Stuart Foxall's Salmon Lessons
The many useful iterations of the Willie Gunn
SINCE ITS FIRST APPEARANCE during the 1940s the Willie Gunn has become one of the most successful salmon flies in the world. I’ve even seen a friend catch huge king salmon with them in Alaska, just to prove that Pacific flies don’t need to look like Christmas tree decorations. The original fly was designed by Flight Lieutenant Dusty Miller for Rob Wilson of Brora. It was meant to be a hairwing version of one of his favourite patterns, the Thunder and Lightning. He sent a small selection of hairwing versions of classic flies to Wilson’s shop for approval. Willie Gunn was a local estate gillie who popped into the shop to buy a few flies to fish the River Brora. His eye was immediately drawn to the “Thunder and Lightning” and he said, “Och, that looks bonny. If I had a choice, that’s the one I’d use.” Wilson gave him the fly and said he would call it the “Willie Gunn”. Willie went on to catch many salmon on the new fly and its fame spread quickly throughout Scotland. It is now one of the main patterns in any serious salmon-fisher’s box. So why have I left it until last in this series? In recent issues I’ve introduced you to my favourite flies and suggested when to use them, why you should use them and, crucially, how to fish them. Too often I see rods using the same flies on their favourite set-up no matter when or where they are fishing and despite different conditions. This can greatly reduce their chances of consistently catching fish throughout the season. But with a little thought and different techniques, they might hook more fish. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. This month I aim to show you how, with a few tweaks to just one pattern, the original Willie Gunn, you can create flies suitable for most water conditions encountered in a season.