Salmon flies are probably the most overestimated part of our dear passion. Nevertheless they also belong to the most charming part – and no matter in what shape or size – they are always loaded with our deepest hopes and expectations.
On the the Ponoi and Umba we have seen guests doing brilliantly using just one single fly pattern all week. On the other hand we have also seen people using a great variety of flies, doing equally well. An easy, and also very sound, conclusion could be that it doesn’t really matter, or in other words ”it’s not the fly but the fisherman”. The worst consequence of that would be if you think that the fly is completely unimportant. Sure you will do okay if you chuck out a Red Butt in a suitable size for the time of season, but wouldn’t it be just a little bit boring? If not, don’t read any further, and keep up the good work.
It is true that a fresh run fish, that has entered the pool recently, will be very cooperative and grab or chase almost any fly that is presented decently. But even on the best salmon rivers you are only facing this situation in a fraction of your fishing-time. As times goes by, the fish becomes harder to catch and you will have to shape up the appealing factors of your efforts. In that context, having just one fly pattern in your box, must be considered a major drawback.
Tuning your choice.
How far you want to go in respect of fine-tuning your choice of fly is up to you, but there are a few rules to consider.
The obvious rule of thumb is that the colder, deeper, faster and darker the water, the bigger and more colorful the fly should be. Another well known rule is to use a dark fly in dark weather and visa versa. I’m convinced that it is a good starting point, but judging from the thousands of Ponoi salmons caught on black flies in bright sunshine, the rule should not keep anyone from experimenting. It is far more interesting to chose a fly that match a typical color or tone in the river. The classic example are the red, humus type rivers, where most fishermen agree that an red/orange fly is a must. The water in Umba river is mostly clear, but there is a tone to it, or more exactly different tones depending on the location and time of season. In June the water has a slightly reddish tone. As the season goes on into July and august, the river gets clearer. At the same time the weed will influence the color, especially in some pools, like Upper Rat, Brads and Home pool. In sunny weather these pools almost glows in a green-yellow transparent way. I think this is a part of the explanation why the Green Highlander is such a successful fly on the Umba. The weed situation carries on into the autumn, though slowly dropping off and in the autumn the water is best described as neutral clear.
When there is a high wind from a northern direction, the water gets colored in a gray-greenish tone. The reason is that the created waves in lake Poncho are stirring up the shallows around the inlet to the Krivetz. Algae and fine silt is thereby washed into the river and creates a slight coloration for usually a few days. A sensible response to this situation is going up a size or two and using more shiny types of flies. A big silver doctor is a good choice – but then again – the Silver Doctor is always a good choice on the Umba ?
Twisting the pool.
Your choice of fly and way to fish it should not only be dictated by the weather- and water-conditions. There are other factors which sometimes count even more. One of them occurs when fishing a pool that has been fished shortly before you. Fish might have been caught and the commotion has either disturbed the pool or maybe just woken up the other residents. In both cases you can rest assured that the salmons have seen the fly before yours and you do wisely in fishing either a different pattern or in a different way, if not both. Sometimes it can be of great help to carry some untraditional patterns in your armory, like the Francis fly or the Lee Wulff surface stonefly etc. Fishing a pool in second or third position you might feel inclined to slow down the speed of your fly, but that is very often the less effective approach. Keep your fly swinging and put your line very much across the river. While we are at it, I would suggest that you rethink your mending-habits. In generally we see a lot of our guest mending automatically after every single cast and very often it is a waste of efforts – at best. We strongly recommend to keep in contact with the fly, instead of slashing the line here and there on the surface, while the fly is drifting downstream. The speed and traveling path of the fly is much better directed by the length and angle in your cast and mending on the water should always be a deliberate action and never an automatic habit ! Fishing a salmon-pool often include a fair deal of long-range casting, but don’t let that fool you. Salmon will very often lie near the bank along eddies in the current or under the roof of a ruffled surface. Make sure that your fly is still on the swing in these places, either by alternating between long and short casts or by mending towards the bank at the end of the swing and then dragging the rod out-ward or stripping in. The keyword is movement as a moving fly is more appealing and will also ensure better hooking.
Fooling the half-hearted.
It sometimes happens that we get a poor take, or just a swirl at the fly from a salmon. Probably this occurs more often than we imagine. It is important to regard these incidents as a message from the fish. They are interested but not convinced. Is the fly to big or to small ? Is it moving to fast or to slow ? Start your ear to ear software and if you work it out you will feel like a little god – until the next salmon fools you !
The following procedure is worth trying when you bump into a finicky fish:
Make your second cast a bit shorter.
Make your 3. cast a bit longer.
Change your fly to a different type (shape and size) and make your 4. cast like your first.
If the salmon has not responded by now you should give him a brake for at least some minutes (ex- smokers can sit down and receive some nasty flash-backs). It is quite important not to stay on the spot hitting the fish with the fly over and over again. Think of your presentation as a swift surprise that catch the salmon off guard and make him curious.
Enough of the lecturing stuff – let ‘s have a look at some of the proven Umba flies.
Kola Peninsular classics: Silver Doctor, Red Butt and Green Highlander must be considered as the classic trio in Russia and they have by far counted for the most salmon landed during the last many years
Clear water and abundance of fresh run fish is the perfect combination for a bright and shiny fly like the Silver Doctor.
Black flies are always deadly and the Red Butt just happens to be the leading pattern in Russia like many other locations. Flies like the Undertaker, Black doctor etc. are closing in, but the good old Red Butt is still roaming on the top.
Scientific experiments have indicated that green and yellow are amongst the most visible colors to salmon. This could be part of the reason why the Green Highlander works so well on the Umba. Another reason could be that the weed in some pools and the tree-lined banks often gives the water a slight green or yellow tone. Matching the tone or color of the water is a well-known and proven trick.
The Francis fly, and especially the black Francis, is the personal favorite of camp manager Steffen Juhl. Judging from the amount and especially the size of the fish that this fly has blessed him with, there is good reason to assume that this fly will hang on the end of his line more often than not in the future. Steffen fishes the Francis very fast and often with a downstream bow in the line. This way the fly will swing right into the face of the fish and he will have to either bite the monster or duck.
Hairy Butt is my own favorite and it was born during my first year as a camp manager on the Umba in 1996. The fly is a conglomeration of proven attractors found in some of the most famous salmonflies. The Hairy Mary and Red Butt are the main role-models, and an extra layer of yellow is thrown into the wing for god measure. Hairy Butt is very often my first choice and I expect it to work under all but the most extreme conditions. It has the ability to trigger of the fresh fish and at the same time the power to make some of the ‘graybacks’ do foolish things. If it makes any sense to talk about “bigfish – flies”, Hairy Butt is definitely one of them. It works both in fast and slow water and I fish it dead still with a big swing and no twitching of the rod, only retrieving steadily in the slowest pools.
So far you have met the Umba trio and a bundle of personal favorites. If you carry these flies in your box you should be well prepared to meet the Umba salmons. However it must be said that one could easily find an alternative handful of flies, that also would be a winning combination. So while you are at it you should consider the following “Umba – killers”:
Getting the goodies
If you do not tie your own flies or if you feel more comfortable with flies dressed up by “Umba-Poffs” you will be happy to know that all the mentioned flies – and probably a few more – are available in the camp-shops on Ponoi and Umba.
Frank Michael Larsen