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Bugs and Bombers


Paul Marriner’s 1998 book Modern Atlantic Salmon Flies sold out a few years ago, but Paul tells me that, due to its popularity, it will be updated and republished later this year. Here’s what Paul had to say about Bugs and Bombers:


“Few dispute the origin of the Bomber, likely the best-known and most used dry fly in the Atlantic salmon world. The late Rev. Elmer Smith was the creator and I previously reported the story of its invention after interviewing Father Smith (28). Briefly, the fly originated from an experience on the Royal River in Maine, where a Deer Hair Mouse accounted for several sea-run browns. During the intervening years, the Bomber has been modified mercilessly. Every natural, and most unnatural, combination of colours of deer hair, calf tail, and hackle are used. In his interesting book, Mouches Seche A Saumon (16), Denys Poirier offers a table of some 103 colour combinations. I doubt the author has seen all these combinations, especially as he adds, "Et beaucoup d'autres possiblilites!" (and lots of other possibilities), but it's certainly possible. Even the inventor wasn't immune to the modification craze, his final version eliminated the forward-slanting wing and slightly altered the body shape.


The Buck Bug (sometimes referred to in the literature as Butt Bug or Buc Bug), or simply Bug (the most common name today and the one I will use hereafter), is another story. Many writers have implied or stated that the first Buck Bug was nothing more than a reduced Bomber. They are misguided. The earliest Buck Bug, the Carter Bug, was developed independently by Bill Carter of Portage Vale, NB, at about the same time as Father Smith was introducing his creation to the salmon of the Miramichi. According to Carter, "I was fishing the Big Salmon River (NB) in the early 1960s when I spotted some salmon lying below a high rock ledge. Just for fun I tossed in a piece of brown-green moss and a salmon rose to take it. So, soon after, I tied up a fly made of natural deer hair and brown hackle. The fly was rounded in the front and tapered to a point at the back."


The Carter Bug is intended to float. The deer-hair body is loosely packed and the hackle relatively soft. Heavy applications of Mucilin, or other floatant, help keep them up. Carter says, "The brown hackle has been by far the best all-around fly I have ever used, although some days the hot orange hackle would work best." No argument here, as my first dry-fly salmon was hooked on a brown-hackled Carter Bug. Some anglers find them even more effective when squashed flat.


Whether they were modifying the Bomber or copying the Carter Bug, many tiers began building Bugs with tightly packed deer hair in a variety of colours, in both body and hackle. Then these patterns were shaved down and fished wet. The original deer-hair tail was dropped and replaced by a colourful tag. Later, a Krystal Flash tail became popular and most recently, a long tail 'has been added to yield a shrimp-like profile. Today there are scores of successful Bugs, some of which are illustrated below. Although not unique, wet Bugs also represent a departure from standard practice with respect to the hooks used. Most salmon wet flies are tied on japanned salmon-fly hooks; Bugs are almost always tied on heavy-wire, bronzed, down-eyed, wet-fly hooks, even if they are intended to float.


Clipped deer-hair flies were around long before they appeared on Atlantic salmon rivers. They most likely began as bass flies, but history is vague in this regard. A reasonable assumption is that the Irresistible (Joe Messenger) and Rat-Faced MacDougall (Harry Darbee), two 1930s clipped deer-hair-body trout flies, were the first to make regular floats over salmon.


So what makes a Bomber a Bomber and a Bug a Bug? I used to think I had a simple answer to this question, but common usage complicates matters. Apparently, the term "Bug" has been adopted to describe a variety of modern wingless salmon flies; essentially salmon adaptations of the simple Woolly Worm trout fly. I would have preferred "grub" for those lacking a clipped deer-hair body, as this term has a long history in the construction of salmon flies, but turning back the clock is impossible. So, in accordance with this lexicon, Father Smith's final design is a "Bug." To further confuse the issue, some Quebec tiers distinguish on the basis of size. If it's big, it's a Bomber, if it's small, a Bug.”


Here’s the specifications for a natural deer hair Bug and Bomber, similar but different. The flies in our photo were tied by Chris Williams of Sheet Harbour, NS.



Hook –                       Mustad 3399A bronze TDE wet fly hook, size 4 - 10

Thread –                    White GSP, 75 Denier

Butt –                          Fluorescent red or green floss, with tag pulled over to increase durability

Body hackle -            Coachman brown saddle hackle, folded backward

Body –                        Natural deer hair, tightly packed, spun & clipped

Head -                        Thread finished with 2 coats of head cement.



Hook –                       Mustad long shank  bronze TDE streamer hook, such as 79580 or 9672, size 2-6

                                    or Partridge CS42 Bomber Hook, size 2-6

Thread –                    White GSP, 75 Denier

Tail -                           White calftail

Body hackle -            Coachman brown saddle hackle, folded backward

Body –                        Natural deer hair, spun & clipped

Wing -                        Optional, white calftail single or divided

Head -                        Thread finished with 2 coats of head cement.


Please send comments and suggestions to slim@rivermagic.ca


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