The Willie Gunn - Everyone's Favourite?
The Willie Gunn - a fly which every salmon angler either know's of or has complete faith in.
But, do you know its origins?
Willie Gunn (the man at the centre of this story) was born in Skerray, Sutherland on 14th March 1909 and died in Inverness on 6th March 1996. He made his living as a keeper, gillie and stalker on the Sutherland Estate. He caught the salmon fishing bug early in his life and devoted the majority of his spare time to Salmon fishing, the Brora being his home river.
I've researched his namesake pattern for quite a while and there's quite a bit of conjecture on its actual origins - isn't there always! So here are both versions of the story, and I'll let you make your own mind up on which one you prefer:
This version of the story starts in 1970, with an RAF Office called "Dusty" Miller - who himself was a very adept fly tyer. Whilst experimenting with differing hair-wing flies he tied a few different variations of the Thunder & Lightning on some tubes - these consisted of a black body with gold rib. The hair-wing was mixed with equal proportions of black, orange and yellow and tied in 360 degrees around the tube, similar to this:
"Dusty" then took these to his good friend Rob Wilson - who owned the tackle shop in Brora, and legend has it he exchanged them (no one seems to know what he exchanged them for). Rob then put the flies under the glass countertop.
In walks our Willie, to top up his fly selection, and he spots one pattern in particular that really takes his fancy. Rob hands him the pattern to try out and suggests they should name it the Willie Gunn. That pattern then accounted for 10+ fish in the following days and its mythical status was confirmed across the north of Scotland.
Alternatively, an angler called Jim MacKenzie - who was Willie Gunn's nephew and an avid fly tyer devised the pattern and first tied them on Waddington shanks (or welding wire, as true Waddington shanks were expensive), these were tied in both 1" and 1.5" lengths using a blend of Orange, Yellow and Black wing with a silver rib.
On his next family visit to the Highlands of Scotland, Jim gave these to his uncle Willie to try out. These proved really successful, so much so that Willie used his last ones when guiding for the Duchess of Sutherland, so he asked Jim if he could have them copied by Rob Wilson in his shop in Brora - and the rest, as they say, is history.
I'm not sure which one of the above stories I like the sound of more (although I'm erring on the side of the first one). But you can make your own mind up. One thing that is clear though is that the pattern works!
If we've piqued your interest in the Willie Gunn, why not check out our patterns - in all their different forms:
As far as research for all the above goes, I thought it only correct to list my sources here:
If you have any alternate stories, or anything to add to any of the above, please get in touch - we're always willing to learn more!
Willie Gunn - The Variations
Willie Gunn (Nordic Double)
Gold Willie Gunn Loop Bottle Tube
Gold Willie Gunn (Double)