The most exciting fly in the fly box.
The Riffling Hitch tube is a fantastic “fishing trip buddy” to keep in your fly box, it absolutely deserves its own article, and here you can read about my experiences with this fly. You will see step-by-step pictures of how to tie this fly, and you can also watch a short video clip of how to fish it. The Riffling Hitch tube is the fly that has had the most impact on my catches over the last 10 years; if someone had told me at an earlier time that this fly would be so effective, I probably would not have believed it.
An exciting evening with the Riffling tube in a favourite run.
The reason as to why one could be sceptical is that after all, “new” flies emerge all the time throughout the years, for then to disappear after a while, as they proved not to be very effective after all. I was introduced to this fly by the well-known salmon fisher Jan Idar Løndal. Jan Idar had been fishing on Iceland, where he works as a guide, and through this work, he came across this fly. Jan Idar phoned me up and told me about the Riffling Hitch tube; he also was optimistic for it on our beloved Gaula too. As it turned out, he was correct, the catches we experienced in the subsequent seasons were fantastic. I could barely believe it, salmon rose again and again to the surface to grab this skating fly, which obviously annoyed the salmon more than anything it had ever seen before.
The story behind this fly is an elaborate one, as this is actually nothing new in the world of salmon fishing either. Just how long ago the first salmon rose to the surface to take this fly I do not know, but history tells us that this too occurred in Scotland, and that it happened all the way back in the times of the Lords. The English salmon Lords gave away their classical salmon flies tied with a gut eye to the local boatmen after the gut was worn out. These flies were very valuable to the local fishermen even if they could not attach the leader to the fly in the usual fashion; they had to be able to fish them anyway. Thus, a half hitch on the side of the fly was employed, resulting in the fly rising up towards the surface, creating the wake that is so important to the fishing technique with the Riffling Hitch.
So the name Riffling Hitch is actually the name of the knot, it has got nothing to do with the fly pattern itself. If this story is true I do not know for sure, but it does sound plausible. From then and until today this fly too has been modernized so that it now mainly is fished as a tube fly. My first “riffling hitch” salmon were caught during the 2000 season, today I absolutely feel a vacuum as I believe I keep myself updated on most things around salmon fly fishing. However, it took many years until I came across this fly. It has kind of been “gone” for a long time. Where was it in the meantime, why was it not better known much earlier?
This is all the materials you need to tie an effective salmon fly.
“Attaching” the Riffling tube.
The fly tying technique is not the challenge when it comes to the Riffling tube. It is more important to consider how long the tube body should be, or where the hole should be positioned, the size of hook you can use, and last but not least how to fish this fly. The Rifling tube should be attached to the leader in a way so that is plane across the water. I use tube lengths of 1,5 cm to 1,7 cm for my flies, the smallest size for the 6 weight rod and hook size 12 and the larger size for the 8 weight rod and hook size 10.
You also have to block the front of the tube; you do this by melting the thinner tube, sealing the tube at the front. Then you make a hole on the side of the tube right behind the head (this is where I mostly make the hole), and then you insert the leader and tie to the hook. Now the fly will be correctly set up. When fishing this fly the hook will pull the fly down, but as the leader is positioned at the side of the fly, it will be forced up to the surface again. When the fly starts its journey towards the bank, half the tube will be under water and the other half above water, thus creating the wake. It is important to remember that the Riffling tube requires a certain speed in order to work well, I have not had the same good results by twisting the line to create the wake in pools that are otherwise too slow.
When will it be most effective?
These days there are many salmon fishermen catching salmon on a Riffling tube, I have spoken to many different fishermen and most agree that it is when the river is low, or on pools that restrict the upstream journey of the salmon, that it is the most effective. The best conditions occur when the river is low and warm and the salmon are spooky. The salmon are often hard to catch in such conditions, and therefore it is just great that the Riffling tube is at its best in these conditions. I have also caught salmon in this fly when the river is higher, and actually as early as in the middle of June, even on the River Gaula, this happened in a pool where salmon stop to rest before continuing its upstream journey. Thus, I state that you can have nice catches on this fly from pools where salmon will stop for some reason also when the river is higher.
Why is the salmon provoked by the Riffling tube?
I believe that it is the wake that provokes the salmon, why else should this fly work so well? It does not look like any natural insect, many of the other surface flies we use are imitations! However, the Riffling tube is no imitation in terms of the fly pattern itself.
I have often thought that the wake itself could be what imitates something the salmon regards as “real” in terms of swimming insects, and that this is why it will take the fly. I have observed salmon swimming from the opposite bank to intercept the Riffling tube, I have also seen salmon swim many meters in the surface to get the fly, both upstream and downstream. It is just this that made me consider whether the wake does indeed imitate something. In these situations, the wake has not disturbed the salmon while located in its lie.
Another possibility is that the wake irritates in terms of safety sought by the salmon in its lie. Salmon finds good lies where it can rest and at the same time be safe. Its eyes are located high on its head in order to orient itself through a “window” on the surface in terms of predators, so when the Riffling wake arrives and disturbs the salmon lie, the salmon just has to remove this annoyance ruining its overview/safety.
Both these theories are confirmed for me by how the salmon actually takes the fly.
In my experience, salmon will take the fly in two different fashions. One is the brutal take, when you see how angry the salmon is as it takes its fly. In this situation, you will often see water splashing around the fly before it disappears and you feel the rod bend.
