fly importance.... [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: fly importance....

04-10-2003, 10:43 PM
How important do you think fly selection is when fishing for steelhead, salmon and sea-run cutts?

not including cutts in streams as they become much more like trout.

04-11-2003, 09:32 AM
We all have our favourite flies, the one we would feel unarmed without, the killer fly that will make our day. However, as much as I hate to say it, I suspect that it does not matter nearly as much as we'd like to think.

Anyone who has spent time on a steelhead river will have seen the full gamut of flies work - often on the same day. I am fond of saying that on my favourite fall river a black shoe lace attached to a hook will work - maybe this year I'll try it!

So why do we all get jacked up about fly patterns? Well, that's because they are really important to - to us! I know that if I don't believe in the fly - I will fish it poorly, in fact, it will not likely stay on my line for more than a few casts - generally nowhere near long enough to stumble across a willing steelhead!

So, ironically I do think the flies we choose to fish are important - it is just that it is not that important to the fish. :whoa:

04-11-2003, 09:58 AM
I think size and shape are the main things to consider in steelhead flies. Certain style of flies seem to work better then others. The general practitioner or prawn style of fly seem to be quite effective for winter run steelhead. The most popular spey flies seem to look similar to GPs or prawn style flies.

Then I think it is a matter of size. Larger flies when water is murky or colored and smaller as the water clears. Probably not as important as shape.

I think materials are important. How certain materials react in different types of water. For example, I am not a fan of marabou because it seems to collapse in faster water. It tends to lay flat on the hook lacking any movement. Seems we are always looking for materials that will move or breathe in the current.

04-11-2003, 11:44 AM
As much as I would like to believe that Kerry is right and shape, materials and size matters, I think Kush is closer to the mark for steelhead. Flies are very important to us but I doubt very to the fish. We as fishermen get locked into a fly or type of fly and that is what we fish.

I like the story about the old timer that swore up and down that the green butt skunk was the only fly to use. To prove his point he reported that every fish I have caught in the last 10 years came to a GBS. When asked what were all the flies he had tried in that time, he replied I only fish the GBS.

Just incase I am wrong though, I will keep searching for that magic pattern. :D

Salmon on the other hand, I think color and size makes a huge impact.

04-11-2003, 12:16 PM
For the sake of argument. Or is that because I like to argue. What ever.

Is the popularity of gp or prawn style flies coincidental, just a matter of fishermen's confidence in this particular style or are more fish actually caught on this type of fly because of it's design? Or, maybe this type of fly is not that popular and I am mistaken in my assumption.

04-11-2003, 12:53 PM
All of the above? :p

Kerry, we probably need to ask the fish but my guess is they catch fish because a ton of people fish them. I certainly do as my Black Scampi is nothing but a GP immitation that I have tweeked a bit. I catch most of my fish on this pattern but I mostly fish it so go figure.

I will agree with you that the GP series hold there profile well in faster flows. I have found that marabou patterns can be tricked into doing this as well if a shoulder of dubbing or chenille is tied in before the marabou. The added advantage to this is it allows the body to be showed off instead of being obscured by the marabou.

04-11-2003, 01:37 PM
It's interesting to note from my fishing that the farther away you get from salt water how the patterns that work well close to 'tide water' are zero when the fish get well up stream. The GP is a good example here on the Rogue.

Bottom end of the river this, and flys of this type, can be darned effective. Get into the top end of the river and it's been 100 miles of river and perhaps several weeks since the fish last saw/actively fed on these creatures.

Upper river they see a more 'natal' food supply and will react to one and completely ignore the other. Egg patterns are only really effective if there are spawing fish (especially Salmon) at the time/in the area. With that in mind ... still no idea why they'll (Steelhead anytime and fall kings) climb all over a Willie Gunn.

Another example of this from last weekend was working with Aaron's woven flys. The LARGE one of a given pattern produced zip; dropped down at least 75% in size (same pattern) and they were all over it.

