winter steelhead flies? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: winter steelhead flies?

09-29-2003, 08:40 PM
i am still learning new steelhead flies and want to try to fish for steelies this winter but i have a very small selection of flies mostly eggs any help will be appreciated

09-30-2003, 12:07 AM

There are some excellent books out now on steelhead flytying. You could start with the bible " steelhead flyfishing" by Trey Combs which has quite a few patterns to choose from. or you could go to Kent Helvies book which I cant remember the name of but is excellent, and features some of the best in the world. Or you could take a look at my personal favorite "spey flies & Dee flies" for salmon and steelhead by John Shewey, which gives some history to some of the old patterns that are still very effective today. If you do a little research I think you will find a huge resource to work from.


09-30-2003, 07:15 PM
thanks i'll see if i can pick one of those books up at the nearest flyshop

09-30-2003, 09:08 PM

I recommend you get either Helvie's book "Steelhead Fly Tying Guide" or Combs book "Steelhead Fly Fishing" before you get a style specific book like Shewey's "Spey Flies and Dee Flies". Both Helvie and Combs provide pattern recipes for all types of steelhead flies, which makes them a better choice for someone new to steelhead flies. Also, the Helvie book provides tying sequence photos and directions for the major types of steelhead fly styles, which would be of value to anyone knew to steelhead flies.

Another possibility is "Flies for Steelhead" by Allen.

10-28-2003, 08:01 AM
Hey Sean,

While it's out-of-print, yet still inexpensive, a great book for learning the fundamentals of dressing Steelhead patterns is the "Steelhead Fly Tying Manual" by Tom Light & Neal Humphrey. It contains a great assortment of easy to understand step-by-step (B/W Photo) tying sequences of most of the NW 'classics' and a great Rx appendix.

While the tying in the book is somewhat 'dated' it still serves as a pretty good primer - especially if your goal is to tie 'fishing' (not presentation quality) flies for Steelhead.


10-29-2003, 02:27 PM
Best advice I can give is to get a copy of "Steelhead Dreams" by Matt Supinski. It is writen about the Great Lakes fishery. Color plates and recipes are shown. The other books are too traditional - trib fish like different - and smaller - flies.


10-29-2003, 05:32 PM
thanks for your input

10-30-2003, 08:34 AM

Is that book more regionally oriented - PNW ?

10-30-2003, 09:07 AM
I'd argue that it's not the fish's preference but the conditions under which the GL fish are sought, cold hard midwest winter verses springtime in the cascades and olympics. That and the fact that trib fishermen like different and smaller flies, which is often of equal influence in popularization of flies.

Your thoughts on that philosophy?

Originally posted by BobK
Best advice I can give is to get a copy of "Steelhead Dreams" by Matt Supinski. It is writen about the Great Lakes fishery. Color plates and recipes are shown. The other books are too traditional - trib fish like different - and smaller - flies.


10-30-2003, 02:29 PM
There are times that the NW rivers need small flies too. The Snake and Clearwater have a number of fishermen that use quite small flies. We don't all use "shock and awe" of the Intruder.

10-30-2003, 06:55 PM
Originally posted by juro
I'd argue that it's not the fish's preference but the conditions under which the GL fish are sought, cold hard midwest winter verses springtime in the cascades and olympics. That and the fact that trib fishermen like different and smaller flies, which is often of equal influence in popularization of flies.

Your thoughts on that philosophy?

i grew up fishing for bass then went to fly fishing. i have come to belive that bass at least have become familiarized with many of the lures and techniques that are most populars. That is why i beive smaller is better. EXCEPT fo lines i use the biggest i can get away with

10-31-2003, 12:32 AM
I did alot of GL fishing when I was married. My ex worked for NW airlines, so flew back to see friends in Michigan and Ohio alot. So did some fishing. Will say this.

I used to bring my flyboxes for steelhead here. Mind you, this was pre internet. I was told by phone to bring my steelhead gear and flies to use when I showed up since fish were running. I had a virtually skunked trip using my NW gear. But, did some borrowing of local flies and started catching immediately. I had my OlyPen flies. Lots tied up on 1/0's and the likes. Some smaller, but no smaller then a size 2 with me (since it was winter time). I thoroughly worked my flies. So wasn't holding back and was fishing with confidence. But, no luck at all until I switched to smaller flies. BUT, the rivers were nearly at our summer conditions when I fished there.

10-31-2003, 07:40 AM
The food sources in the Great Lakes and tribs are different than the PNW. Yes, we can learn a lot from our PNW brethern, but for a learning procedure, if you are a GL fisherman, do as the successful fishermen do in the specific area...... it works. That's the BEST advice I can give.