The other kind of take is slower, you just see the head of the salmon as it calmly surfaces and slurps the fly down, in this situation there is no water splashing. Do not lift the rod when you see the salmon, wait with the lifting until you feel the line tighten. Dry fly fishing or what?
When the river becomes very low, many currents/pools become too slow and it is hard to make the Riffling tube move correctly in the current, creating that wake. One possibility is to make a hole further towards the middle of the tube body, this enables you to maintain the wake in slower currents, but when the river becomes too low it is very difficult to make the fly work correctly and straight in the current. When the river becomes this low, I switch to flies such as Streaking Caddis, Goddard Caddis, Madam X, Muddler/ Bomber, and Rakkelhanen. When the river is higher/bigger, in areas where salmon will run upriver without stopping, the Riffling tube is not very effective, in these conditions more standard tube flies are better.
Riffling Hitch, a dry fly?
I say yes! It is a dry fly. No, experienced dry fly fishermen will state. We are both correct! The pattern is no imitation of an insect, but it is fishing in the surface and salmon will rise to take it. You will fish this fly feeling it is a dry fly. To me, this is the extreme sport of salmon fishing… What a kick it is as the salmon “blinks its eyes” to you before slamming the fly! You get the feeling that this was the reason why it took the trip upriver, that is how determined it looks as it takes the fly.
Do not be fooled; salmon of all sizes will take the Riffling tube. I have caught many large salmon on this fly. My friend Per Dammen caught a 14 kilo salmon fishing the Riffling tube on a single-handed rod… do you have the guts to try that? I have fought massive salmon that I have lost in low-water conditions, due to rocks and debris uncovered due to the low water. I know that the largest one I lost was somewhere between 15-18 kilos!
The fishing technique.
Speed is a key word for success when using the Riffling tube; I have yet to experience the speed being to high. I have fished the fly in very swift currents; in these spots there will often be a few salmon when the river is low. And when the fly “falls” into the pockets and creates the wake in these areas, the salmon will come up and grab it. I have fished swift currents in the middle of a rainy and windy night; the salmon will take the Riffling tube regardless. When fishing the Riffling Hitch tube you should continuously work the fly in terms of it speed, try different angles of your casts. Ensure you constantly stress the salmon by changing the speed of the fly and by how you calculate the arrival of the wake over the lie of the salmon. When fishing the Riffling fly it is smart to “go straight for the target”, make the fly move over the target in different ways for each cast, three casts is normally enough in a situation like this, using this technique… Exciting, isn’t it!!?
I prefer the leader length to be around 10 feet, then I feel I have the best control during casting and fishing. As the fly hangs somewhat on the side due to the way it is attached to the leader means that fishing it takes a bit of getting used to, therefore it is good to have this leader length in terms of the casting. The same goes for when the fly is fishing in the current too; it is important to control the leader length so that the presentation of the cast is good. Then the fly will start creating a wake instantly. If your leader is too long, the cast can be a failed one and the fly will “drown”, thus the wake will not be created and you have to work hard in order to make it “swim” correctly again. The last argument for this length of leader is: when the fly drifts towards the bank it is very important to be able to steer the leader so that it stays tight, as this will enable you to create a longer-lasting wake, is the leader too long, this will be much harder to achieve. When using the 8 weight rod I use a tippet thickness of 0,27 mm or 0,33 mm, depending on water levels. With the 6 weight I mostly use a tippet of 0,23 mm or 0,27 mm.
Is as mentioned before not very tricky. You just need one overwing and one underwing made from soft fox hair, same length as the tube body. I start tying in a small body made from Mini Flatbraid, then I tie in the wings on top and underneath the tube, I do this so that the wings do not get in the way when making the hole. If you tie the Riffling tube using a normal hackle, the hackle will twist and tangle with the leader, thus the fly will not fish well.
I only fish the Riffling tube using single-handed rods, this means that the lengths I use for the tube bodies wary between 1,5 to 1,7 cm, this is an important point as the Riffling tube hangs on the side when you cast it, so that it creates some resistance. If you fish it with a double-hander you can use a longer tube body.
Riffling tying instructions:
Body: Large tubing, 1,5cm or 1,7cm long. Apply a few turns of tying thread on the thinner tube (small), this must not be too big, as the inner lenght will not be right for the tube hook which should be pushed all the way into the tube. Apply some cement, push the small tube into the larger tube. This makes the fly stronger.
Front body: Gold Flatbraid, tied in at the front of the tube, remember that the hole in the side of the fly usually is positioned just behind the Flatbraid body.
Wings: Black, soft hair, sparsely applied, with a length equal to the tube body. The wings are tied in over and under the tube, as the whole is made in the middle. I also turn the wings around when I tie them in, i.e. I tie in the tips of the wings, creating a thicker wing profile that I like for these flies.
The head: is made and cemented in the normal way, but remember that the tube should be blocked in the front, I do this by inserting a tube in size small before tying the fly, and then I melt this to the larger tube.
You can calculate the length of the wake by where you make the hole in the side of the tube. When fishing fast currents you make the hole at the front by the Flatbraid body, when fishing slower currents you make the hole closer to the middle of the tube.
Watch a Riffling Hitch video clip here.
Happy fishing summer!