The bomber and a bitter lesson

Paul Smith
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

I awoke this morning to a downpour of rain driven near horizontal by barbecue-toppling winds.

No matter what the weather or daily schedule, my eyes always pop open involuntarily at 6:30 a.m. I’m reflex-conditioned from my crack-of-dawn fly-casting routine. Prac­tice daily and I might one day see perfection looming on the distant horizon.

It’s Saturday, and if I had any sense I’d roll over and sleep for a few more hours before frying up a hearty breakfast of moose sausage, eggs and golden hash browns. I have no sense; Goldie reminds me every day. I’m beginning to believe her.

It will likely be good sea trout fishing later today. Nasty weather seems to abrogate their innate prudence to bite artificial offerings of fur and feather. But the tide is running in the wrong direction this morning, so I’ll tie up a few flies and brew a strong aromatic pot of Costa Rican coffee to sip while spinning caribou hair.

Although the official bomber pattern calls for deer hair, I use caribou, mainly because I prefer its texture, and I have a full hide cured from my days hunting on the Cape Shore.

I managed just a wing and tail before my coffee beckoned. I decided to enjoy my first cup contemplating the wind and rain through the dining room window, unoccupied with thread and scissors.

I never seem to appreciate the complete java impact if my mind is concentrated on another important task.

Bombers are serious business to the salmon catcher, demanding one’s absolute focus and attention to detail. Hair must be spun precisely and packed so tight that water can scarcely penetrate. Enjoying serious morning coffee and tying a proper bomber cannot be accomplished in concert.

While the wind ripped at my barbecue’s tent of vinyl, I absorbed the earthy essence of Central America’s finest beans. It is a very good thing.

I picked up a copy of “Atlantic Salmon Flies and Fishing” by Joseph D. Bates. It is a classic must read on both the pragmatics and history of chasing silver. I was reading it before bed and had left it on the table.

I casually browsed the first couple of pages, the ones I had skipped, being too eager to get to the heart of the matter. Now, with caffeine calming my disposition, I looked at the acknowledgements and other be­ginning stuff.

I discovered a full page dedicated to Rev. Elmer James Smith. There was a photo of him, the first I’d ever seen, smoking his pipe and looking very jovial and relaxed.

It was captioned, “a friend of man and of salmon.” You may not have heard of Rev. Smith, but he is a great man in my world. You see, Rev. Smith in-vented the bomber.



The bomber began its evolution in 1960s New Brunswick. Rev. Elmer Smith, a devoted Miramichi angler, had observed a young boy’s success using a deer hair mouse. Keen of mind and suspecting something profound, Father Smith spun some deer hair on a hook and trimmed it down to reasonable proportions.  He followed up with a grizzly hackle and the bomber was born.

No doubt, the good Reverend caught some salmon on his creation and others noticed. The salmon angling world has never looked back.

“Go fishing without a black wet fly in your box and you’re making a mistake. Go dry-fly fishing without a bomber and you’re crazy.” These insightful words, substantiated by many years in pursuit of Atlantic chrome, are from Peter Bodo’s “Atlantic Salmon Handbook.” I could not possibly agree more.

If you are planning to fish for salmon this summer, you had better make sure you have an ample supply of brown and orange bombers. There are other dry flies, but in the view of many anglers, the bomber is in a league of its own. A properly tied bomber with a well-proportioned hard body will float high and dry. If it becomes soggy, make a few false casts and it’s like cork again.

With the wing and tail angled and correctly proportioned, it will run parallel to the current, not sideways. Experience dictates clearly that salmon prefer bombers running straight, high and dry. Cast upstream and the bomber will run wing first towards you. As the line eventually creates upstream drag, the bomber will quickly flip around and continue its journey tail first.

A long, drag-free drift, with the fly either tail first or wing first, is the key to catching salmon on bombers. A proper bomber will do its part. All you have to do is run it over the salmon.

There are detractors that declare the bomber doesn’t work in their neck of the woods. I have experienced the utter destruction of this pronouncement on more than just a few occasions. Mostly these memorable events occurred some time ago, because over the last decade the bomber has become mainstream in North America, and popular even in Europe, where anglers tend to be much more traditional.


Matt and me

Some years back, Matt Brazil and I went June fishing on Pipers Hole River near the town of Swift Current. We got there late in the morning. Remember my writing about early birds from a couple of weeks ago? We are very consistent.

Just as we arrived at Murray’s Pool, a young fella in his early 20s was breaking down his rod to leave. He had been fishing since the crack of dawn and proceeded in a very friendly manner to tell us exactly how to catch fish on his pool. I say “his” pool, since he apparently knew every rock, crevice and eddy so intimately.

He told us every detail right down to where and at what angle to present the fly, and the offering had to be a blue sort of wet pattern riffled on the hitch. As I pulled my rod out of its case, he noticed my big, fuzzy, brown bomber.

“You won’t catch anything on that here,” says he, with both authority and confidence.

I’m sure the well-healed anglers amongst you are cringing in your comfy reading chairs. We all know that salmon have incredible hearing. If you dare proclaim they won’t do something to a fellow chaser of the chrome, they will certainly take note, and promptly make a bloody fool out of you every single time.

The audacity we terrestrial beings must possess to declare absolute psychological facts on the most mysterious of ocean swimmers. Sure, our brightest biologists struggle to figure out how salmon navigate their homeward journeys to natal waters.  

The salmon in Murray’s Pool most certainly overheard our knowledgeable riverside friend, and decided to teach him a lesson. I suspected the fish were in tune with the situation and said, “I’ll give this bomber a cast or two, seeing I have it tied on.”

Our friend chuckled pretentiously and sat on a rock to observe my folly.

On the second cast, a fine salmon intercepted my bomber and instantly bent my rod to the cork. After a couple of lofty aerial manoeuvres, surely to see the look on our friend’s face, he threw the hook and returned to his element.

The young man, so humbled by a fish, left sheepishly without saying a word.

I suspect he could hear Matt and me laughing as he walked out the path.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at

Geographic location: Central America, New Brunswick, North America Europe Swift Current

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page