Willie Gunn
04-11-2003, 01:48 PM
Originally posted by fredaevans
With that in mind ... still no idea why they'll (Steelhead anytime and fall kings) climb all over a Willie Gunn.


It should be obvious, the fly was designed in Scotland. It is bound to head and shoulders over anything else.

Malcolm (from Scotland )

04-11-2003, 01:53 PM
I agree with you Fred. The same can be said of the fish's preference to smaller buggier flies when talking about upper Columbia river tribs, Deschutes, Snake, Grand Ronde, Clearwater etc.

04-11-2003, 02:16 PM
Okay, 6-7" GP's in the Thompson? Not exactly tidewater.

04-11-2003, 02:25 PM
Thinking the same thing for the Skeena fish that seem to love a 5" string leech. Also have heard some good reports from the Snake and Clearwater on large bushy flies.

Intersting to note Alec Jackson's theory that fish fresh out of tidewater have good visual ability so he goes with sparse patterns. His theory is that the longer in fresh water, the more the eyesight breaks down so the bushier his patterns become. Not saying I agree but an intersting theory. It would seem to hold more with salmon than steelhead as I am not aware of any visual deterioration for the latter.

04-11-2003, 03:01 PM
Ok, now are we back to what we have confidence in is what works the best? Small buggy flies vs. big bushy flies. When I get done with this thread I won't know what to use. 6-7" GP's on the Ronde perhaps? Or are we now talking about summer fish preferences compared to winter fish preferences?

04-11-2003, 04:15 PM

I think you are right, it is back to what we have confidence in. As for the Ronde, I've never had the pleasure, however, I would bet alot of money that I could catch a fish on a 6"GP. The Coquihalla, near Hope in the upper Fraser Valley is more a creek than a river. I think it would make the Grande Ronde look large, yet I caught many summer runs on large GP's on a tip. I was new to the game then, I don't think I would resort to such tactics today, but the fact remains I caught lots of low water summers on really big flys.

In fairness, your point is well taken, I think that situations like the Coquihalla and the Ronde, etc, are made for light tackle and small or dry flies, but, that is really our choice - not the steelhead's.

04-11-2003, 04:51 PM
I'm in agreement with Kush's first observation.

I think it's the fly(s) we fish with confidence — I sincerely doubt the fly makes much difference to the fish. Even though there are times I have supreme confidence that the fly I'm using is THE correct one for that day's conditions, I admit that it might not make much difference. One small case in point was an experience last fall on an Atlantic salmon river where I took fish from nearly the same area of the same pool one evening on a size 10 "barely damp" fly, a normally swung size 6 green highlander and a deep 2/0 bunny leech.

It's often occurred to me when tying in the evening for the next day's fishing that I'm really tying for myself — I probably don't need more flies. I think we all like to tie and experiment with new ideas.

04-11-2003, 04:58 PM

I hope you get the opportunity to fish the Ronde. It is a wonderful little river in beautiful country and comes with aggressive fish. Can’t beat that. As for catching fish with a 6-7” GP in the Ronde. Well, you probably will but they will most likely be squaw fish. Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing. They want to get the squaw fish out of the river. So, you would be doing everyone a favor by catching and removing the things. However, I think you would have better luck using smaller, buggier flies for steelhead.

This is a very enjoyable and informative thread. Thanks all for helping me through a dull Friday at work. Now, for the weekend and hopefully some Skagit steelhead tugging on my line.

See ya all on Monday.


04-11-2003, 05:32 PM
On many occasions I have worked through a run with one fly without a grab, then changed flies and hooked up the second time. Most recently it happened on a coastal stream. I went through the first time with a black bunny leech - a big producer for me - then followed with a orangish shrimpy thing that a big nate ate. I gotta say sometimes the fly matters.

04-11-2003, 05:37 PM
As a flytyer who likes to tie and fish classic spey, dee, and featherwing flies, I'd love to say that the fly matters. However, I have only found this to be true in a few (very few) instances. So do what I tell new steelhead flyfishers, match the size of the fly to the water temperature, clarity, and flow of the river. Cold water, big fly; colored water, darker or brighter; really colored water; big and black or brown; warm water and low flow, small fly.

