Those who target king salmon on the fly often have endured through much pain in their fishing careers. Throwing big heavy rods and fast sinking tips is usually key to success and sore arms. However the new lighter, high density fibre composite, graphite rods have made life easier on the river while casting endless hours waiting for the saltwater wrecking balls to arrive. Last summer my favourite rod was the Sage Igniter 9140. The lifting power of this rod is truly impressive. It comes in both 4 and 6 piece (for those that travel for kings the 6 is awesome to pack for the road). Before that, I was using the 10130-4 Sage One, which for a 13ft 10wt rod was is relatively short, lightweight and powerful. It launches tight, effortless loops even with the nastiest tips and flies.
No matter what rod set up you decide to use, our preference is intermediate skagit compact heads, 12 feet of T-17, and a mono running line. lighter sink tips are a must for the shallow heads of runs, along shore lines, and in tail outs, so we usually have 2 separate rods rigged to easily switch when necessary.
Although swinging flies for King salmon can be very difficult in northern BC, if fresh fish are coming by in numbers, you will have some success. Here is our Top 6 list for king flies. Keep in mind we highly recommend using 1/0 hooks for kings so if you are going to buy flies from a fly shop you typically have to buy patterns where you can upsize the hook that comes with it, or go with tubes.
#1 – Scott Howells Squidro sea food series is hard to beat for hot fresh kings rolling off a tide. It is sparse enough that it sinks like a rock, and has enough bells and whistles on it that is gets the attention of fish quickly. If you are buying these from the store you will want to switch the hooks out to a 1/0. We have the most luck on the pink/orange, and the chartreuse and blue.
#2 – No Epic list is complete without the reverse marabou. Once again this fly really works for Kings. The key is to not over-dress it because the eyes have to be able to sink the fly quickly. Best colours are your standard UV pink, cerise, peach, chartreuse, blue and black.
#3 Hartwick’s Flashtail Tube – Chartreuse/Blue #2 is a great pattern for fresh kings pushing through. The colours light up like a neon sign in the water and the fish take notice. It is about 3 inches long, and has the perfect mix of flash and movement. This fly looks great in the box but when you dip it in the water you will really understand why it’s a proven winner. For our fast, deep BC runs we like to tie them with more weight and less material than the store bought ones.
#4 – Scott Howell does it again with the guide intruder. A blue collar work horse for any king fisherman. It is quick and easy to tie, and is not over dressed like it’s going to a prom. This fly is sparse enough to get down fast and stay down. In deep, slow water a lot of patterns can be motionless but this guy still gets after it down there. Underwater it challenges every fish it sees to a fight. Black, chartreuse, and pink should be in your box.
#5 – Brian Silveys tail light. Long fly on a short tube gives this fly excellent motion in the water. Although many complain of the hassle getting the loop just right. Too long and it pipes the fish too deep, and too short it turns into an inchworm. It does take some getting used to if you want to get it right every time, but this fly is worth the effort. Our best luck has come on the black one with either pink or chartreuse tipped tail.
#6 – Usually I have the comet here at number six because you always need a super low water fly just in case. Some of our tiny coastal rivers, or even on Kodiak Island when it dries up, you will need to go small. A couple times this fly has saved our trips under bad water conditions so I have to give this fly some props. The Magic Winter orange. We had incredibly low water last a few summers ago in some of our coastal rivers and the fish were weary of everything the second they entered the river. For a while our only success was at first light and last light using this fly. A comet is typically more practical but this fly saved us times no, so it found its way to our list. Just make sure you carry at least one ultra low water fly. Comets and popsicle have proven solid performers over the years. Low water is very difficult fishing for kings, like vampires, they truly hate the sun!
If you are tying your own flies it is worth making some colour combos that are rarely tied commercially. Patterns with chartreuse and king fisher blue are slowly becoming more popular and for good reason. Another colour pattern that works very well and is rarely fished is yellow and orange (sparse). The key is to not over dress these flies so they actually sink. You will find nearly all store bought King flies are just simply over dressed. If you want to get a fly that both sinks, and swims well, you often need to hit the vice.