Like me, if you’re a fly angler constantly seeking the exhilarating experience of landing Atlantic Salmon, then you’ll want to pay close attention to the remarkable fly known as the Bomber. In this guide (I use the word “guide” loosely), I delve into the secrets and specific circumstances I’ve found using the Bomber fly to lure and conquer Atlantic Salmon in Scottish rivers successfully.
As with all fishing experiences, a wee disclaimer, this is what has worked for me, and I can only go on my experiences. I am super keen to hear how others have got on with the Bomber too. Craig Somerville.
Understanding the Bomber fly
Before I get into the specifics of using the Bomber fly, let’s familiarise ourselves with its characteristics and why it’s highly effective for Atlantic Salmon fishing across the northern hemisphere. The Bomber is a large, floating deer hair fly pattern renowned for its ability to create a commotion on the water’s surface, mimicking a struggling prey, or just generally annoying the already frustrated salmon. Its buoyancy allows it to remain visible and enticing, often making it an irresistible target for salmon. All of the YouTube films I’ve seen, except one which I can’t find any more, has anglers swinging Bombers in slow glides, or dead-drifting them. I have had little success this way in Scotland, but that’s not to say it doesn’t work.
Researching the best spots for Bomber fishing
To increase your chances of Bomber success, it’s crucial to identify the prime places in Scotland where there are numbers of salmon in pools. I have found that the Bomber generally only works when there is a bit of competition in holding fish. Try a deep holding pool under a run or a sea-pool/desalination pool. A lone fish, it seems, won’t come up to a Bomber, in fact it will likely make the fish doggo (non-responsive). However, a few grilse around a larger salmon, will more than likely have a go, a regular occurrence in traditional flies too.
Research information about rivers, known for their pools with numbers of Atlantic Salmon populations building up. I’m sure you could consider factors like water conditions, but more so, access points to select the ideal fishing locations and make sure it’s an exposed pool, with lots of wind… more on this reason shortly.
Planning and preparation
Carry a selection of Bomber flies in different sizes and colours to adapt to varying water, wind and light conditions. Admittedly, I only use the largest Bombers in my box, but I do own some lovely small Green Machines gifted to me a few years back by the Peake Twins. I find it an absolute nightmare to get Bombers tied for me because many a pro tyer can’t stand making them, and I am just not a fly tyer. So, I buy them from the shop or online.
When they arrive home, I have a tip that means more chance of success. Because they are going to be ‘bombed’, thrashed around, and hopefully chewed to bits, I set them up on a bit of polystyrene, hook in and backs level, and run a line of superglue down their backs from top to tail. The glue seeps into the deer hair. After they’re set, I also drench them in liquid silicone and let them air-dry overnight. This way the hackles last so much longer before they unravel, and the fly stays on the surface longer too. Yes, the glue adds a bit of weight to the fly, but the way I fish them means I’m not bothered about that, I just need the hackles to keep the fly bouncing across the top.
Is it windy?
High winds on the surface of the water is the only condition where I’ve had fish take the Bomber in the mouth and land them. Many times I’ve used the Bomber in so many places when it’s not windy, and they simply try to drown it, even tail slap it sometimes. But in a decent wind, they’re hooked right in the scissors of the jaw, indicating that the fish has come up almost vertically, devoured the fly and quickly thrashed back down into the depths, no follows, just knee-jerk frustrated takes. The wind makes the fly move quickly, much quicker than possible any other way. Oh, and the take is breathtaking, leaving some ghillies, like Geordie Doull on the Thurso, speechless when he was watching me show him how to do it, catching not one, but two fish in the last hour of the day, and three near misses. It was an upstream wind and rising river; we were like two wee boys again, howling just like the wind. He exclaimed, after nearly eating his hat:
“I’ve rarely been speechless, but the first time was recently when my wife gave birth, and the second time is watching you hook fish on the Bomber.”Geordie Doull, River Thurso Fishery Manager.
Techniques for tying on and casting the Bomber fly
Casting the Bomber fly requires no precision or finesse… casting a Bomber on Scottish waters, in my opinion, is more about conditions than skill. Follow these key techniques to maximise your chances of enticing Atlantic Salmon:
- Begin by carefully observing the water, looking for signs of salmon activity such as rising or rolling fish. You want to see some territorial or competitive nature.
- Use a Rapala Knot and strong nylon, at least 15lb. The loop in a Rapala Knot gives the fly all the movement it needs, it literally quivers, and the strength of nylon is required for the ferocious takes.
- Opt for a long single hander or switch rod to achieve height to cover more water effectively.
- Position yourself depending on where the strong wind is coming from. You need to be upwind from the fish, so if it’s a downstream wind, get yourself into the neck of the pool, or on a croy; if it’s an upstream wind, stand on the tallest boulder you can find at the tail of the pool/run, and cast upstream. I love this method, because the fish can’t see you and it’s all surface action right in front of you.
- Cast, or use the wind, so that your fly lands on the far side of the current, and simply point your rod to your bank and lift the rod slowly. What will happen is the wind catches your line like a sail, and the fly will be dragged (without any line in the water, like dabbling for trout), across the surface, bouncing on the tops of the waves and current. The faster, the better, I have found.
- When it reaches the far side, wait a second in case there’s a fish behind it, then cast again, working your way up the pool if you’re fishing upstream, and vice versa for downstream.
- For added movement, wiggle the tip of your high-sticked rod and the line will shake the fly into a frenzy, especially with that rapala knot. Every cast is ‘a possible’ in these circumstances, so be ready for the take.
- The take is so fast and so aggressive that you have to be ready to strike, and it can be hard to set the hook when you have an already elevated rod, so consider holding the line with your stripping hand near the first eye, and strip-strike when the fish has turned downwards. This is why I get them in the scissors. A trick I learned from a decade of fishing for trout in New Zealand.
Timing and seasonal considerations
Understanding the salmon’s behaviour throughout the seasons is vital for successful fishing, we all know this. While Atlantic Salmon can be caught from early spring to late autumn, their activity levels and preferred flies vary. As mentioned above, I find the Bomber effective if the pool is full of fish, so there may be the odd occasion when there are a number of fresh grilse holding up, but generally, August onwards is when you see numbers in pools, and yes, most of the fish I’ve had on Bombers are not chromers. Personally, I don’t like fishing for late autumn salmon, however, I have no problem with others doing it, as long as the fish are respectfully handled, well that being said, they should be handled properly all season round. I would say the Bomber gets more effective the later the season.
Armed with the knowledge of the Bomber fly and the set of circumstances required to use it effectively, in my opinion, you are now ready to hook a salmon in Scottish rivers with the Bomber. I always have a few Bombers available for the windy days, when most grumble and throw on their skagit lines and chuck and duck in the wind. I get excited knowing it’s ‘Bomber Time’ and use the wind to my advantage. So, pack your Bombers, and let the Bomber fly unleash fury. A note though, not everyone thinks the Bomber is very sporting. I disagree, but it’s best to make sure the ghillie is ok with you using this technique. A bit like stripping a Sunray through the pool, or fishing upstream bugs properly (not fowling), it’s an effective and very sporting technique.
Tight lines in the wind, and put your eyewear/glasses on. Book your fishing via FishPal.