Sunray Shadow is without a doubt one of the best salmon fly patterns. It's simple to tie and relatively easy to fish with it. Sunray has hundreds of different variations and you can use almost any fishing technique with it. We consider all slim black winged flies to be Sunrays or just Sunray variants. Collie Dog, Monkey flies etc. They are more or less one and the same fly with slight alterations in colors. And this is not an understatement to other flies.
The long and slim black winged fly is extremely visible in both clear and colored water. It's a great pattern for searching active fish but it works for resident fish when fished properly.
Tying a Sunray Shadow is fairly easy. There's a few points that you should keep in mind.
1. Tie a under wing from bucktail that serves as a base for the wing. Use medium bucktail and pick that part of the hair which is slightly curly. You don't want to use the hollow bucktail which raises straight up when you tighten your thread. You can also tie the underwing pointing forward and then turning it back with the thread. This creates a super solid base for the main wing.
2. Match the amount of bucktail with the thickness and length of your goat/tempelhair wing. Slim tied flies need a slim bucktail underwing and heavier silhouette Sunrays require a heavier underwing. The underwing's first and most important job is to prevent the long goat wing tangling on your hook.
3. Match the bucktail underwing to be length of the tube or just over.
4. Add black goat hair / fox / tempel hair. We prefer goat for that slim profile.
5. Tie the goat hair from 1 to 3 parts depending on the profile you want to achieve. For slim profiles 1 to 2 parts is enough. Remember to secure your ties with super glue. Goat hair is rather slippery from the stems and you don't want the fibers to fall off in use.
6. Add peacock herls on top of the wing. 2-3 strands is enough.
You can use your imagination with the color combinations. The regular white bucktail underwing and black goat has proven its efficiency. Lot of anglers like the green version with green tubing and chartreuse underwing. You can add flash if you feel like it.
Or you can go way overboard and add lot of flash, eyes and UV glue for the head. These type glam rock versions have been working for resident fish but will definately do the trick with fresh running fish also. Here’s a few prototype patterns...
Tying the Sunray Hitch
While you're at it, we recommend tying a few Sunray hitches as well. A simple and quick to tie pattern which is a great pattern for fresh running fish.
1. Add black bucktail for underwing. Add few strands of flash.
2. Tie a slim goat wing. Remember to secure the wing with super glue.
3. Warm a needle and puncture a hole trough the tube from around 1/3 of the head.
Fishing with Sunray Shadow
Fishing with the Sunray Shadow is the tricky part. On the other hand it's not. We've seen all kind of tactic work. What we prefer is a active style of fishing where you cast the fly across the current and mend the line so that fly swims straight across the current. Give some pumping action with the rod if the current isn't super fast. When the swing starts to slow down, strip the fly in with long steady pulls.
If your fishing in slow current (which we love), strip the fly as soon as it hits the water. In most cases the long and steady pulls work great but variating the speed of the retrieve is always a good idea. One with slow strips and next one with fast and short ticks. You get the idea.
You can fish with the Sunray with the regular swing. The Collie Dog (which we consider more or less to be a Sunray) works well with the regular swing after casting it just slightly downstream. You can even use sinking lines and fish with the Sunray with a regular swing. For resident fish, casting upstream and stripping the fly towards the salmon's face sometimes results in super hards takes.
We're strong believers in letting the fish hook themselves on the regular swing. But when fishing with the Sunray, we recommend that you keep stripping when you feel or see the fish take the fly.
If you haven't tried it, give it a go next season and knock yourself out.