Got Weight? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

Got Weight?

Topher Browne
04-07-2003, 10:22 PM
With a little more time on my hands, I thought I would attempt a more complete reply to questions raised by Kush, Riveraddict, and Norseman regarding weight in flies for Atlantic salmon.

As noted, Quebec is the only province in Canada where weight in the fly is legal for Atlantic salmon. The ten-dollar question is whether weight added to the fly does one any good at all (at least where Salar is concerned)?

In most circumstances that I encounter in Eastern Canada, I believe weight added to the fly in the form of lead wire, lead eyes, brass tubes, etc., is counterproductive even where its use is allowed. Quebec (where weight in the fly is legal) is primarily a summer fishery: the peak of the run is generally late June and early July. For most rivers (the Matane may be an exception), the bulk of the run is in by mid-August with, of course, a few stragglers yet to trickle in.

Atlantic salmon under most conditions are a very surface-oriented fish: in common parlance, they are "looking up" most of the time. There are various reasons for this behavior. Salmon are hunters; they approach and kill their prey, in the manner of many sea-going predators, from below.

As active, fresh-run salmon will travel quite a distance both horizontally AND vertically in the water column to grab a fly, adding weight to the fly may remove that fly from the window in which salmon are tuned to look for prey species. That is not to say that a quick-sinking fly will not work. I prefer, however, a light and lively fly that darts and dances through a salmon's window of opportunity, and stays there for as long as possible.

I make a strong distinction between the taking behavior of summer-run and fall-run Atlantic salmon. Summer-runs seem more likely to 'chase' a fly and will often do so over very great distances. I saw a large cockfish on the York last June that travelled over 20 feet in under a second to grab my buddy Greg Pearson's fly; he took it like midnight lightning.

Fall-run salmon are far more territorial than their summer-run cousins. They are more likely to crunch a fly that invades or 'intrudes' upon their territory. They will follow a fly quite a distance laterally (i.e. horizontally), but seem reluctant to power up through 4-6 feet of water to grab. When they do follow a fly, they do not seem to be chasing it, more like 'escorting' it out of their immediate environment.

There is, of course, crossover behavior between summer-runs and fall-run salmon. As fall-runs (due in part to declining water temperatures and in part to the proximity of spawning) are less likely to grab a surface fly under most conditions, a little weight in the fly may be useful. Keep in mind, however, that in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where the best fall-run salmon rivers are to be found, and it is illegal to add weight of any kind to the fly.

Fall-run Atlantic salmon are much closer in behavior to winter-run steelhead than they are to summer-run salmon. In fact, I call my Fall fishing "steelhead fishing for Atlantic salmon." I do not weight my flies as I want them to 'hover' and remain at the optimal depth for as long as possible; I carry 12-14 interchangeable tips to optimize my search for that depth.

The Maritime rivers of Eastern Canada do not have the push of water throughout the season of the big West Coast rivers. There are no glaciers or snowmelt from 10,000' peaks to help maintain even flows. Under most conditions, weighted flies for Atlantic salmon in Eastern Canada, where legal, are not necessary and may be counterproductive due to the surface orientation of Atlantic salmon.

Tight lines,

Topher Browne

04-08-2003, 06:16 AM
Interesting to read your perspective, TB. I agree with more or less all you say when talking about late spring/summer/early autumn fishing, with water temperatures above about 45F.

But my impression is that your salmon fishing is mostly conducted in such relatively warm water conditions, which isn't the case over here. As I understand it, your season is much shorter than ours. Over here there are rivers in Ireland where the season starts (and fresh fish are caught) on January 1st. There are also rivers in SW England where the season continues, and fresh fish are still caught, well into December. The River Tweed has perhaps the longest season of any single river, opening on Feb 1 and closing on Nov 30.

