The Best Flies For Salmon Fishing

angler holding a large king salmon caught with careful consideration on the choice of flies for salmon fishing.
Jay Peck hefts nice Chinook salmon taken on a fly.

The Chinook Salmon Fly Box

In the past when I have discussed king salmon fishing, I’ve talked about reading the water and the presentation of flies – two skills I consider key for successful salmon fishing. However, it is probably time to talk about something a little more interesting-what I look for when it comes to flies for salmon fishing.  I must make a disclaimer that I will be talking in general conditions and situations.

Often fly selections are based on what and how I like to fish and what has proven for me to be successful over the long period of time. Please keep in mind that no matter what I say there’s always a fish or two out there that will make a liar out of me.  I always say no matter what, never stop experimenting.

King Salmon Fly Fishing

Even though all Pacific salmon stop feeding when they enter their rivers, they are still predators, and their predatory instincts are still turned on. This may explain why the best flies for salmon fishing that have a lot of built-in movement. What I am looking for in salmon flies is a fly that will come alive while being fished.

What to Look for in a Salmon Fly

This can easily be achieved through fly design and selection of appropriate fly tying materials. Look for flies tied with soft hackle, marabou and rabbit. All of these materials will easily come alive even in the slowest flowing water.

Woolly Buggers to Catch Salmon

the woolly bugger is an example of a good choice of flies for salmon fishing
The Woolly Bugger belongs in every salmon fly box.

This is why when it comes to flies for salmon fishing, I am a Woolly Bugger fisherman for the most part. The main reason I like these flies is that you cannot fish the flies wrong and they are easy to tie. Other fly patterns that fall into this category are Bunny Leech and Zonkers. These flies work on the salmon’s predatory instincts and their natural aggression.

Bigger Flies Usually Attract More Kings

The larger sizes (e.g. 4 and 6) work best; and with high water flows and fresh run salmon, size 2 leech patterns work really well. You often need a fly big enough to get the salmon’s attention.  Keep fly colors natural, using earth tones such as black, brown, and dark olive. With the fishing pressure and clear water we experience on the Salmon River bright colors are often too much for the salmon. I have seen a size 6 chartreuse Woolly Bugger chase salmon out the back of their pool.

Smaller Flies Need Bright Colors

an example of a good choice of flies for salmon fishing
Traditional small salmon flies work well in low water conditions.

I also use smaller wet flies, or what I refer to as small flies, for salmon fly fishing. These versatile flies can range from classic salmon flies such as a Green Butt Black Bear and Comet style flies to modified trout wet flies. Most of these flies will range in size from size 8 to 4 and are tied on a shorter hook.

This is where we find using flies for salmon fishing with the brighter color flies to be more productive. Another area where these traditional salmon wet flies come in handy is in low water conditions and heavy fishing pressure that we often find while fishing in on the Salmon River.

Stone Fly Nymphs

The next category of flies for salmon fishing are very unique to the Salmon River. Over the last several years the Salmon River aquatic insect numbers have exploded. As a result the Salmon River now has a huge population of stone flies. Most of these stonefly nymphs range from a size 16 to a 12. However there are a significant number of stonefly nymphs that are considerably larger. These bugs range in size from an 8 to 4 and color variations from golden, brown, dark olive to black.

What this means is that when all else fails, I fish a size 6 black stonefly nymph. It’s one of my favorite fallback flies, and in my opinion all fly anglers should carry a stone fly or two in their salmon fly box. We have all seen this situation, the salmon are not moving and they have been sitting in their particular spot for several days. They are not interested in biting anything and will often shy away from whatever is presented to them. Fishing the pocket water with black stonefly nymphs can solve the problem.

An Extra Flourish for King Salmon

The more traditionally tied stonefly nymph patterns that trout fisherman use will work just fine. However, I like my nymph patterns jazzed up a little. Flies tied with some flash and rubber legs have always helped to get good bites. Keep in mind that this fly needs to be fished on a dead drift, and the rubber legs and flash help to give the fly life.

Egg Flies on the River

Egg flies are probably the most commonly used fly pattern on the Salmon River for fishing for Chinook salmon. Egg flies do account for a lot of salmon being caught from early September through late fall. Egg patterns are not one of my more productive fly patterns for fishing for Chinook salmon early in the fall. I find egg flies to be much more productive once the salmon settle in and start to spawn. From my experience, there needs to be a large concentration of eggs drifting around in the river system for egg flies to be productive for salmon.

Keep it Simple

When it comes to the flies themselves it is easy to over-engineer an egg fly. This is where keeping it simple pays off. In the fall I fish two types of egg patterns-Nuclear Roe Bugs and the Estaz eggs. I use three colors:  Oregon cheese, orange, and chartreuse. Use size 8 to 12 for egg flies.

Change Your Fly Based on Behavior

As I’ve said earlier, I find egg patterns to be consistently successful for salmon when there is a lot of spawning activity going on. Male king salmon can get extremely aggressive during spawning time.  When picking I find the best approach is to go after them with large Woolly Buggers and leech patterns. Once the fish start to get fussy, I will switch to stonefly nymphs and egg patterns. This is also the time I am looking for brown trout and steelhead feeding on eggs around the spawning activity. In this situation, definitely fish egg flies.

Other Contenders for King Salmon Fly Fishing Success

The fun stuff — this is where I categorize everything else such as Spey flies and intruders. A few words of advice for picking flies for salmon fishing: first keep your Intruders and Spey flies around 3 to 4 inches long. Although I have had success fishing with Intruders in high water as big as 6 inches long.

Keep the bright fluorescent colors to a minimum when you are choosing which flies for salmon fishing to pack. I’ve had the best success with dark backgrounds and a reasonable mix of a variety of fluorescent colors. The king salmon’s mood and river conditions can, and do, change daily. Once again, never stop experimenting.

Original Article By Jay Peck

About The Author

Jay Peck is a fishing guide on the Lake Ontario tributaries. With 40+ years of fly fishing experience including 30 years as a licensed New York State guide, Jay has been applying his knowledge of the sport and local waters to help anglers in their pursuit of migratory fish, inland trout, and a variety of warm water species. Jay is also an accomplished spey caster and fly tyer. He has developed several fishing techniques and fly patterns for fishing the tributaries and inland trout streams. To learn more, check out Jay’s youtube channel, and get in touch with Jay at

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