Upside Down Flies

Needle Tubes and Tube Flies

Upside Down Salmon Flies

Have we been tying our trout and salmon flies upside down?

Two salmon flies are shown below. Which one is dressed upside down?

Upside Down Salmon Flies 1

Fly No. 1

Upside Down Salmon Flies 2

Fly No. 2

Now before answering this question, I would ask you to go immediately and run a bath. While the bath is running, go to your fly tying station, or tackle box, and gather as many different shapes and sizes of single hook as you can lay hands on. You should also gather a few doubles for good measure, perhaps even a treble or two. Cut a length of about three feet of fine fly tying thread. Take the assembled assortment of hooks and thread to the bathroom and, when you have a foot or so of water, turn off the bath tap. Now take each hook in turn, thread the fly tying thread through the eye of the hook and even up the ends of the thread. Now you have a doubled length of thread about 18 inches long with a hook on the end. Drop each hook, so attached, in turn into the bath and pull it through the water. Note that fine thread will inhibit the natural balance of the hook to a lesser degree than nylon line.

I expect that your experiments will show, as mine did, that both single and double undressed hooks, when pulled through the water, swim naturally with points uppermost, while a well-balanced treble hook, with all three arms of identical shape and weight, will tend towards no particular orientation, being stable irrespective of the position of the three hooks.

Is it logical, then, we might ask, to dress our single and double hooked salmon flies, or our trout and sea trout flies for that matter, so that they swim "upside down", i.e. contrary to the natural tendency of the hook to swim with points upwards? What advantage do we gain by so doing? I must say that no obvious advantage springs immediately to my mind.

It might be said, certainly, that the conventionally dressed fly No. 1 above "looks better".  It does to me, but I suspect that this is due merely to traditional custom and practice, to a long held preconceived notion of how a fly should look. Certainly there can be no denying that salmon flies and trout wet flies dressed in the conventional manner work. Furthermore, if dressed, as most flies are, with the bulk of the dressing on the side opposite the hook point, the fly will normally swim, as the dresser intended, with hook point down, the buoyancy of the dressing overcoming the natural physical tendency of the hook, when pulled through the water, to swim with its point or points uppermost.

Is there any worthwhile benefit to be gained, then, by dressing our single and double hooked flies in line with their natural tendency to swim with hook points up? I think that there may be. For example, would the hook point on a fly dressed in the manner of fly No. 2 above not be more easily hidden in the fly dressing, among the hairs of the wing, and therefore less conspicuous to a fish? Would a long hair wing not be less liable to get caught up on the underside of the fly hook? Would the hook point, swimming on the top side of the fly, not be less readily damaged on a rocky riverbed, or less easily caught up on riverbed weed? In the autumn, would the hair wing not act to an extent as a hook guard, reducing the likelihood of leaves being hooked while fishing? Would a fly so dressed not be more stable in the water, the orientation of the hook assisting, rather than opposing, the fly's natural equilibrium, thus helping to keep it on an even keel, especially in a rough, turbulent river current?

Of course, the dressing of flies with an upturned hook point is not a new idea. Many dry flies are dressed in this way. Also up-pointed saltwater lures, such as the Clouser Minnow, are common enough, although saltwater patterns so dressed often incorporate weighted dumbbell eyes in part to ensure the fly swims point upwards.  Abu of Sweden once marketed a range of “Keel Flies” dressed on specially designed keel hooks made by Mustad, to help prevent deeply fished lures from hooking the river bed.

Upside Down Salmon Flies 3

The “Streamtease” and “Callgirl” Optic Keel Flies by Abu

Many tyers of the North American “Intruder” style of lure set the trailing single hook with point upwards, recognising that this will aid the balance and stability of the lure. There may well be many other examples of flies and lures dressed, for a variety of reasons and uses, in this way.

Atlantic salmon fishing, however, has no tradition of flies dressed on an upturned hook. One possible reason for this is perhaps that the upturned hook might have been an inconvenience when dressing the early fully dressed feather winged salmon flies. Or it may be simply that the tyers of trout and salmon flies believed, as many still do, that downturned hook points, on single and double hooks, act as a kind of keel, giving stability to the fly. In fact, a fly dressed with the hook points facing downwards only maintains this position while fishing owing the buoyancy of the wing keeping it upright. Any imbalance in the dressing of such a fly, particularly on a heavy hook, is likely to see it swimming on its side or even upside down, in line with the natural tendency of the hook to swim hook points up. Indeed, our bathroom tests indicate that the most stable fly will be one dressed on an upturned single or double hook (i.e. hook point up), with the bulk of the dressing applied on top, i.e. on the same side as the hook point, which will ensure that the fly/lure swims hook point upwards, with no need for added weight or specially designed hooks. The traditional “up-eye” single and double salmon hooks are well enough suited to this style of dressing (but with the “up-eye” turned down of course), as illustrated in Fly No. 2 above.

