A strange kind of magic
Charles van Straubenzee introduces a salmon fly that combines the most unlikely colours and materials to deadly effect
A bright new salmon fly for coloured water
IT WAS DURING my first trip to Iceland, some years ago, that I was introduced to a great many new and varied ways of tying salmon flies. Colours that seemed outrageous when compared with traditional patterns, not to mention a judicious use of synthetic flash and some innovative sizes, shapes and weights, all had that fish-catching magic. It was that same magic that I hoped to harness when I began devising the Strawberry Mackenzie. The name for the fly comes from the trick I use when explaining how to pronounce my last name: Straub-enzee like the first part of strawberry and the second of Mackenzie. I was extremely lucky to begin my salmon-fishing career on the Brora in the early 1960s, lucky because Megan Boyd tied all my flies and Willie Gunn sometimes gillied for us. We fished with Green Highlanders, Blue Charms and Silver Doctors. Every so often a new fly would appear, something that had a very different style to the accepted patterns and which fast became a favourite, such as the General Practitioner or Ally’s Shrimp. The Strawberry Mackenzie borrows something from both these patterns, with the dyed-orange golden pheasant tippets behind the hackle-fibre wing. I wanted the fly to incorporate all the bright colours and flashy materials I was unused to, and enlisted the help of Iain Wilson at the Borders Gunroom, St Boswells, in the tying. Together we concocted the finished article. Of course, no amount of design will make up for a fly that doesn’t catch. I believed the Strawberry Mackenzie, with its bright colours, would work well in the coloured water of a spate when the orange, magenta and pink would stand out well against the sediment in the water. On the Halladale in September 2015 I encountered just such conditions. In that first outing I caught six salmon and rose or lost several more. An auspicious start. In July last year I had the opportunity to fish one of the middle Tweed beats, where we found the water to be coloured but not dirty. I landed a fresh 14 lb fish in the morning followed by another later on. The next day I had two more. On the third day I thought that I would try a different fly, but after a fruitless few hours I returned to the Strawberry Mackenzie and landed another big salmon. I believe that the combination of colours in the fly, the magenta and orange in the wing and tail, the golden pheasant tippets and the dual-colour body of pink fritz and fine black chenille ribbed with silver wire creates good contrast and is highly visible. The added advantage of using pink and magenta in the dressing is that it may stimulate a response from fish that have already seen a large number of Cascades, Willie Gunns and other patterns with a predominance of black, orange and yellow. I would use this fly on double or treble hooks in sizes 6 to 10 or as a conehead tube. In coloured water, anywhere from a falling spate to a steady flow, it has proved extremely effective for me and I encourage you to give it a try, too.
Having begun salmon fishing on the Brora, Charles van Straubenzee has fished more than 40 Scottish salmon rivers, and has caught fish of at least 18 lb on six of them.