04-11-2003, 11:15 PM
It's the line, man, ability to read the water effectively and presentation of the fly. The only thing the fly has to do is support your confidence. So how come I keep trying figure out an new confidence fly, because, if I didn't what else would I do when I wasn't fishing.:hehe:

04-11-2003, 11:32 PM
Great thread!

My .02, aka Juro's order of importance:

#1 - presence of fish: You can't argue with that one but how often are we in control?

#2 - mood of fish: There's a wedding joke in there somewhere but I am not going there

#3 - presentation: Drag ain't gonna sing if you ain't got that swing

#4 - fly: Sure it's important, just not as important!

But all are critical to hooking that fish! Good luck (phew)! ;)

04-11-2003, 11:45 PM
Originally posted by rich_simms
So how come I keep trying figure out an new confidence fly, because...

I thought you had found that fly...isnt it called an Egg Sucking Leech?? :hehe: :devil: I right sinktip??? ;)

btw-Rich, you set yourself up for that one...and we do it because love 'ya! :) :eek:

04-12-2003, 12:12 AM
The ESL is a decoy fly for you Spark and what I tell the tip when the scamp isn't feeln' fresh, today's :smokin: was courtesy of a back to basics BIG BLACK SKUNK with tip's nemesis white wing.:chuckle:

04-12-2003, 12:44 AM
There are tried and true flies for certain areas. Tidewater and trib mouths produce best hits on imitation patterns (GP, my Nooch Shrimp, baitfish patterns, etc). Some short strips as you retrieve and "FISH ON!!!!!". But once you get into the tribs, or high up on mainstream, it's more the fly you have confidence on. Prime example that I've used on other posts similar to this.

It was father's day weekend. Rivers were just opened back up. Gin clear, very cautious approach and smaller/darker patterns for steelhead/trout. Had my gear ready to go. Well, my kids are up and coming fly tyers (they're 6 and 8). They love to watch me tie and always have designs they want me to tie (or they're try and tie themselves). In fact, if you check the archives, I did a post about fly. Well, when it gets late and dark, only thing around is the woodstove, gas lanterns, and the vise for me. No electricity, so thank god no TV, phones, computer, etc down at my Dad's property on the Wynoochee. She had one helluva design. Very off the mainstream. Size 1/0 or 2 hook if I remember right (can look at hook and find out). Had long bright tail, some GP green feathers on side, chenille body, big bright fly. Well, went out in the morning, water super clear, and started fishing with kids. I had all but given up, couldn't get a fish on to save my life. Now, these were GIN CLEAR conditions, I could see movement of fish from my stealth position on bank. So of course you'd go with a small leech or subsurface/dry fly of some sort in dark colors. Well, I was about to give up, and my daughter asked if I'd put her fly she designed on. I figured why not, she was proud of it, and I was proud that she designed outside the box. But this was by no mean ANY type of summer fly. Did a couple false casts and tossed into the zone. Fly slowly sank away, saw a flash under water, and saw the twitch of the line, set the hook and "FISH ON!!". I landed that fish, and retired the fly. It was only one I had, and amazed me that I got a fish to come to it. This would be an awesome fall/winter fly. Big, bright, and lots of movement. But way against norm for summer steelheading. Just proves, sometimes if it shows interest to the fish, they'll take it.

04-12-2003, 12:57 PM
This is a great subject and one that we'll never probably know the anwer to but all have our opinions. Here are some of mine.

Cold water
I do think Juro's #3 influences fly selection. Presentation aside, i think the main consideration is size. Fish that have been fished on before or hooked get shy, especially in low water. For these fish I think a smaller fly is in order (certainly fished slower). I've always felt that subtle colors, eg black, olive, brown, dark purple are also best for such fish, but really don't know and, truth be told, it probably doesn't matter.

