by Steven Neely


It’s fair to say that the general trend over recent years has been for salmon to run our rivers earlier in the season. This is certainly the case on the Tweed, where there hasn’t been a significant Autumn run for a decade now but where the spring and summer fishing can be great. Whatever the reasons for this shift, and they will no doubt be both varied and complex, the upshot is that getting on the water as soon as possible and making the most of the earlier part of the season is more important than ever. Considering that a fly-caught Springer probably represents the very pinnacle of our sport, this should be no real hardship. Conditions may sometimes be challenging, but the reward can be as good as it gets. The early bird and all that . . .  

To this end, you’ve got to love the Monkey family of salmon flies. A black and yellow or Dee Monkey is my go-to pattern in the spring. Atlantic spring-run salmon are all pumped up with aggression and raw power. Swing a Monkey tube in front of them or pull it past their nose at speed, and the response can be explosive; a savage, fully-committed heavy take which leaves nothing to the imagination and lets you know from the off that you’ve got a fight on your hands. The profile created by these long-winged flies can prove irresistible to salmon and really illicit an electric response; like the Sunray and its predecessor, the Collie Dog, this pattern really noises them up.

As ever, when salmon fishing covering as much water as possible can be the key to success, though this really means covering as much ‘likely’ water as possible. Incidentally, bearing this in mind, fishing a Sunray can be a very effective way of doing this in the Spring, but fishing it deeper than would be the case later in the season. Find a newly arrived Springer, and chances are it will take a fly, properly presented. They’re not particularly fussy, and aggression is to the fore, but getting them to see the fly is the key. So fishing a Sunray and quickly covering as many fish-holding areas on the beat as possible is as likely a route to success as any. Moreover, the work involved will keep you warmer in colder conditions.   

Employing a Monkey in this fashion can work a treat too. The original pattern still works as well as it always has, but newer variants that mix up colour, length and weight mean that there’s a Monkey for every occasion. Fishing lighter plastic or aluminium tubes on sinking lines and tips can offer dynamic movement to this pattern. A favourite combination of mine in the spring is using a Rio Hover shooting head, a 10ft medium to fast sink tip and a large black and yellow-winged Monkey tied on a lightish tube with a pearl flash/green body. If more depth is required in cold, high-water fishing, the Rio Skagit lines (especially the Multi-Density GameChanger) and ultrafast tips with a Monkey tied on a heavier tube will do the job. At the same time, smaller and lighter versions can be fished higher up in the water in more benign conditions.

Whatever the conditions on the river, the Monkey fly deserves a place in your fly box. Wherever there are fresh-run salmon, fish them fast or slow and fish them with confidence. They’re also worth a swim at the back end when the resident river fish near spawning and aggression levels rise again. But it is in the spring, from the off, when the Monkey really comes into its own and when it might just catch you that fish of a lifetime.

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