Top 10 Winter Steelhead Flies Revealed
Winter steelhead have a reputation for being difficult for fly anglers. The winter weather and water conditions, as well as sexually developed fish, create some of the most demanding conditions that the angler will encounter all year. Winter steelhead are most often bottom hugging denizens of cold, often rain swollen rivers. Sometimes it is very difficult to present the fly at the depth where the fish are holding. A sinking tip fly line is most often used to present the fly at the right depth. Often large expanses of water must be covered to find a fish that will bite.
Flies that are easy to cast are essential in this game. Flies that cast small, but fish large are ideal. My favorite winter steelhead flies are made from soft flowing material that collapses when pulled from the water and puffs up when submerged. Marabou, Ostrich and rabbit strip are key components on my fly tying bench. These materials breath with life when submerged. Marabou drains out almost instantly when it leaves the water. Even very large flies constructed from marabou are easy to cast. When the water is cold, large flies will often move fish that small flies won't.
Because of their mating instincts, winter steelhead, especially the males, can be territorial and will often attack a fly to drive it from their hold. Large flies dressed in steelhead spawning colors can bring jolting strikes. Also, fresh steelhead have an acute search image of the marine organisms that nurtured them. Flies dressed in the form of squid, shrimp or krill can trigger a feeding response.
In most cases your fly must be presented to fish that are holding fairly close to the bottom of the river. Sometimes these holding areas are deep with a cover of fast water. This condition frequently happens when the water is low and clear. When the water is high and colored, steelhead usually hold in slower edge-water. For that reason, an angler should carry a selection of flies that are not only different colors, but also different weights. Many seasoned anglers carry flies that have large weighted eyes, medium weighted eyes and no eyes.
Our fly inventory reveals that our customers are onto the game.The ten winter steelhead fly patterns and sizes listed below are top sellers. They run the gambit of sizes, colors and weights, and come very close to the selections carried by each of our professional guides.
To view the most comprehensive and up-to-date selection of winter steelhead flies found on the world wide web, just click this link: Winter Steelhead Flies
Stu's Metal Detector (Medium Heavy)
Fly fishing is a non-gregarious sport but is often enhanced by the company of close friends, such as mom. The picture above is of fly designer Stuart Foxall and his mother who landed this trophy steelhead with her son doing the tailing'
The Metal Detector is part of Stu, Ostrich Intruder Series, which was part of the Rhea Intruder Series until the Feds clamped down on the import of rhea feathers. Selected ostrich works just as well, is not endangered and steelhead thinks they taste just as good. This is a deadly fly, especially in big water for large steelhead. Chinooks like them too.
Berry's Rambulance (Medium Heavy)
As a sport, fly fishing is the scientific exploration of the aquatic world with tools, which deliver information about game fish that no other equipment can render. Often this information is collected and the fish is released with a minimum amount of wear & tear. It survives to possibly be re-examined by someone else.
Even the most experienced anglers are often reluctant to try to explain why anadromous salmonids will strike any fly while in fresh water. Nothing bright blue, chartreuse, orange or pink lives in the rivers with these fish. Maybe that's the key. Maybe steelhead and salmon strike only from curiosity. I asked aanother experienced angler why he thought that steelhead ate flies? His reply was, that it was because they don't have fingers to examine them. Rambulance flies are tied on Pro Microtubes and are weighted with a Pro Dropweight. Marabou, Craft Fur, Sclappen and several kinds of Mylar flash complete the dressing. Colors are Black/Blue/Purple, Shrimp-ish, and my personal favorite, Hot,Hot Orange: Berry's Rambulance
Guide Intruder, Pink (Heavy)
Scott Howell, inventor of the Guide Intruder series says, "My years fishing in BC also made me a strong believer in the color pink. I had too many fish pulled out behind me by friends fishing the notorious pink worm to not be an advocate of pink. As a result, there was a time when a pink Guide Intruder was about all I fished in BC unless colored water forced me to go darker. As I look back at the photo albums from my time spent up north, it is no coincidence that just about every fish has a pink mop hanging from its jaws. I have since found pink to be productive on most steelhead rivers up and down the coast."