New fish are aggressive. And will hit anything they see. I love to prospect the lower rivers for fish just in on the last tide. These fish have never seen a fly, lure or any hook whatsoever and will hammer you. I've stood up on a high bank and watched a buddy cast to fish and seen them race 20 feet at warp speed hell bent on killing the intruder swinging through. These are the fish we all want! Talk about mood! After a few of these are hooked though, they become become more dour and one needs to slow down the presentation and change pattern.

Summer Fish
I've been fortunate enought to fish some remote places for warm water fish where many of them hadn't seen anyone's fly but mine. For these fish it I think it just doesn't matter at all. Use whatever you like because they're gonna jump on it!

With summer fish that have been fished, I'm not sure size/color matter much if at all either. I think what can matter here is the change up - coming through with something different than what they saw the last time, this can be a sparse low water pattern or a BIG leech.

In either case I like bigger flies in higher water. I simply think there's a lot going on in the water column in high water and big patterns are easier for the fish to see.


Kush - 7-inch GPs? I love to use big flies on new fish but don't have anything to approach that, My closest being about 5-inches... You're gonna give me an inferiority complex!

04-12-2003, 12:58 PM

I would love to tease Rich about his ESL problem but since he is the man this spring, I will keep my mouth shut. If I had hooked half of the fish he has reported in the last 3 months, I would be ecstatic.

Do I think the fly matters? Nope. Do I think the shrimp oil he soaks them in does? Apparently so. :D


04-12-2003, 11:14 PM
Lots of great replies. I have had fish come and look at 10 different flies before taking. One ten pound salmon looked at every dry fly we hand until I dropped a wet on him and he took it. I guess that there is no accounting for taste.

One comment. I hope we are talking winter fish on the ronde because if you are fishing anything other than a dry on the ronde during the summer you are missing the greatest experience steelheading can offer.

04-12-2003, 11:45 PM
Presentation is the most important aspect of flyfishing for salmon or steelhead, but this does not imply that fly selection is not also of great importance. There are times when it seems as if any fly will work, but I have experienced many situations where a particular fly characteristic will clearly out perform another. These characteristics are; size, color, silhouette, and the one that most anglers rarely consider, behaviour. A prime example of an apparent preference by the fish is many of the Alaskan Silver salmon fisheries. I have seen the color pink (size of the fly was of NO consequence) totally spank by a wide margin every other color in the spectrum. This same result is also often displayed by chartreuse in fishing for Kings. Sometimes in steelheading profile is of greater importance, for example a slim fly will out produce a bulky fly or vice versa. When I select a fly for a given situation, I consider first the size and general silhouette that I think is needed, then the color, and lastly, any special considerations for behavior to match the flow of the water that I am fishing (in general - soft, "breathing" materials for slow water, stiffer for faster currents). What I don't feel is important are all of the little intricacies that we anglers often incorporate into some of our flies; a red tag versus an orange tag, black seal fur body opposing a black chenille body, etc,etc. In general it is the overall impression of the package that counts. Selecting the right fly for a given situation is something that is gained through experience on the river... Why do some summer-run fish demand small flies while it seems as if others don't really care one way or another? I don't know the answer for sure, but it seems highly coincidental that those rivers with fertile conditions - usually indicative of high populations of rather small sized insects - such as the Deschutes, are the rivers where small flies work so well. On the other hand, rivers that are more freestone in nature - where steelhead parr would have to feed more opportunistically - such as the Bulkley and Grand Ronde, are also those rivers where larger flies can also work well...There is no "one magic fly" that will work all of the time. Certainly black is very effective under a wide range of conditions, but I know of many instances where it would be the worst choice that one could make. If one caught a steelhead on a black fly, that does not mean that there could not have been four more fish out there that would have preferred orange. When it comes to fishing a sunk-fly, refusals of a fly because of color, size, silhouette, or behavior, are not evident. It is very easy under such circumstances to believe that because we indeed had caught a fish that we had obviously picked the "correct" pattern for the situation.

04-16-2003, 09:03 AM
I agree with Juro, but I can tell you as several others have said above in this thread that there have been many times when using different flies though the same run/pool the second or third time through, that a different fly made the difference.