Also, stream conditions are smaller, shallower streams.

Don't fight it, guys - do what catches fish.


11-05-2003, 08:42 AM
Hey DFix,

Yeah, the Light & Humphey book does have a PNW 'slant', though several of the featured patterns have some Atlantic roots - such as the Blue Charm, Jock Scott, et al.

As a beginning tyer, the appeal of the book for me was it's detailed step-by-step tying instructions - many of which 'cross-over' to other patterns you'll eventually tie.

Like I said, it's a bit dated...but old is sometimes good! (grin)


11-05-2003, 07:25 PM
The great lakes offer many oppourtunities to succesfully take steelhead, with traditional west coast steelheading flies and techniques and there are more guys than you think out there doing just that. Sure if you want to get after these fish under the crowded conditions in skinny water you are likely going to have to go to the light tippet small nymph/egg route to maximize sucess, but I would argue that this is no different than anywhere else that you will find steelhead. I have personally landed Great Lakes steelhead on skated dry flies and routinely take fish on 4 inch leech tube patterns. To sterotype a region the size of the great lakes by saying that small flies are the best option for every situtation is silly. Steelhead are steelhead and the west coast fish on some rivers see as many (if not more) real salmon eggs and aquatic insects floating by them as anyGreat lakes fish does. It's not like a 15lb fish leaves the big water and it's abundant baitfish to feed on salmon eggs and scuds anyway. They are in the rivers because they are programmed to be there. The absolute key to getting these fish with traditional flies is to fish the right conditions...and they exist. Heck we have had steel in many of our rivers for weeks and the water temps in most streams haven't even approached the 40's yet. Mid Feb with air temps in the teens and anchor ice in the river...yeah leave the two hander home but this time of year there is no need to chuck and duck unless you choose to. You may not get your double digit days but we have a big problem with inflated expectations out here anyway. But thats another story.

tight lines

11-07-2003, 12:03 PM
I could go on a long story on this one. But, there is a big difference dmas. I'm not sure how many times you've fished here in the NW, but I fished the GL's with confidence and in "non crowded" conditions and had zero luck. But funny how instantly I had a hookup and kept catching fish when I switched over. I did not only fish in one spot mind you. I've made probably a good 50+ trips fishing the GL's throughout most of the GL states and rivers throughout (I have relatives strewn all over the area, but mostly in MN). Plus, the reverse is true. Some of those techniques would never work here, except in summer conditions (or drought conditions during winter). There is always a chance to catch fish on bigger flies anywhere. I've caught a small 12" rainbow swinging a size 2/0 "Hoh special" on the upper Hoh. So, there's always a chance. But, if I'm going to work a slot, especially remote, I'll use the most appropriate fly for the area. Now, skating flies. Well, depends on when you're talking about skating. If you're talking winter, then that's a much different beast all together if you constantly get them to rise in the winter time to dries. I've only met a couple (quite literally TWO) who have done this feat, and one was an over 20# steelhead at that. But for most part, you get alot of nose bumps, but no hits. During the summer, well, that's a different thing all together. But during the summer I use more naturals anyways, and SMALLER too. Most of the techs that I see used during the winter in the GL's were somewhat similar to what I see (and myself do as well) here in the NW for summerruns. So, we can agree to disagree. I've done most of my fishing in Ohio and MI, with some fishing in other states as well in the GL's. But I've found that my flyboxes were rendered useless the times I was there. At least, in the sizes I fished them at. Now, if I dropped down to maybe a size 6 or under, that may be different. But not up into my size 2 up flies.

Lastly, leeches are a different beast too. Can't bring those up. Most rivers (including our coastal glacial fed ones here ) have leeches in them. They are a food source, and well be fed upon. I've used some big assed leeches fishing for trout in New Jersey on the Penn. border. 3-4" for small browns and brook trout. So, that's a different beast. They'll open up and eat those readily. So leeches can't be accounted for in the "size mix" since it's an actual food source of real size (have seen leeches that big, if not bigger).

But, we can agree to disagree. You've fished them longer (like I said, I've only made about 50 or so fishing trips to the GL). But am basing off what I've seen and what has put fish on the bank for me. Since you yourself said that the flies you're using won't put the double digits on, which I assume you meant as just catching alot period. I assume the person above was looking for most productive flies. Especially if they are new to the sport. You want to give them the best opportunity to catch, not what has caught for you, but in limitated circumstances. I know I had quite a few high fish days, almost doubles using the smaller flies. And I'm someone who only came there during the weekends during fishing season for a few years. Figured, his best bet then beating the water with a bigger fly and only getting the few select. Always best to put someone new into a more productive atmosphere first, then let them go the way they want after that. If they want to try swinging bigger NW style flies, then that's their call afterwards.

