Last September I was fishing for salmon on the Tulchan “A” beat of the River Spey.
It was a real please and privilege to meet Head Ghillie John Anderson. John has spent 40 years fine tuning his art on the river Spey. A man at one with nature, the river, and salmon. He has a deeper sense of understanding, than just catching fish.
John also looks after the “Kings Hut”. A small traditional fishing hut on the left bank of the Spey, accessible only by boat. A Mecca to anyone interested in classic river Spey salmon flies. I’m saying no more than that, to give away anything else, would spoil the surprise.
I was fishing with Pete and Emma Tyjas, and earlier that morning, Pete had had a brief encounter with a salmon, that sadly didn’t stick. “What fly Pete?” I asked. “A Lady Caroline”. I liked the look of it, and Pete kindly gave me one out of his box. Later that day, I had a salmon on briefly, on the same fly. This on a day when conditions were challenging with low water and bright light.
Later in the main fishing hut with John, a precious 30 minutes listening to John talking about the traditional Spey Salmon Fly patterns, and showing me examples of flies he had tied. I was hooked.
Classic river Spey Salmon Flies
We went through patterns including, The Lord March, Miss Grant, Logie, Jimmy, Countess of Seafield, Jeannie, Vivienne, Glen Lauren, Green Queen, and Lady Caroline. It was mesmerising to see the different patterns, and learn when to fish them. They are simple and timeless patterns.
If you’re interested in tying a Lady Caroline, check out this video by Davie McPhail.
John still fishes these classic patterns on the Spey and described what size and combination worked at differing water levels and conditions. It was fascinating.
As guides, we are always looking to experiment and embrace new techniques. I think sometimes it pays to look backwards. I can be highly effective to embrace the tried and tested traditional techniques that built folklore and history on these rivers. Flies that have bent rods for generations.
Tying River Spey and Dee traditional Classic salmon Flies
Such was my interest in these classic flies, that we decided to get tower and tie some up. Sourcing the materials was problematic, and many of the feathers used in these patterns are now prohibited or from protected species of birds. There are of course synthetic substitutes. Traditionally these flies were tied on heavy long shank single iron hooks, and in keeping with this process, it’s about finding a modern equivalent. We are in the process of sourcing materials, and tying our own Spey Fly patterns. I really do see that these have huge value and fish catching ability.
I asked John what would be a good source to study these fly tying materials, and he pointed us in the direction of two really excellent books.
“Spey Flies, by Bob Veverka” and Spey Flies and Dee Flies, Their history and Construction, by John Shewey.
I would conclude by this. There is something truly magical about fishing with Classic Scottish Fly Patterns. I know these are used throughout the world to great effect. Imagine the inventiveness, at the craft, the history behind each fly pattern. Imagine the green heart and split cane rods, that would have cast these flies, the silk lines, the Tweed, waxed cotton and sound of an old brass reel as a River Spey salmon pulls away on a run. As I write this, I cannot verbalise what it is about this type of angling heritage that is so special. You either get it…or not.
Enjoy your salmon fishing and given them a try. Tight Lines
Author Stewart Collingswood