I suspect, therefore, that we do more fishing in cold water conditions than you. And this is also true in Norway and Russia, where you will encounter what we would regard as 'early spring' conditions in June. It's not all that uncommon in the early part of the season to be fishing in water that is only a few degrees above freezing. In these conditions salmon, like all 'cold blooded' creatures are much more sluggish and there is definitely a need to present your fly slowly and close to the bottom.

I think that the development of fly lines over the last 20 years has changed things a lot. Back then the 'Wetcel 2', with a typical sink rate of a little over 3ips, was regarded as a fast sinking line. And in the high cold water of early spring and late autumn this alone is simply not enough to get down to the fish in many pools. On the lower Tweed in November, for example, people occasionally resorted to 'leadhead' flies which were a brass tube with a drilled .22 bullet fixed to the front. Horrible to cast, and in unscrupulous hands a tool for deliberate foul-hooking, but they did certainly have a legitimate use in high water conditions in certain pools.

With modern fast-sinking lines this sort of heavily weighted fly is now much less necessary. I believe the swimming action of a light fly on a heavy line is much better, whereas a heavy fly can appear lifeless in the water. A heavy fly also increases the risk of getting stuck on the bottom, whereas with a light fly and short leader the line can touch the bottom and the fly will swim a few inches higher. So I would always rather fish a heavy line and light fly than resort to a heavily weighted fly. But there are times and places where weight is still a necessary evil.

I would be interested to know the duration of your season in Canada, and what you would regard as typical water temperatures in that period.

Topher Browne
04-08-2003, 11:16 AM
Dear Gardener,

Thanks for the excellent reply. The salmon season in Quebec runs from June 1-September 30. In New Brunswick, the "bright" season is June 1-October 15 with considerable discussion right now about extending it to October 31.

In Nova Scotia, the season is June 1-October 31. With the exception of 2-3 rivers on the south shore, Nova Scotia has become more of a "back-end" fishery: the majority of the fishing is in the Fall on rivers that flow into the Northumberland Straight.

In Quebec, early season water temperatures are in the mid to upper forties; during the peak of the run (late June/early July), temps are in the mid-fifties.

Miramichi fish seem better adapted to warm water than other strains of salmon. Good fishing often occurs with water temperatures well into the sixties.

Fall fishing in Nova Scotia sees water temperatures in the 42-48 degree range. The best month is October: temps are generally 42-45 at that time.

Richard Waddington viewed a water temperature of 48 degrees as the decisive mark below which he fished a sunk line. Waddington approached salmon below this critical figure almost as a separate species. I'm with you: I think 45 degrees is closer to the watershed temperature.

It is impossible to account for the broad range of salmon behavior in a single post. One must also temper one's remarks with a view towards their possible misinterpretation and potential misapplication.

There is a quiet movement afoot to ban or severely limit the use of sinking lines in Canada (see the current issue of the Atlantic Salmon Journal). The argument is as follows: if weighted flies are illegal (except in Quebec), why not ban sinking lines which allow the fly to be presented at the same depth?

As always, it seems that the misadventures of a ruthless few (i.e. foul-hooking) ultimately define the parameters we all must follow......

Best regards,


Willie Gunn
04-08-2003, 12:11 PM
As well as agreeing with most of what Gardener says(whats new) I think that a weighted fly works well on small rivers with pools that have a heavy flow and deepn short pools. The Findhorn gorge section springs to mind. The fish lie in the heavy water waiting to shoot the falls to the next pool, with a light fly even on a sinking line/tip the fly doesn't get down to the fish. My secret weapon was a yellow Ali Shrimp (the water was the colour of a fine malt) with a lead film below the dressing. Magic.

On larger rivers Ness Spey etc I prefer a unweighted Waddinton even when the water is just above freezing. I use a fast sink tip in these conditions


04-08-2003, 04:22 PM

I see using that dental film I have heard about for fly weight. Have to discuss this with my dentist and see if he will part with some to me. I have been a good customer over the years, letting him max out my dental insurance each year and go on his warm golf trips, etc... He is not a fisherman.

