A Fly To Try This Month- Sunray Shadow
The Sunray Shadow- Ray Brooks
Tubes: plastic/aluminium ½”- 1 ½ “
Underwing: usually white bucktail. Originally either grey squirrel with white tips or
Wing: Goat, Monkey Substitute, Silver Fox. Any mobile long black hair.
Overwing Peacock Herl
The Sunray Shadow was created by Ray Brooks, an Englishman who fell in love with Norway’s River Laerdal back in the 1960s. It was on the Laerdal that the Sunray, originally intended as an eel imitation, began its rise to prominence and today it is to be found in most fly boxes in some shape or form. It is fair to say that Mr Brooks’ pattern is widely regarded as one of the truly great salmon flies. I also think it has the best name of any fly; Sunray Shadow has a poetic ring to it.
The original pattern used a squirrel underwing, either white tipped or brown depending on light conditions. The long flowing black wing was originally Colobus Monkey, which for obvious reasons is less commonly used today. Most versions of the Sunray I have seen are tied using various types of goat. Some tyers like long silver fox and there is also ‘Monkey substitute’ which is readily available from the usual sources online. A quick ‘google’ will reveal all. I quite like this material, it holds the shape of the wing and it wraps less than softer varieties of goat. It also has a kink in it when wet, which I like.
As for size, Sunrays tend to be on the large side, up to and beyond 5”. My pal John Veitch, of the River Lochy, loves the Sunray and I showed him some of my smaller versions earlier this spring and he was underwhelmed. I fish it with it either 3-4” wings on 1” aluminium tubes, which has borne fruit and I also like ½” plastic tubes with a 2” wing I fish these in fast water in the summer- cast square and left to swing. I accept that these might fall below the size of what might be considered a true Sunray. John’s take on it is that the fly is there to do a job; namely, wind up the fish sufficiently for it to attack. His versions tend to be more heavily dressed and have wings around 4-5”. These are cast square and stripped back across the pool or left to swing in colder water. Often a fish will either take it or surrender its location to be picked off later with a conventional fly. In summer, a popular tactic for otherwise unresponsive fish is to swim a Sunray on a slow sinking line.
In the interests of balance, it is also important to note that the Sunray attracts its share of criticism. Some ghillies cannot bear the thought of it on their pools and many anglers share that view. My late father ghillied on the Lochy where it is a firm favourite and he simply couldn’t be bothered with it as it fell out with his laconic style; he doesn’t believe that stripping away furiously yields sufficient reward to justify the extra effort. Perhaps he was missing a trick, but he remained unmoved. He is not alone; I know other very good anglers who don’t fish with it for similar reasons. I have also met one or two who have an almost fanatical hatred of the fly and consider its use to be poor form. There is a view that once a pool has had a large Sunray stripped across it the residents will be scared witless and put off the take.
It is an argument that will continue to rage, alongside all the other raging arguments that make fishing huts such lively places to be. My tuppence worth is that bad casting and over wading scare more fish than a Sunray ever could. That said a little consideration can go
a long way.
A 16lbr on the Sunray for Mattias Helde at Upper Blackhall
(First Published in Trout & Salmon)