An Accidental Success

It’s imperative to treat hatchery fish as much like wild fish as possible so that they can provide consistent robust fisheries.
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July 31, 2023
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An Accidental Success

If it weren't for an errant hoochie order at Silver Horde Tackle, the Ace Hi Fly might not be in production today. Luckily it is, however, and it's become one of the top-producing salmon lures on the West Coast.


An Accidental Success

The ace hi fly has passed the test with flying colors and has earned a permanent spot in the stable of many hard-core salmon anglers. by Rob Endsley

The sonar was blotted out with clouds of candlefish and scattered throughout the large masses of bait were the unmistable arches of chinook salmon. The kings were rustling them out of the sandy bottom and gorging on the sandlance with reckless abandon. It was an hour before tide-change in Southeast Alaska and everything was right in the world.

On the business end of each downrigger rod was a needlefish Ace Hi Fly with a Gibb’s 11-inch flasher 32 inches in front of it. The chinook weren’t messing around. We’d drop the rig until the downrigger ball slammed into the bottom, bring it up five feet, and by the time one rod was slid back in the holder the other one was going off. It was a king salmon rodeo!

Most of the kings were cookie cutters in the 15- to 25-pound range but one of them ripped it out of the clip immediately and took a smoking run towards the ocean. This one had some shoulders. I pulled the gear out of the water and hung the balls on the riggers to back down on this fish. After about twenty minutes of pumping it in only to have it scream line back out again I slid the net under a purple-backed beauty that tipped the scales at 32 pounds. All of this insanity was courtesy of the Ace Hi Fly.

It’s hard to believe that the development of the Ace Hi Fly was actually an accident. Kelly Morrison of Silver Horde Tackle in Lynnwood, Wash. was tinkering around with some molded heads that he planned to turn into tinsel flies for the Great Lakes salmon fishery. He and his good friend Art Olson, a plastics injection specialist in the Seattle area, were having dinner at a local restaurant one evening and the two of them were doodling up some new lure designs on napkins that would incorporate the heads.

With it's sleek hydrodynamic head, molded eyes, and all-inclusive hoochie design the Ace Hi Fly catches fish right out of the package.

With it's sleek hydrodynamic head, molded eyes, and all-inclusive hoochie design the Ace Hi Fly catches fish right out of the package.

The napkin drawings ended up sitting in the starting gate for quite a while until Kelly got a shipment of needlefish hoochies into the shop that were the wrong color. In fact, they didn’t have any color at all. They were clear. One day Kelly cut the head off one of the hundreds of  clear hoochies Silver Horde had sitting on the shelf and slid it over the end of one of the molded plastic heads. Then he glued a tinsel skirt underneath it. The final product looked awfully close to what the two of them had drawn up months before on the napkins. He called Olson and said, “When can you come down to the shop?”

In 2005 Silver Horde placed the first orders of the Ace Hi Fly with local tackle shops John’s Sporting Goods, Ted’s Sporting Goods, and Sportco. It was an instant success and saltwater anglers in Puget Sound started whacking silvers and kings on them right away.

Along the way there’s been some package changes and design tweaks and there are now 21 different color combinations and three different sizes to choose from. The first in the lineup is the standard Ace Hi which is about the size of an average hoochie, second is the needlefish Ace Hi designed to mimic sandlance or candlefish, and the third is the Ace Hi Fly Jr. The junior version was designed for kokanee but it can be dynamite for kings and silvers in the right situations. Namely, when there’s juvenile herring or candlefish around. 

The first thing you’ll notice about an Ace Hi Fly is that it looks more like a mini marlin lure than a salmon lure. The head is made of molded plastic and the eyes are molded right into the head. The head is shaped in an angular fashion with facets that give it additional movement in the water when it’s trolled behind a flasher.

The mylar and plastic legs are set into the aft end of the head at a near perpendicular angle that gives the Ace Hi Fly a more robust profile in the water and the maximum amount of action on the lure. The mylar and legs come in a variety of double glow, laser, and ultraviolet patterns that light up like a light bulb underwater.

The author with a hefty hatchery chinook that fell for a needlefish Ace Hi Fly in Southeast Alaska.

The author with a hefty hatchery chinook that fell for a needlefish Ace Hi Fly in Southeast Alaska.

Good friend and charter captain Trevor Zboyovsky of No Bananas Charters on Vancouver Island simply crushes chinook on Ace Hi flies the first few hours of the morning when the sun is still low on the water. “When you’re bringing in a king salmon the first thing you see is the Ace Hi Fly. It’s just so bright,” Trevor says.

Rigging an Ace Hi Fly couldn’t be easier. I usually tie tandem 3/0 or 4/0 hooks on 50- to 60-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon and then I’ll run four or five football shaped Silver Horde beads that act as spacers to get the hooks behind the fly and into the strike zone. I’ve settled on a 31-inch leader length behind the flasher, which gives the Ace Hi Fly plenty of whip and action. 

I usually add scent to the back side of the head and I’ll do my best to keep gel scent away from the tinsel and legs to keep them from getting gummed up. Herring, anchovy, sardine, squid, anise, and Pro-Cure’s Downrigger Dynamite are all in the scent lineup on my boat. A small herring strip works well for scent also. 

When there’s herring around the standard Ace Hi Fly has the biggest profile in the water and seems to match the size of smaller herring the best. As I mentioned earlier, the needlefish Ace Hi is sleek and slim to match the profile of a candlefish, also known as a sandlance.

I’ve seen longtime Alaskan salmon charter captain Derek Floyd of Reel Class Charters in Sitka put on clinics with the Ace Hi Junior fishing in some of Washington’s top winter blackmouth tournaments. Myself, I’ve had good luck with them when there’s young-of-the-year bait around that is in the inch to two-inch range.   

The color choices span the spectrum with the Ace Hi. I’d say my top four are blue splatter back, green splatter back, Herring Aid, and orange splatter back. I’ve had great luck on chartreuse, purple, and black also though. The bottom line is that the Ace Hi Fly gives off so much movement, color, and light that even if you’re not matching the hatch exactly the lure is still probably going to get slammed if there’s salmon around.

Another nasty trick anglers came up with in Puget Sound is to use the Ace Hi Fly as an insert and slide slide a favorite colored hoochie over top of it. The best anglers will cut small eye holes out of their hoochies to let the red eyes of the Ace Hi show through. This is a popular one during the late summer and fall when silvers are pouring into Puget Sound.

I’m fortunate in that I get to run charters in the salmon rich waters of Southeast Alaska during the summer months. If there was ever a research and development facility for salmon gear it’d be located on these waters. There’s enough salmon around on any given day to make testing salmon gear an option. You get to see exactly how the gear will perform under every condition imaginable. From these experiences the Ace Hi Fly has passed the test with flying colors and has earned a permanent spot in my stable of salmon fishing techniques.  ssj

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