No sinking lines ! I don't think I could continue as a steelhead fisherman. No lead weighted flies or lead on the leader OK but sink tips could not do with out it.

Then I would be going back full time to golf for sure.

PM Out

Willie Gunn
04-08-2003, 04:51 PM
if you are stuck drop me a line (sic) and clear out your pm box.


04-08-2003, 06:31 PM

Yes I will clear it out, must have been 5 people that tried to PM this afternoon, I hope I did not excite to many people.:devil:

Oh well I am a man I can take it.

try again

PM Out

04-08-2003, 09:14 PM
I expected better than that out of YOU! Rather than figuring out how to get your fly down to the fish, give it up????
That's the answer I would expect out of a chorus girl.The answer is surprisingly simple - use a silk line and treat leaders with mud!

Going back to golf??? And what do you do when your scores start to go up? Buy different clubs???Try some other sport???

Most of us look forward to the CHALLENGE of the sport. If it was easy, we would have given it up a long time ago.:tsk_tsk:

What are you going to do with your spare time. You can't tie golf balls for fun. Maybe carve tees??:hehe:

I guess you must be at least 10 years older than me! Mentally, anyway! Especially if "instant gratification" is required!


04-08-2003, 09:38 PM
Topher, Gardener, Malcom, et. al. -

Thanks for the excellent posts. In my years as a die-hard steelhead angler in the pacific northwest, the use of variable density sinktips on hybrid heads (e.g. versitips, but homemade) was the ticket to controlling the depth of the swing and thus I rarely if ever used a weighted fly. I could see the merits when the fly dressings are pronounced enough to warrant 'countermeasures', the intruder for example, but most of my dressings are suitable to be fished on tips and they have been quite successful in soliciting the strike over the last two decades.

Two questions:

1) Gardener, Malcom - is it true that interchangeable sinktips looped onto half of a floating head is rarely used in the UK?

2) Topher - When you mention carrying a broad range of tips for use in the maritimes, are you referring to tips for hybrid lines or tungsten polyleaders to attach to the end of a full floating line?

thanks in advance

Topher Browne
04-08-2003, 10:35 PM
Juro San,

I carry a good whack of tips in the Fall--all Rio Density Compensated 15' tips--to make sure I am able to fine tune my setup to changing conditions.

In the cold water of the Fall, I like to get down a bit but not so far as to run a fly at the precise depth of holding fish. If I start ticking bottom with a fly, I change to a lighter tip.

Two years ago on a Fall trip, I saw others foul-hook a tremendous number of fish. The water was low and to a man, they all had Type V and Type VI integrated 15'-24' sinktips.

It got real ugly.


04-08-2003, 10:38 PM

I just checked Rand McNally- Boston to Matapedia, Quebec, is 563 miles. Interstate all the way to Houlton, Maine. It can't take you more than 11 hours to get there. Fishing in June means- leave your tips at home and come prepared for some of the meanest salmon alive. If your experiences go anything like mine have, be prepared to look at steelhead in a different light. I promise ;)

For goodness sakes, man, just do it. :hehe:


04-09-2003, 12:39 AM
I appreciate your elaboration about weight in flies for Atlantic salmon. It is quite natural to associate weighted flies with "dredging". In my situation however, that is not the case. It takes me 30 - 45 minutes to tie most Intruders. With that kind of investment I am particularly opposed to losing them. The Intruder is a "round" profile fly as opposed to the vertically flat profile projected by many standard ties. This round profile increases surface area, and combined with large size creates a very "full' exposure to river currents. The weight is added to these flies to prevent "lofting" in the flows of the stream, otherwise they would fish at a substantially higher level in the water column than would the business end of one's sinktip or sinking line. My flies are weighted on the order of replicating the same sink rate as the sinktips that I use. I personally dislike rules such as no-weight bans. It seems quite undemocratic when, because of the inappropiate actions of a few people, prohibitive rules are implemented instead of an expansion in enforcement and fines - the law abiding majority ends up getting penalized in the process. Some anglers adapt to such bans by tying flies on overly large hooks to gain sink rate. Personally I cannot subscribe to this approach as in my experience standard salmon irons over 1/0 increases injury/mortality rates by two to fourfold (at least on wild steelhead). What really sucks about such rules is the restriction that they incur upon creativity and exploratory urges in flyfishing. More on this tomorrow.