In the GLs all the rivers andramous fish run for the most part are also very good resident trout rivers filled with insect life. In the big lakes they feed on bait fish and insects. When they return to the rivers they quickly "Remember" their smolt days insect imprinting and readily take nymphs.

Thats why I use nymphs most of the time in lieu of traditional hairwings, and other attractor type steelhead flies.

Many times they are selective over one nymph form over others, stone, hex, caddis, or shrimp types etc....

Sometimes they will key only on egg type flies.

The most aggressive fish will take any of the fly types but I feel they are probably less than 20% of the fish based upon my experiences here in the GL.

I hope no one ever figures it out to the point where on this type of day and times of year on this river use this fly fished this way and you will be successful.

Then all of the challenge will be gone and I will be bored and back to other outdoor recreational activitity types.

"Such is the sum of the challenge" - R H Brown

PM Out

04-16-2003, 09:18 AM
Is it really the fly that matters or the mood of the fish?

Seen many GL steelhead hit the oddest things. When you think you have them figured out they throw you a curve.

I've seen the sky black with stones, only to watch some one come up with a chart glo-bug and smack 3 fish in a row. Why did that work when nothing else did??

One thing for sure the GL (probably all) Steelhead are the strangest fish I have ever encountered.

beau purvis
04-16-2003, 10:22 AM
a few years ago i was standing waist deep in the Kispiox. the water was very high with a foot of vis. I was using a big,bright cerise intruder. made a tailing loop cast and the hook caught the line making the fly swim tail first. I imediatley pulled some slack;caught it with my hand;tucked my rod under my arm and start a two hand retrieve. the fly was skipping across the surface and was taken agressively about two feet from me.the splash from the take wet my face! if I would have had a pink Wog i would have tried it for an hour or two.
I did the same thing with a twist on the Rio Grande.I snagged some moss on the far side of the river.I was told to use small flies now i had a piece of moss 8" long by 2" round connected to my size 6 fly skipping across the river in my two hand reteieve style. an 8lb searun brown exploded on it at midriver and I did a handline set;put it on the reel on the first run and landed it.
no real point to those stories except to give an example of what an agressive fish will do! I am not sure those fish would be suffiently stimulated to take the pattern they were supposed to take. I love em! beau

04-16-2003, 12:56 PM
If all you care about is catching as many fish as possible on the swing fish a lead eyes leech of some kind in black. It doesn't matter how they fish or what your presentation is like they will catch fish. Mostly because they are visible because they are black and are deep because of the lead. Certainly they can be fished with skill but they will catch fish without it.
Thats why I don't fish weighted flies. However other than that it doesn't matter what fly you use. certain colors, sizes and styles may be more suited to certain situations but there is no set rule as to what works when and where.
There is a lot of BS around about steelhead fly fishing and I certainly have written my share of it on bulletin boards. However there is one thing I think there is one thing worth knowing:

All steelhead are individuals. There behavior towards a fly can rarely be generalized, anticipated or predicted. Fishing can be good or bad in any kind of condition for no apparent reason. All the theories about the why's where's and hows of steelhead are nothing more than theories. As a steelhead angler all you can do is to show your fly to as many steelhead as possible in the course of a day. Steelhead fly fishing is a numbers game.. The more fish you present a fly to the more aggressive fish will see your fly. The more aggressive fish that see your fly the more fish you will catch. That is in my opinion IT! Thats it and there ain't no more..

Pattern and presentation? well I have caught steelhead on many pattens and styles of flies in all colors and sizes. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what they grab or don't grab. I have also caught just as many fish with a poor presentation than a perfect one leading me to believe that it matters much less than we pretend.
wet flies screaming across the surface catch just as many as on a slow delicate swing.

having said all of that
here is my list

skunk 1/0 ( no green butts)
peacock skunk 8-1/0 size depending on location
Silver hilton 1/0
Muddlers 8-2
Steelhead caddis 4-6
black and blue or purple marabou spider 1/0 (winter fly)

and I always have a 5/0 orange gp on hand to wake up a dour summer fish.