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Web Exclusive: Is Ally's Shrimp the World's Best Atlantic Salmon Fly?

The Scottish creation is a shrimp imitation and growing legend with countless salmon on its conscience.

Web Exclusive: Is Ally's Shrimp the World's Best Atlantic Salmon Fly?

The Ally’s Shrimp, a modern classic Atlantic salmon fly, was invented with inspiration from large deep-sea shrimp. (Terkel Broe Christensen photo)

The Atlantic salmon is widespread throughout the North Atlantic Ocean, as are the large protein-rich Greenland prawns–also called deep-water prawns or Arctic prawns. They make up a large part of the natural food of salmon and other large fish and mammals in the sea. But this is not limited to salt–in freshwater, there are actually plenty of prawns on the salmon's menu. Here, gammarus, a smaller shrimp-like kelp flea, forms a large part of the salmon fry's food. It is therefore not surprising that salmon are tempted when a fly fisherman swings a large red-orange shrimp imitation quickly past the salmon's nose. What exactly triggers the take, we can only guess. One suggestion is that fresh salmon in freshwater still have their eating instinct intact or there is a behavior stored in the brain from adolescence. The fact is that salmon and sea trout eat shrimp most of their lives and that flies tied as imitation shrimp can be extremely effective.

One of the most used shrimp flies and perhaps one of the best Atlantic salmon flies today is the Ally’s Shrimp, which was invented with inspiration from large deep-sea shrimp. It is the professional Scottish salmon fisherman, casting instructor, fishing guide, writer and, not least, fly tyer, Alastair, or Ally, Gowans, who is the man behind Ally’s Shrimp.

A man, Alistair Gowans, holding a large Atlantic salmon in a river.
Alistair Gowans with the results of his fly, Ally's Shrimp. (Ally Gowans photo)

Ally lives near Pitlochry in the Scottish Highlands on the banks of the River Tummel, a tributary of the legendary salmon river River Tay. This is where he developed his passion for salmon fishing and, of course, workshops his creations from the vise. 

He got the inspiration in the early 1980s, when he was on a fishing trip with a trawler off the Scottish west coast. The trip did not involve salmon–instead, they were looking for lobsters for the freezer. When the trawler came up after a move over the seabed, in addition to lobsters were some very large and active shrimps which were completely different from the small gray shrimps usually seen on the coast.

The shrimp differed by being more transparent with a tinge of orange and pink. Through the shell you could see the entrails appearing as a dark lump. It wasn't just the color that fascinated Ally, but just as much the shape of the shrimp and their quick movements. The large, delicious prawns must also be salmon food, and if they could be imitated on inland rivers, they would be guaranteed to catch salmon. 

Initially, Ally’s Shrimp was thought of as an autumn fly as red flies are effective at the end of the season, but it has proven to be effective throughout the season. In the August 1988 issue of the Scottish angling magazine Trout and Salmon, Gowans wrote of his latest creation: “It is worth trying at any time from early spring to late autumn and has been taken from The Dee, Tay, Tummel, Tweed, and Esks.” Since then, it has probably taken fish in every salmon river around the Atlantic. In recent years, word of Ally’s Shrimp's effectiveness has also spread to the rivers around the Pacific Ocean, where it is now also used for fishing for steelhead and Pacific salmon.

The shrimp's transparent body with its visible entrails, legs, and long antennae can be seen in the structure of the fly. The orange transparent shrimp body is made up of the many different orange binding materials. The dark entrails are illustrated with the body, which consists of black silk floss. Antennae are made with a few strands of long bucktail hair in extension of the body.

When an effective and popular fly is invented, countless variations of them are tied. Ally hasn't held back. He has succeeded in developing many other effective versions. The orange original version is still the most popular, but the yellow and red variant is also widely used. Other creations from Ally's hand include Ally’s Yellow Shrimp, Red Lurex Ally’s, and Ally’s Blue Charm.

A fly angler landing an Atlantic salmon at a river's edge.
In the spring when the water level is high and the temperature is low, Ally's shrimp imitation can be an effective fly for the silver salmon. (Terkel Broe Christensen photo)

Ally recommends that the fly be tied on a hook from size 14 to 3/0, and they can be tied on tubes of similar sizes. The smallest models are tied on a single or double hook. They are light and can be fished high in the water on a floating or intermediate line. They are perfect when the water is low and warm in summer and salmon come to the surface to take the fly. Early in the season, when the water is high and cold, it can be difficult to get the salmon to go up to a high-fished fly. Sinking lines and large flies tied on the heavier Waddington shanks or on brass tubes are often used here, which can be just the right method.




There are many different opinions about how exactly it should be tied. Ally talks about a funny experience he had many years ago that clearly demonstrates that there is more than one version. He was demonstrating fly tying at Partridge Hooks in front of a large audience. At the back of the room sat two boys–one being an acquaintance of Ally. When Ally was almost done tying his world-famous fly, one of the two said in a slightly too-loud voice: “That was never an Ally's Shrimp. That's not how it's tied." After which Ally's friend said: “It must be, because it is Ally who ties it.” The entire gathering heard the two boys' conversation and laughter erupted.

Ally has previously sold many flies from his website, letsflyfish.com. But he is not particularly interested in tying flies commercially anymore, tying only a few depending on who asks. If you are one of the lucky ones, you can still manage to buy flies tied by the master himself directly from the fly shop in Scotland.

Ally still teaches fly casting and fly fishing, and occasionally he also guides. If you want to see him live, it costs at least a plane ticket to Scotland, but it's probably not the worst investment for a salmon fisherman.

Recommended


The World's Best Salmon Fly?

Anyone can proclaim a fly as the best fly in the world. Many really good flies have been invented, but which one is really the best? If you look in the fly boxes along the rivers around the Atlantic both on the west and east side and along the rivers in between. Here, Ally’s Shrimp appears quite often.

In the book The World's Best Flies published by The North Atlantic Salmon Fund, it is of course mentioned. Ally’s Shrimp has also been chosen as the salmon fly of the millennium by the readers of the English fishing magazines Trout and Salmon, Trout Fisherman, and Angling Times. So there must be something to it.

Ally’s Shrimp Fly Tying Recipe

A pile of orange Salmon flies.
Ally recommends that the fly be tied on a hook from size 14 to 3/0, and they can be tied on tubes of similar sizes. (Terkel Broe Christensen photo)
  • HOOK: Size 6-10 (Tube: length 2-3 centimeters)
  • THREAD: Red
  • TAIL: Hot orange bucktail and pearl crystal flash
  • RIB: Oval silver tinsel
  • BODY: Half red and half black silk floss with a rib of oval tinsel
  • UNDERWING: Natural gray squirrel
  • WING: Golden pheasant tippets
  • HACKLE: Hot orange bucktail
  • HEAD: Red

On Nordic Angler's website you will find a tying video made by the store's owner, Daniel Holm:

A Note on Materials

These are relatively common and cheap materials that must be used to tie an Ally’s Shrimp; hook/tube red binding thread, orange bucktail and a little crystal flash, some oval silver tinsel, silk floss in both red and black as well as gray squirrel tail and finally tippets from the golden pheasant. The pictures show materials for DKK 4-500 ordered from the author's regular supplier Nordic Angler. They also have a ready-made package of materials for an Ally’s Shrimp variant for 367 kroner (50 euros). It can be purchased from their website here.

A plump Atlantic salmon held in the water by an angler.
There must be something to Ally's Shrimp. (Terkel Broe Christensen photo)

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