Our experience on winter rivers is that this fly will move steelhead in the toughest conditions. It is big and bulky and is difficult to cast unless you get your line perfectly straight before you start your forward stroke. An 8/9 weight rod with a heavy tip is also a help. In our experience is that this fly is best when the river is cold and clear. Then tie on one of these bombs and fish the deeper faster water. Guide Intruder, Pink
Mark's Tube Spey Intruder (Unweighted)
Every angler goes through an evolution. I have fly fished since early
childhood. My first dozen winter steelhead were caught with flies on a
fly rod. My first successful winter steelhead flies were all bright
colored, and very small. As more time was spent fishing for winter steelhead, my flies grew in size, but were still tied in mostly orange or pink. Then I met an angler while he was landing a dandy fish on one
of George Cook's Blue Moon flies.
That changed my mind set. Blue Moons
got me out of the bright fly mode for certain parts of the season. This
is still my go-to color for dark days, especially when fishing glacial
fed rivers. I found that tying these flies on tubes gave me the ability
to replace damaged hooks easier, and to use smaller hooks so there
wasn't as much trauma to fish that were released. These flies got even
more productive when Rainbow color flashabou was added. These unweighted flies are perfect for fishing in certain spots, especially when a river is high or dirty, or when river bottom contours are such that weighted flies spend too much time being snagged on the bottom. Tube Spey Intruders also come in Red & Orange, and Sandy Candy, but my favorite is still Black & Blue.
Mark's Tube Spey Intruder, Black & Blue
Lady GaGa Intruder (Medium Heavy)
Several years ago Bruce Berry introduced us to an OPB program, which was shot with and underwater camera that was anchored to the streambed, that documented steelhead spawning with several small male rainbow trout. the large male steelhead spent a lot of time in territorial disputes trying to drive each other from the spawining area. Each time the female steelhead were left unattended, one or several of the small male rainbows would sneak in and service the the spawning female steelhead. Hen the larger male steelhead would return to the females the smaller trout would seek the margins, but one was too slow and a male steelhead bit and killed him. Several local fly tiers experimented with patters to see if they could exploit this competition beween steelhead and resident trout.
World Champion Spey Distance Caster, Travis Johnson came up with the clear winners, and named the series after pop singer Lady GaGa. There are two colors: Blue/White and Purple/Pink. both are equally popular: Lady GaGa Intruder
Signature Intruder, Black & Blue (Medium Heavy)
This mid-weight, mid-size fly series (8-colors) has proven to be productive on steelhead year around. More than a few spring Chinooks have eaten them also. Black/Red, Black/Blue kind of bridges the gap between dark flies and bright flies, and are proven in both bright light and darker conditions. Olive is a sleeper color all times of the year. Southern Oregon fishing guide, Scott Howell originated this series over a period of years, and tested these patterns in Alaska, Canada and the Pacific Northwest of USA.
Signature intruders are the right size and weight to fish most rivers, and are fairly easy to cast with rods of seven weight or heavier. Signature Intruders
Berry's Improved Fish Mover (Medium Heavy)
Berry’s Fish Mover is an effective fly for Steelhead that is offered in two color ways. Orange…which is a fade of Orange, Red, Purple and Black designed originally for fish fresh into a system and Blue…which is a fade of Kingfisher, Royal, Navy and Black designed as an anytime versatility color.
The name came from lurking around different fly fishing sites and reading about fisherman who would say anything except, “we did not catch anything today”. “Moved a couple and had a head shaker” or “Moved three fish, landed a trout and had a couple other suspicious pulls”. It all means they had the chance to spend some time on the river and most likely without a cell phone, but, as fisherman, we rarely come clean and fish that did get caught can often go from five to seven pounds from the boat ramp to the driveway. Being a fly-fisherman who chases anadromous fish means you are going to have o.k. days, great days, skunk days and periods of time measured in days without a pull, take, tug, tick, stall or anything that makes one wonder if they are casting downstream to far…not far enough…mending too much…not mending enough…tippet too long…tip too heavy…not heavy enough…that is just the way it is!
The Fish Mover design came from a visit to Thailand to help train tyers specifically on Steelhead fly proportions. Once a bunch of Rhea quality Ostrich was seen in the factory that nobody knew what to do with, “I had to create a fly with that stuff” said Bruce Berry of Montana Fly Company. The fluffy stuff is what Trout tyers are looking for to create bugs like Ray Charles etc. the skinny stuff is what Steelheaders are after.
The Fish Mover is a repeating process of Krystal Chenille balls, Strung Saddle Hackle and Ostrich capped with a rabbit (off the leather in a dubbing loop) collar. That way, the same length Ostrich can be used and is spaced out between the chenille balls/hackle ultimately keeping the fly from clumping when it gets wet allowing the movement of breathing and pulsing that makes the Fish Mover look alive and tantalizing in the water.
