Hitched wet fly presentation requires
the cast to be made downstream at almost exactly a 45 degree
angle to the current. Just as the fly strikes the water, roughly
one foot of line is retrieved quickly to ensure that the fly,
instead of sinking, will plane across the water ’s surface, leaving a wake.
I can vouch for the riffling hitch as an effective method
because my Atlantic salmon presentations from 1998 to 2003
were almost always hitched. Art Lee’s book Tying
and Fishing the Riffling Hitch, (1998), is an excellent
source of more information about the technique.
Buck Bug Magic
Pure luck helped drive me to use deer hair patterns tied
on single down-eye hooks. In 2002 at the George River in
Northern Quebec I landed a grilse that I wanted to release.
Stéphane Pelchat, my guide, correctly told me the
fish was bleeding badly and could not survive. Since my double
hooks had caused this situation many times, at the end of
the season, I trashed all my double hook flies. By the start
of my 2003 season, my fly boxes contained only single hooks,
both up-eye and down-eye. As time passed it became obvious,
for some reason, that the down-eye single hook deer hair
patterns, fished unhitched, were more effective than deer
hair patterns on up-eye hooks, and wet fly patterns tied
on up-eye hooks fished with a hitch. Gradually, without understanding
the reason, I stopped using the riffling hitch in favor of
unhitched deer hair patterns tied on single down-eye hooks.
On my way home after my 2005 trip to the George River, I
discovered the reason single down-eye hooks are so important.
I visualized the offset up-eye and down-eye extensions shown
in the diagram. Finally, I understood the problem.
The answer was simple mechanics. Look
at the up eye hook in the diagram. At first glance the up eye
looks like the front of a barge that would cause the fly to
plow across the water ’s surface. But by extending the
up eye it can be seen that the opposite effect is achieved.
The up eye acts as a lever inclining the body of the fly downwards
so the water pressure will be greater on the top surface
than on the underside of the fly. The resulting pressure
differential will force the fly downwards away from the surface
of the water, so it definitely will not make a wake. In contrast,
the down-eye hook inclines the body of the fly upwards, so
the current pressure on the underside is greater than the
pressure on the top of the fly and the fly rises to the surface
and makes a wake. When I realized that my patterns tied on
up-eye hooks would not wake, I retied these patterns on down
eye hooks. These patterns now make wakes and are productive.
During my 2006 season I stopped using the riffling hitch.
For me, spun deer hair patterns on single down-eye hooks
have resulted in more hook-ups, a higher percentage of landings,
no bleeding, and the fish released are in a better condition
The heavier the hook the more current pressure is required
to make any fly rise to the surface and make a wake. Relative
hook weights are difficult to determine by simply holding
them side-by-side in your hands. The weights for each hook
in the chart were obtained through use of a jeweler’s
All the Mustad hooks shown are suitable for buck bugs. However,
the Tiemco 700 standard heavy salmon/steelhead hook will
require a thick body and strong current to wake. The size
4 Tiemco 700, for example, weighs 0.33 grams. The comparable
Mustad 9671 size 4 2X long shank weighs 0.23 grams. The Tiemco
700 hook weighs a whopping 43 percent more!
Heavy up-eye hooks are very useful in situations where
a sinking fly is required. . Atlantic salmon are not surface
oriented where the water temperatures are in the 30s and
low 40s. Such conditions require sinking the fly down to
them to attract their attention. On the Matapedia and Restigouche
Rivers there is a catch and release season that runs from
ice out April 15 to May 31. Possibly due to the low water
levels to come later in the season, very large 30 and 40
pound Atlantic salmon arrive early and are caught on heavy
up-eye hook patterns here during this period. I have no experience
with Atlantic salmon at very low water temperatures. Using
a waking method, I have caught bright Atlantic salmon at
water temperatures as low as 47 degrees. The surface fly
versus sunk fly approach temperature break-point is probably
in the mid to low 40s.
Unhitched wet fly patterns on single down-eye hooks will
swim higher in the water column than their up-eye counterparts.
Sometimes they will even make a wake. Trimmed deer hair patterns
make wakes more readily than traditional wet flies on single
down-eye hooks because they have a larger diameter body than
the slimmer traditional wet fly. The larger diameter body
gives the trimmed deer hair pattern a longer wingspan, so
to speak, and therefore greater lift.
Make a Good Presentation
In his book Bugging the Atlantic Salmon (1995), Michael
Brislain describes the proper buck bug cast as across the
current and slightly upstream. In his book he comments that
buck bugs are a better than ordinary wet flies for "slack
water lies" which he defines as generally the tail section
of pools, water depth from 4 to 6 feet, and insufficient
current speed for an attractive presentation causing these
pools to be fished only occasionally.
About buck bugs and "slack water lies" Brislain
writes: "A bug is in the salmon's element. It drifts
in the subsurface of the current flow, and, because of its
tendency towards neutral buoyancy, it rides horizontally
(where a wet fly just dangles downwards). The fish sees it
broad-side when it has been fished on an upstream cast. Its
submerged float looks natural, it enters the salmon's cone
of vision from some distance upstream, and it approaches
the salmon at the same speed as the current. I am convinced
that the slow, deliberate, overhead approach of the presentation
I have described induces the rise of fish in slack waters."
I agree with Brislain on "slack water lies." But
where the current speed is more normal, after making a cast
your bug tied on a single down-eye hook, lands in the water
at an approximate 90 degree angle across the river or even
slightly upstream from where you are standing, it sinks,
drifts momentarily with the current, and then the increasing
current pressure at some point during the drift causes your
fly to rise to the surface and make a wake.
Comparison of Buck Bug Magic with the Riffling Hitch
The use of spun deer hair fly patterns on single down-eye
hooks is an
easier, more effective method, than using the riffling hitch
and wet flies. Here's why. First, the riffling hitch is restricting.
The cast must be made at a 45-degree angle to the current,
not across the current and even upstream, because the hitched
fly needs more current pressure than a buck bug to wake.
Second, riffling requires the additional time-consuming step
of attaching a hitch to the fly so that the line attaches
just behind the eye of the hook or directly behind the head
of the fly. Third, immediately after the hitched wet fly
hits the water, about a foot of line must be pulled in very
quickly to make sure the initial speed of the fly enables
it to plane over the surface of the water and not sink. Fourth,
the riffled fly covers less water. The across-the-current
and slightly upstream cast of a buck bug covers more water
than a riffled fly. Fifth, and most important of all, on
a very long cast it is difficult to see if your riffled fly
is on plane over the water’s surface. Was my cast too
far upstream from a proper 45-degree angle? I have to wear
my glasses and still can’t see far enough. If your
hitched fly sinks and fails to wake properly, the current
will make it gyrate and corkscrew wildly. Such motions are
guaranteed not only to produce no strikes but to frighten
Here’s the recipe for buck bug magic: First, use spun
deer hai buck bug or muddler flies with down-eye single hooks.
Second, cast your floating line and leader across the current
and slightly upstream and get a good wake.
Brislain, Michael, Bugging the Atlantic Salmon, (Gooselane
Lee, Art, Tying and Fishing the Riffling Hitch, (Human
Kinetics Publishers, 1998).