Dressing a Salmon Fly on an Upturned Double Hook

Illustrated below is a step by step sequence for the dressing of a Cascade variant on an upturned salmon double. Note the deviation from the standard tying method, in that there is no “tail” as such in this dressing, the tail and wing being combined and tied in near the head of the fly, allowing greater mobility. The bucktail lies neatly between the two arms of the double hook, with no possibility of the wing being caught up on the underside of the hook while fishing.

Step by Step Tying Instructions

Hook: Low water Wilson Double

Body: Rear silver tinsel, front black floss with silver oval rib

Wing: Yellow, orange and black bucktail with two strands of Krystal Flash

Hackle: Yellow and orange Rooster


Upside Down Salmon Flies 4

Step 1 – Wind thread from hook eye along straight section of shank, tie in oval tinsel tag and wind thread back up hook shank


Upside Down Salmon Flies 5

Step 2 – Wind silver tinsel down to the tag and back to half way up the shank


Upside Down Salmon Flies 6

Step 3 – Wind black floss, leaving plenty of room for wing and hackle


Upside Down Salmon Flies 7

Step 4 – Wind silver oval rib in evenly spaced turns up over whole body


Upside Down Salmon Flies 8

Step 5 – Tie in mix of yellow and orange bucktail and a doubled strand of Krystal Flash


Upside Down Salmon Flies 9

Step 6 – Tie in black bucktail (shorter than the orange yellow bucktail mix)


Upside Down Salmon Flies 10

Step 7 – Tie in and wind two turns of a yellow hackle, followed by two turns of orange hackle


Upside Down Salmon Flies 11

Step 8 – Build a neat head and varnish

This double hooked fly will be very stable swimming hook points up.


A few more salmon flies dressed on upturned double hooks …

Upside Down Salmon Flies 12


Tube Flies and Hook Orientation

The above observations, relating to single and double hooked flies, apply equally to hooks used in conjunction with tube flies. Salmon and sea trout tubes can be armed, rules permitting, with single, double or treble hooks, barbed or barbless. Indeed, this interchangeability of hooks, together with the tube fly’s consequent improved durability, is a major benefit of tube flies and a variety of hooks are now sold, by companies such as Loop, Partridge, Fulling Mill and Ken Sawada, to name but a few, specifically for use with tube flies.

If using a well-made treble hook, with all arms of the treble of equal weight, the positioning of the treble will make no difference to the way the tube fly swims. The treble hook will be in a state of balance, and equally stable, no matter how the arms of the hook lie and will have no natural tendency to rotate to reach a particular position. A treble hook, either dressed or attached to a tube fly, will swim naturally with the bulkiest/most buoyant materials on top, although I think that treble hooks are more suited to tube flies with materials dressed all round, with no top or bottom, as in the traditional Willie Gunn style of tube shown below.

Upside Down Salmon Flies 13

Salmon tube fly armed with a treble hook

The attachment of double and single hooks, increasingly popular with the currently growing focus on catch and release and associated regulation of angling methods and tackle, will be more influential in determining the way the tube fly swims. As our tests have shown, an undressed single or double hook will, as a rule, tend to swim naturally, and will be most stable, with hook points up. So, when attaching a single or double hook to the rear of a tube fly, it would be advisable to connect it with the hook points uppermost, i.e. hook points towards the bulkiest, most buoyant side of the tube. This will add to the stability of the tube fly, reducing any tendency for the fly to swim upside down or on its side. The aforementioned additional benefits, of protection of the hook point etc., gained by dressing double and single hooks with the points uppermost, also apply to the upward setting of the hook on a tube fly.

Hook Options for Tube Flies

Four possible options – for a salmon fly dressed on a small tube, fitted with a single or double hook - are illustrated below....

Upside Down Salmon Flies 14

Tube with downturned single hook


Upside Down Salmon Flies 15

Tube with upturned single hook



Upside Down Salmon Flies 16

Tube with downturned double hook


Upside Down Salmon Flies 17

Tube with upturned double hook


Upside Down Salmon Flies 18

A few tube flies are shown above, armed with an upturned single hook (Drennan Specimen hook in sizes 8 and 6), intended for sea trout or summer salmon.

Whether using singles or doubles, a tube fly will be more stable fished with hook points up.


Upside Down Salmon Flies 19

This 13 pound South Tyne salmon took a tube fly armed with an upturned double hook

In conclusion, it would seem to me that fishing our flies with hook points up might offer several practical benefits with no discernible disadvantages ….. All “upside” and no “downside”, so to speak. 

Indeed, we might well ask whether, for centuries, we have dressed and fished our trout and salmon fly hooks upside down!


See also Salmon Fly Hooks

For more information on, or to buy, Salmon, Trout and Sea Trout Flies, see Trout and Salmon Flies

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