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Big Gunns – Looking for the Silver Bullet Fly

I have spent many seasons hunting for that ‘silver bullet’ of a fly that would enthral the Salmon so much that they simply couldn’t resist. This fly would then become my banker upon which one could rely in almost any condition to work its magic and save what would otherwise be a blank day. Well, despite my almost forensic like search, it hasn’t yet presented itself, and the search continues.

I suspect that such a phenomenon doesn’t exist, and actually, despite my enthusiasm to locate this ‘silver bullet’, I might perhaps end up slightly disappointed if I did happen across it, for absolute certainty in fishing would quickly become boring and remove most of the fun associated with our pastime, well certainly with mine. That said, by day 5 of an otherwise blank week of Salmon fishing we could all do with a “something” that enlivens our confidence and puts us that step closer to success. A ‘something’ that might just gives us that edge above the norm, that advantage, perhaps more of a silver spoon, than a silver bullet?

Salmon fishing can become something of “hope over expectation”, but I have found one fly that has produced results for me with some consistency, particularly in the “11th hour”, and is the Willie Gunn. I really like the fly because it shows well in the waters that I fish and the colouration from the blend of hair in the wing make the fly “stand out” without being “startling” to the fish.

I have seen many flies with different names – all of which [to me] are just derivatives of the Willie Gunn, and accordingly, I have started to scale down the contents of my fly box to reduce the number of different patterns that I carry. I shall not mention here what these flies are [and avoid a potential diplomatic incident] but suffice it to say that I believe that many a wheel has been re-invented under the guise of originality, and this seems to apply equally to fly patterns.

The Gillie Willie Gunn gave his name to this most successful of patterns after it was designed in the late 1940’s to imitate a hair-wing version of a fully dressed Thunder & Lightning.  The originator of the design was an RAF officer, Flt-Lt “Dusty” Miller, who was based at Kinloss in Morayshire. Miller dressed salmon flies for another fisher, Rob Wilson of Brora. A little like me now, the two men were anxious to reduce the number of patterns in their armoury, although perhaps not as ruthlessly as me.

Miller produced 25 patterns which he sent to Wilson for his comment and approval. Wilson was examining the newly-arrived flies in his shop one morning when Willie Gunn called to equip himself with a few patterns for the River Brora and liked the look of one particular pattern. Apparently he commented “that looks bonny. If I had a choice, that’s the one I would use, and Wilson replied, “Well, you must have it and we will name the fly the Willie Gunn.”

During the course of the day’s fishing with the fly Willie Gunn caught six salmon and on the following day a further four and it has graced the fly boxes of many fishers ever since.

I have variants, but the common denominator for all of them is the three coloured variation of the wing;

The body combinations also vary;

The flies shouldn’t be over dressed, and it is a classic case of where “less is more” if you want to impart some aspects of life and movement to the fly. It is a relatively straight forward fly to tie, but, time should be taken to get the blend of hair as well mixed as possible, and I blend mine, in a sitting, into little batches ready to tie. The blending of the wing hair is actually the most time consuming part of the construction, but well worth the effort when you get it right. I add a few strands of sparkly material to my flies, but this is done in the tying, and not in the blending. That’s not me being semantic; it is just easier that way. However, do not over do the sparkly stuff, as there is but a fine line between ‘enticing’ and ‘startling’ . . . . and I have seen some that are positively frightening !

My flies are tied on tubes of differing weights and lengths, and to do so I tie my tubes on a “two and a half” rule. That is, the wing is approximately two and a half times the length of the tube that I am using, so, for those who don’t want to work it out  . . . .

The “two and a half” rule is there for me to ensure consistency and to achieve a wing that will reach adequately beyond the hook when fastened to the tube. The size that I most frequently use is 1”, I rarely fish above 1 ½” tubes, and if I need to, I generally then opt for a snake fly. [I have found these better for me than Waddington Mounts]. The snake mount is flexible a will not lever in the same way as a Waddington mount.

Traditionally, the Willie Gunn Fly became known for its fish taking capabilities in the early and late parts of the season, but I believe that is more from a result of fashion than anything else, as I have caught fish throughout the season on the fly, and last year in August on the Dee, so it is a good all-rounder. If I was restricted to use just one fly, or series of flies, for my salmon fishing, then the Willie Gunn would be it. Ok, so they might not necessarily be “silver bullets”, but they are most certainly “big gunns”!