04-09-2003, 07:09 AM
Gardener, Malcom - is it true that interchangeable sinktips looped onto half of a floating head is rarely used in the UK?

Juro, on the question of tips etc I think this is an area where you are ahead of us. This arises, I suspect, from the different traditions we have. Even 10 years ago sink tip lines were not very widely used over here, and had the reputation of being unbalanced and difficult to cast nicely. Full sinking lines were very much the order of the day, and probably still are for many people. We have, of course, always tended to use double-handed rods for our salmon fishing, which make the use of a full sinking line and heavy fly possible in a way that it is not with a single-hander.

By contrast, I believe the use (or renaissance in use) of the long rod for steelhead is a relatively recent thing over there. You therefore come to it without the historical baggage that encumbers so many of us in this country. I suspect also, (and maybe you will confirm this), that the use of tips was always fairly widespread with single-handed rods where a full sinker was not a practical option. So not only did you approach the ‘quest for depth’ from a different tradition, but also with perhaps a more open mind about how best to achieve it.

An ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude means that many UK based fishermen continue to use double taper lines and full sinkers, just as they have always done and their fathers did before them, and there is a disinclination to innovate. This may also be exacerbated by the exorbitant prices we have to pay for our tackle - a regular gripe of mine - which no doubt encourages us to buy things that are familiar, rather than risk trying something new. So, in answer to your question, I think the use both of tips and of modern line profiles with double handed rods is indeed much less prevalent here than there, though certainly it is on the increase and I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say they are rarely used.

04-09-2003, 07:16 AM
Topher -

I'll have my west-coast tip wallet in my vest... where do we meet for coffee? ;)

Gardener -

Thanks for your thorough response! Re: UK prices - I think you're going to have to come visit us in New England, bring a rod tube ;)

William -

Thank you for the inspiration, but I have already been SO THERE in my mind after talking to Topher at the winter fly show and I will definitely make a pilgrimage to North America's version of A/S mecca this summer, tips or no tips.

CND rods, like all good spey rods, need a good "field testing" :devil:

Thanks, maybe we can hook up (pun intended).

Originally posted by inland

I just checked Rand McNally- Boston to Matapedia, Quebec, is 563 miles. Interstate all the way to Houlton, Maine. It can't take you more than 11 hours to get there. Fishing in June means- leave your tips at home and come prepared for some of the meanest salmon alive. If your experiences go anything like mine have, be prepared to look at steelhead in a different light. I promise ;)

For goodness sakes, man, just do it. :hehe:


Topher Browne
04-09-2003, 11:11 PM

A very interesting point you make about the use of weighted eyes to match the sink rate of the line.

Mikael Frodin, Hakan Norling, and other Scandinavians have successfully experimented with a similar idea: the use of tungsten coneheads of various weights on thin diameter plastic tubes. While they do not tie completely 'in the round' as you do, their patterns are nonetheless very 'full'; they make liberal use of Angel Hair, Flashabou Mirage, and Temple Dog Hair. The wings are often very long: anywhere from 3-6 inches, depending on flows.

Scandinavian rivers, particularly those on the west coast of Central and Northern Norway, may have more in common with West Coast steelhead rivers than they do with the salmon rivers of Eastern Canada. They emanate from similar surroundings and push similar levels of water (where's Per Stadigh?).

It is interesting to me that the most successful fishermen in Scandinavia and the Pacific North West seem to have come to very similar conclusions regarding weight in flies and shooting heads. The shooting head system reigns supreme in Scandinavia. While we continue to debate the merits of long lines vs. short lines, few would dispute the effectiveness of the shooting head system (and their variations) for Winter steelhead or anadromous sink-tip fishing in general.

