by Guide Blog


A Francis fly is essentially a shrimp-style pattern. Tied in a range of sizes from tiny dressed trebles or doubles and microtubes to 2 inch tubes. Fished at the right time, it can be devastatingly effective, and learning how to fish a Francis fly can get you more fish on your catch return

In my experience, the Francis can work in a variety of different water. But comes into its own in water that is not overly deep. Up to and around six feet in depth and preferably free from underwater obstructions/snags. In ideal conditions, you should aim for water that flows at a pace resembling a typical walking speed. However, you can adapt to faster or slower currents using different sink tips and techniques. Such as mending or actively working the fly. The Francis is a good slow swinger and generally fished deep, designed for targeting resting or fully resident fish from late spring through to autumn and in particular, as the water cools in early autumn until the end of the season.

The profile of a Francis fly lends itself to slow fishing. Thanks to its long feelers that provide stability and help it maintain an even keel while fishing. The Snaelda is a good example of another fly that shares this long tail, stabilising property. Balancing the correct size and weight of the fly with the water you’re fishing is an important consideration. Much like it is with any pattern. The most popular sizes range from small micro tube Francis’s with copper and tungsten cones attached for low clear water, up to larger tubes, usually copper, for medium and heavy water.                                             

A picture of a fly perfect to show How to fish a francis

How To Fish A Francis Fly – Red Francis

The Red Francis is the most popular colour and finds use in both clear water and water with a tinge of colour. The Black Francis is very much for clear and low water conditions. Generally, the Francis is unsuitable for heavily coloured water as a fly or technique.

However, you can use a range of brighter colours, including pink and amber, for fishing in this situation. You should also consider the correct size of hook. It is very important not to put too small a hook on the back of a Francis. The fly can be bulky at the back end, and a hook erring on the small size can easily have its gape masked. Seriously limiting its hooking potential.           

An angler casting in a river demonstrating How to fish a francis

How To Fish A Francis Fly – Slow Water

By using certain techniques, you can also fish the Francis in water or pools that many would consider too slow for conventional fly fishing. Often, angles and presentation are not as important in pacey and broken fly water. Even after a very bad cast, aimed at a small 30-degree angle, a fly will still fish. Albeit only for a very short period. This is rarely the case in slower pools. We bring the fly up to an enticing speed in slow water by drawing, mending and increasing casting angles. 

Drawing is a descriptive term for adding speed to the fly by means of retrieving the shooting line during its swing. Once the fly has sunk to the desired level, drawing of the shooting line should be as smooth as good fly casting. Long steady draws, trying to match how the fly would fish in a walking-pace current speed, seem to give the best results. Before you can effectively employ drawing, you must select the correct angle of the cast and then execute it.

Calculated, accurate and stealthily performed big-angled casts of up to and beyond 90 degrees are essential for capturing the available flow and necessary angle to fish in slow pools. Certain line systems excel more than others in achieving much squarer cast. Shooting heads are much better for such angles, and being short in the head allows more room for drawing techniques than longer-headed Spey lines.

Certain Spey casts are also much better suited to achieving more accurate, big directional changes. Notably waterborne Speys such as Snap Ts, Perry Pokes and Double Speys. Although the Snake Roll is good for this too. Ignore people who claim Snap Ts cannot be made quietly. With practice and correct tuition, the snap T (and other waterborne casts) can be delivered a long way. Very stealthily and from the bank, barely creating the slightest ripple.   

Learning how to fish the Francis, this image shows a red Francis salmon fly ready to fished in a salmon river.

How To Fish A Francis Fly – Fast Water

In heavier water, we can slow the Francis down and gain depth. By mending, casting angles, correct selection of sink tips and adding weight to the fly itself using copper or tungsten tubes and coneheads.  Sink tip systems offer more control in depth and are easier to mend and steer than even slower sinking intermediate shooting heads. You should not use too heavy a tip for a given water strength, as this can slow the fly down too much.

The correct speed is just as important as correct depth. One shouldn’t comprise the other. Shallow angled casts of 45 degrees and less will reduce the speed of the fly but will not necessarily gain much depth in faster water. You can make big angled casts followed by significant mends that flip the line almost parallel to the other bank. Allowing the tip and fly to drift and sink before it starts fishing where needed.

Walking/wading down with the line as its sinks gains even more depth and can be useful in heavy water. This can be a very precise method of enabling your fly to fish deeper and slower than it would have done, left to its own devices when cast across. Invariably smaller sections of the river will be fished. This technique is more suited to pinpointing lies deeply and slowly instead of searching tactics utilising the full width of the river. 

This can be a tactical trade-off well worth considering. To either fish as much of the river as possible using more conventional searching techniques and flies, fished higher and faster (for running fish as just one example), or to focus on more specific areas of a pool with a Francis fished deeply and slowly. 

A picture of an atlantic salmon showing How to fish a francis
Image of an Atlantic Salmon caught on a fly rod

When To Deploy A Francis Fly

Experience and the use of visual clues when spotting fish can guide us in making the correct choices on a given day. As always, we should be willing to make changes as needed. However, I know from bitter personal experience it is easy to get this choice in tactics wrong. It’s all part of the learning experience. Though and as far as the Francis is concerned. It is not just another fly, nor for that matter a fly for all waters, all season long. However, like learning how to fish the Sunray Shadow, it offers another essential technique to have at our disposal.

View The Full Caledonia Francis Range


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