde, on the River Tweed. Lord Scott and his ghillie Jock were enduring a rough passage over the North Sea to Norway, and passed the time tying salmon flies for use in the great Scandinavian rivers. During the height of the storm, the fly now known as Jock Scott came into being and has enjoyed great success wherever it is offered to Atlantic salmon. This pattern does not suffer from over-tight prescription, almost anything goes in its tying recipe, although the yellow and black body provides lively contrast and the glowing mix of wing materials offers vibrant translucency. A grand fly.
TEMPLEDOG: sharing much more with the fully dressed flies of the past, the Templedog is not strictly a pattern in itself. Rather, it is a style of tying, a kind of 'concept' fly. Many different materials may be included, and the result tied on to single irons, or, as is more popular at present, on tubes. These tube flies are often weighted quite heavily in order to reach deep lying fish, and this is when they score best. The main feature of most Templedogs is the richness of their dressing; they glide through the pool like brilliant sparkling gems, emitting colourful hues designed to entice the most wary of salmon. The Templedog is not Scottish, it in fact comes from Scandinavia and is attributed to Swedish fly-tyer Hakan Norling. A truly effective design.