This fly is on a shank, extended with wire and finished with medium dumbbell sparkle eyes, so it may not be a rabbit strip tail combined with cross-cut rabbit, flash, dumbbell eyed combination wet sock of a fly to cast, but there are other flies definitely easier to cast if distance is key or fishing tight to the bank means more hooked fish.
Originally the fly was designed for middle of the road water conditions from some visibility to fairly good visibility. These conditions often find fish in classic tanks where losing flies is not really an issue or 35’-60’ casts where the slot being fished is “x” amount wide and “y” amount long and you want the fly to land, sink quickly and start fishing immediately.
“The more time I put fishing this fly the more I find use for it. Tough summer conditions, late summer where you encounter quick water bumps couple with quick temperature drops, and most winter conditions seem like fish just eat the fly…heck, I even use the big Orange Mover tied with bead chain eyes as a lighter version just as a follow up fly to make sure nobody was home after going through with a dry line wet fly combination when I get to fish known good pieces of water and don’t want to leave for another spot just yet”. Berry's Improved Fish Mover
Foxee Dog (Lightly Weighted)
Charles St. Pierre designed the Foxee Dog anadromous fish fly series using traditional, proven proportions, but used the latest materials and tying techniques. Following the lines of the famous Nordic Atlantic Salmon Temple Dog Series, the Foxee Dog Series is tied on Waddington Shanks rather than tubes. This places the hook back further toward the rear of the fly, because Pacific Coast fish often grab from the rear of the fly.
Foxee Dog Flies are tied with a combination of Arctic Fox and angel Hair in the wing. these materials are very fine, and flow and pulse in the water with life imitating motion. Foxee dogs are beautiful to look at. They shimmer and dance in the currents. Foxee Dogs are slightly smaller and lighter in weight than most Intruder style flies and therefore allow an angler to cover a different range of fishing conditions. They are superbly adapted to big wide classic runs. Best of all they catch fish, as witnessed by the pictures below. Foxee Dog
Pick Yer' Pocket (Medium Heavy)
Brian Kite, inventor of the Pick Yer' Pocket series of flies has guided in Alaska and Northern Washington. He says, "My steelhead roots have strong ties to the Skagit Style of fishing; short shooting heads and big flies. The Pick-Yer-Pocket was developed and some what plagiarized from the now famous ‘Intruder’ style of flies originated in the region. We have been tying these flies for years, often experimenting with different types of materials in search of the ‘perfect swim’.
A major challenge with big flies is the difficult marriage between size versus weight, i.e., the bigger the fly, the heavier it is causing a lot of grief on the river when casting. The great thing about the Pick-Yer-Pocket is that it carries a big presence in the water, gets down deep but does not carry a lot of weight resistance when casting. The segmentation of the rear and front sections of the fly separated by the body gives the fly a different look through out the swing, and the use of the long saddles and Amherst pheasant tail feather fibers establish that tasty silhouette in the water. Pick-Yer-Pockets come in six different colors for different water conditions, and for all the salmons, sea run browns and steelhead. In this series the most popular color is orange, with pink a close second, and black very popular also.
Fishing Pick Yer' Pockets
Fish these flies with classic swing methods. Flies of this nature cast easier with two-hand rods than single hand rods. As long as you are making nice straight casts and controlling the swing speed, the fly will do all of the work. The machined brass eyes incorporated in these patterns give them the sink rate to be effective in most current speeds and depths. A key to making this fly demand attention in the water is the exact placement of the various layers of life breathing materials.. Over dressing the fly will cause materials to mat together and not swim properly, the key with this style of fly is allowing the sparsely tied materials do the work in the water. These flies have a definite squid-like look in the water. The Pick-Yer-Pocket is a great fly for year round steelhead fishing, and like the name suggests, you can feel confident fishing it behind someone in the river!!
You can fish this in any color combination your mind is able to fathom if you choose to tie this fly yourself. However, the basic steelhead colors are available here: Pick Yer' Pocket
Wombat (Medium Heavy)
The Wombat fly series by Brian Kite comes in the normal color assortment, but has perfectly tuned size and sink rate to fish a lot of spots where steelhead hang out. The probability is that if you wanted to simplify winter fishing, you might use a 10'-12' T-11 sinking tip and a medium heavy fly and fish the places where you only touched the bottom once in a while, and those would be places where steelhead hold a lot of the time.
The Black and Blue