I have fished the Skagit, Sauk, Stilly, and Sky on two occasions (I met you once at "Schoolhouse Pool," while fishing with "Don Risotto," a.k.a. Don Giuseppe Rossano). I seldom see a river with a push of water like the Skagit in April: she's big. The Restigouche in early June is very similar, but tapers off more quickly than does the Skagit (I have also seen the Skagit in September--still a big river). The largest river in Nova Scotia is the Margaree; after a good rain, the Margaree is about the size of the Kispiox (so I am told by friends who have fished both). I would imagine that the Kispiox is a small river as compared to the Skeena in September/October or the Skagit in April.

It is not surprising to me that different river systems with different rates of flow and different angling challenges result in separate angling solutions. What does surprise me, however, is the similarity of these conclusions across separate continents; they also appear to have been reached with relatively little cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques.

Or have they?


04-10-2003, 10:26 AM
My preference is for a wet fly to sink slightly faster than my line. How fast the fly sinks depends on hook size/wire thickness, sparseness of tie, materials used, and amount of additonal weight (if any). I'll try to match both my fly and sinktip (if any) to the water being fished. I like my fly to be fishing slightly higher in the water column than the steelhead are sitting. That way the fish can see the fly from further away because it's not hidden down in/ or behind the rocks, and it's highlighted against the sky. The fish have a chance to think about taking my fly without having to make the fight or flight decision they might make if my fly was right in their face. If my line and/or fly is below or level with the fish, I'm lining and potentially spooking non-taking fish. This is the same rationale for why surface presentations work so well for summer/fall steelhead: a surface fly is easily seen, but doesn't present an immediate threat. I'm just moving my fly a little closer to fish to deal with colder, murkier water. I seem to use shorter and slower sinking tips than most. The advent of fast sinking tips really seems to have effected wet fly design big time -- nobody thinks too much about how well a fly sinks anymore which I think is a mistake. In pre-sinktip times, fly sink rates were a major consideration for tiers like Jim Pray and Ralph Wahl, and probably every other winter fisher. Nobody ties a real wet fly anymore - just big wiggly streamers.


04-10-2003, 11:52 AM

Since I am currently 0 for 17 using sink tips maybe I should just go all dry fly for GLs steelhead then I can go 0 for 0 and still have the same landing percentage of 000 in the last 12 months.

What do you think ?

Then I can look down on all of the steelheaders using sinking lines and be alone in my own class of GL steelheading elite.

I can just imagine what the GLs steelheaders would do when I show up with my spey rod, double taper floating line, running drys through the runs with 30 degree water temops. Could be a priceless experience, maybe I could start a GLs trend a new level of elitism etc.. I could tell them I am doing research for GLs dry fly steelheading book.


Oh will I will think about it, now have to go think about the content of my 3,000 th post which is imminent.

BTW, the Masters starts today, and so will my golf swing this weekend at the range.

PM Out

Topher Browne
04-10-2003, 12:44 PM

I think 'tradition' in salmon fishing is a double-sided blade: on the one hand, I love the traditional aspects of the sport--the literary history (and Frederick Hill's pet black bird), the subtleties of greased-line technique, a salmon reel with an 'S-curve' handle; on the other hand, 'tradition' can squash innovation.

Ask a seasoned guide on the Cascapedia, Restigouche, or Moisie what is the most significant technical advancement of the last fifty years, and he is likely to scratch his head.

I have long looked to my steelhead brothers on the West Coast, to Scandinavia, and, yes, in many cases, to the Emerald Isles for inspiration........


I'm only 3,000 or so posts behind you, and NOT closing fast!

04-10-2003, 01:34 PM
you ask the guides at our camp on the Restigouche and I'll bet they will tell you its the motor. Now they dont have to pole up and down all the river. And i know they appreciate that.