11-07-2003, 07:34 PM
Steelheader. No doubt, normally smaller patterns will take more fish in the Great Lakes and anybody starting out should go that route. High sticking eggs/nymphs is the way to go under most conditions. Especially in the winter...I agree. I wasn't even really addressing the initial post or your post for that matter. What I was reacting to was the idea that west coast patterns/techniques are "too traditional" for the great lakes to be consistently succesful. Bottom line is that most of my fishing in the Fall / Sping is done with a two handed rod swinging traditional flies. I fish leeches on occasion, but I'll just as often fish other flies that would easily be recognized as west coast standards. I tend to fish bigger flies in bigger water. Now I know big is a relative term. I don't fish the really large irons (say anything bigger than a 3 in an AJ or say a 2 in a 7999). I'll go to a tube fly if I feel I need something bigger than that. I fish the Genesee and Salmon rivers mostly. Genny is my home river and is some big water (I guess not Thomspon big) but Great lakes big and it ranges from a beautiful deep green color to a greenish/brown mess when it's fishin. I'm normally dredging 6-8 foot deep runs with a tip and a 2-4 foot tippet of 12lb maxima green. Normally I'm looking at 75-85 foot casts. Not west coast far I know but farther than a roll cast. IMO, some of the runs I fish need to be fished either traditionally or with gear. Yes this is a very specific set of conditions, not the great lakes norm but they exist.

The Niagra is huge. I don't fish there a bunch but it is massive and indimidating and guys fish that with very large streamer patterns.

In my opinion, the only way to fish the Cattaragaus is swinging. Lots of agressive wild fish and it's classic steelhead water.

My relatively limited dry fly experience has been on the lake erie tribs in the fall or spring with water temps above say lower 40's. It's been wakeing overgrown stimulators or smallish bombers etc. in tailouts. I generally have had no probems raising fish, however I admit that those tribs get very substantial runs out of that lake and eventually you are going to stumble onto a player.

However, all this said I'll still use egg patterns or nymphs if I think the conditions dictate it. are right, all I know about west coast steelhead is from what I have read from Comb's etc. But I've been fishin for "our"steelhead for a long time and my gut tells me they are the same fish. Conditions dictate how you approach them not necessarily geographic location. When I watch Jim Teeny's Sci Anglers video and he's sight fishin with nymphs, if I didn't know better, it looks an aweful lot like he could be fishing a Great Lakes trib. Or is he?

Tight Lines

11-08-2003, 01:37 AM
Don't bring Teeny up. I know he has fans. But we have a name for guys like him in circles up here. I won't go any farther then that. But some of the stuff I've seen were in the spring/summer/late fall where we use techs like that. I don't use eggs, but nymphs and the like for summerrun fishing. But, use alot of leeches and "summer speys" for my summer fishing too. But some of the videos I've seen of him nymphing (on flyfish TV and the likes) were great lakes fishing. But I have only seen 3 of them on different TV shows, but all 3 he was back there (hard to sight fish the winter here when you have 2' visibillity max with polaroids on). Most of the rivers I fish have similar pools you're talking about, but even deeper (most of the big steelhead here will lay in king holes, roughly 8-20' deep, where I've pulled most of my over 20's out of). But, I agree, I use gear alot during the winter. Most holes I can dredge easier swinging bent metal for them there (gotta love spoons, and knowing how to drift them).

But, wasn't trying to jump on you. Just that I've fished both. And I've seen first hand how my techs just didn't cut it, but the moment I switched up, I was into fish.

11-08-2003, 06:35 PM
cool stealheader

One of these days I'll get out there. I may get a chance to fish the Deschutes next august or early sept on my way to Alaska. Hope it pans out.

tight lines

11-08-2003, 07:55 PM

The Genesee dmas talks about is the size of the Hoh with deeper holes. It is a very nice river. I used to drive along it to visit relatives who lived in Rochester, NY before I moved west 25 years ago. Never did fish it though if I still lived in Pennsylvania, it would be a place I'd fish.

11-08-2003, 08:26 PM
I know all the times I was back that way (which thanks to my ex, was quite a bit) I know I saw alot of rivers, but most seemed to be clearer then ours. Even the bigger one's. Only time they muddied up was hard rains or if they had clay based rivers (Chattahoochee comes to mind). I know some of the rivers I fished I couldn't tell really how deep they truly were, since they were so clear, and that was in the winter. I nymphed alot, and had alot of success that way. But, I have an OP mindset, heavy sinktips and big flies. But, am gonna try and do some McMillan styled fishing this winter, when the shoulder is up to it.