Our Man In Canada
January 28th, 2002

Great Canadian Flies
Polar Bear Hairwings

Polar Bear Hairwing

By Arthur James Lingren
From Fly Patterns of British Columbia, Published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission.

According to Roderick Haig-Brown, 1935 was a consequential year for saltwater salmon fly fishing. Previous to 1935, fishermen used the standard bucktails, dressed on 2/0 hooks with bucktail wings about 2 inches long, but in 1935 they realized that longer winged flies represented the cohoes' quarry, the needlefish. Also in the '30s, flies of more brilliant luster dressed with the more translucent and flexible polar bear hair replaced the dull and brittle bucktail hair.

Tommy Brayshaw didn't fish Duncan Bay in 1935; however, he did with his wife Becky in 1936, and recorded in his diary usuage of polar bear hairwing flies. He writes:

"Sept 1st. Did not go out early. Took Mr. B. down to the bus at 9 then called on R. H[aig]-B[rown] & decided to go to Duncan Bay . . .A few boats there [but] all blank, nothing doing till after lunch when at 1.45 Becky got a cohoe 6 1/4 pounds on white & orange polar bear. I followed with a 4 1/2 pounder . . .Becky got another of 6 pounds . . ."

Later, in 1938, Brayshaw recorded the first that I have managed to locate, documented-in-writing usage of polar-bear winged flies for trout on the Adams River.

For the saltwater salmon fly fisher, the switch to polar bear hair and longer winged flies that resulted in larger catches is undoubtedly true, but with the longer winged, single-hook flies, fishermen started to complain about short-taking fish.

Charlie Stroulger, long-time Duncan guide and sportfisher, in a November 1994 letter, remembers those short-taking fish and says:

"Polar bear started to come alive in the late 1930s and early 1940s . . .In those days we only had single hooks and the hair was too long so the fish were taking short.

I went to a friend of mine that tied flies and asked him if he could [put on] a trailer hook. . .He tied the trailer hook on with copper wire and I believe this was the start of the double hooks. It really made a difference in catching cohoes."

In the '30s as it is today, throwing with a fly rod a two-inch-long bucktail or polar-bear hair-wing fly dressed on a 2/0 hook was possible, but unless fish were milling fly casting to cohoes in the ocean was a chancy proposition. When the fly length was increased to three inches and longer and with the addition of the trailer hook, casting was almost impossible and trolling the big flies became ever more popular. The sport that developed around trolling flies for coho - whether the flies were constructed of deer hair or polar bear hair - became known as bucktailing and that name has stuck to this day."


Hook:  Number 2/0 to 8.

Body:  Flat silver tinsel.

Wing:  Polar bear: white under followed by Yellow, red, blue, purple, mauve, or green.

Originator:  Unknown.

Intended Use:  Coho salmon.

Location:  Cowichan and Duncan bays.
~ Arthur James Lingren

Credits: From Fly Patterns of British Columbia by Arthur James Lingren. We thank Frank Amato Publications, Inc. for use permission!

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