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Quintessential Steelhead Fly

5728 Views 23 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  Jamey McLeod
What are your favorite Steelhead flies?
How would you present it?
Mine would have to be Spiders, woven nymphs and woven grubs (larva).
These three cover all of my fishing
Soft hackle spiders large or small made up of three basic parts.
The butt, thorax and hackle three basic parts that's it: nothing-fancy just fly
You can fish them wet, dry, damp or hitched.
Build them out of marabou, hen hackles, Schlappen, and yes, even Whitingfarms Spey hackles.
Over the years on large spiders I have started to Palmer a neck hackle into the dubbed thorax section to the fly to support the forward hackles. (Many people say that I build as Spey fly with out the wing (this pattern got divorce from bronze mallard years ago)).
When using marabou I use gunbrushed rabbit for the support forward hackles or plumes whichever you will call it. This gives a better silhouette and dose not collapse under tension.
I tye many nymphs but prefer stoneflies (plecotptera) for the largest Salmonfly nymphs to little small Yellow Sallies.
Here is the tie. I try to keep it simple, tails made out of dacron backing blackened with a felt tip marker, abdomen over hand weave from Kreinik braid, wing cases black Polly ribbon (burned with a wing burner), Legs magic dub, thorax is dubbed with angora dubbing, forward antenna same as the tails, eyes are optional.
The grubs or rock worms (mainly the genus Dicosmoecus or October Caddis) are some of my best producers.
These little gems I prefer to have grub hooks and being US manufactures stop a size six I have my imported for England upto a size one. (But that is another thread.) Head is usually peacock hurl spun into a rope, wings or wing > buds goose biots, abdomen Kreinik braid to fit the size of the hook, I prefer to fish unweighted flies on long leaders and dry lines using classic wet fly presentations (this includes the nymphs and grubs) and working the fly down though mending.
But I have been know to cast tips made out chainmail to get the fly down with the suckers and whitefish are if this is what it takes. But I do not prefer this (it is sort a like drinking blended scotch some thing you would rather not do, but will).

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For traditional steelhead I don't think you can beat a rabbit or marabou leech - black or purple seem most productive but other colors - red, orange and blue work also. This works on traditional rivers - big flies such as the N Umpqua and most BC rivers

But most of my fishing is done on the Klamath and Trinity where small flies are the game - 6 is as big as I go. Here moss backs, brindle bugs and silver hiltons seem to rule in small sizes though a friend has come up with a burlap caddis with elk hair wing that is very deadly (mostly fished sub-surface). Nymphs on all the rivers if you want to go to trout tactics can be very deadly - Trinity and the N Umpqua (though they have effectively shut this down on the Umpqua by disallowing any weight on flies). I know one fellow who fishes up in BC every year on the Kispiox mostly using small nymphs and has great success.
What Syd Glasso tied. Those flies are, to me, the quintessential steelhead flies. Many of his masterpieces were salmon flies from the old country, but they are very much steelhead flies too. The original PNW creations he added represent what steelhead on the fly is - a rebirth of salmon fishing 6,000 miles to the west.

Sure the marabous, buggers, bunnies, and bombers do the trick - but if the focus was on the fly, it would be a Spey fly.
Ahah, PNW steelhead nymph fisherman, and many tell me they do not use nymphs there much ,as I would say the majority of the steelhead and salmon fly fisherman do here in the great lakes due to their effectiveness. Primary patterns here are caddis, stones, hexigenia limbata, and fresh water shrimp nymphs in many variations. Whats my favorite one, well probably the hex nymph followed by the caddis nymphs.

For traditional steelhead hair wings, I guess the black bear green butt, small speys, and marabou types such as the Cardinelle.

Normally never go larger than a number six, but you can at times.

Go small, deep, and slow.
No matter how hard you look no matter how many people you talk to you will not find a fly or better yrt a pair of flies that define steelhead fly fishing more than the Skunk and the Muddler. In their variations and colors. I'd be willing to be more steelhead have been caught on thoes two flies than have been caught on all other flies combined.
Next time you have a visible fish try a dead drifted skunk on a heavy wire hook.. Deadly i'm tellin ya.:)

I have to agree with you on Glasso and his spey flies. They are beautiful, swim well, and hold up to the rigors of fishing, enen though they look somewhat delicate. Yes, hairwings work, bunny flies work, marabous work but they don't have the elegance of the spey fly. To this I would add the low water featherwings, which Glasso also used.
Spey Flies

Well believe it or not spey flies are catching on here in the midwest for Steelhead. I am at a point where I swing flies all year long. My personal favorites are some old stand by's such as a marabou spey tied on a 1.5 Alec Jackson or on a tube. Also as my got to fly when nothing else seems to work is a coast orange tied in a variety of sizes. I also love that new book by John Shewey! It just doesnt get any better does it? :D
To the spey flies, which I'm glad to hear the folks in the midwest are using more often, I would add the Irish Shrimp Fly style and the Scottish Ally's Shrimp flies. I have been using Irish Shrimp style flies quite often this summer, and they work very well. The most successful one has been an Irish Shrimp version of the Frank Amato's Night Dancer.

It has an oval silver tinsel tag, a red hackle tail collar (long, webby, and swpt back), a black floss body ribbed with oval silver tinsel tied 1/2 body length, Ultraviolet purple Krystal Flash as a body veiling (top and bottom), purple hackle collar mid body, bloack floss ribbed with oval silver for the front body, followed by the Ultraviolet Purple Krystal Flash veilings top and bottom, last, a longer purple hackle collar is tied in and the fly is finished. I tie it from Alec Jackson #3 to #7 and on Alec Jackson or Bob Ververka's low water hooks from #4 to #8.

The Ally's Shrimp is also a very effective fly and it can be tied from #5/0 to #12 in a variety of colors. Easier to tie than a G.P. and just or possibly more, effective.

And the best part is both the Irish Shrimp style and the Ally's Shrimp have that sleek, swimming fly look that I like, just like spey flies that are not overdressed.
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Chrome feaver..

I love Shewey's book too but from what I hear
Bob Veverka is also writting a spey fly book which should be even better..

I can hardly wait. Nothing I love more tha a good book on spey fishing! Especially if there are a few new patterns out there! Does anyone know if Syd Glasso ever put out a book on fly patterns. There is just something about his flies that I like!
Spey books

The classic spey book:

A.E.Knox "Autumns on the Spey". The book has recipes for several Spey flies and some very nice stories on fishing the Spey.

Available through Fly Fisher's Classic Library and possibly through UK used book stores.

Best Regards

oldie but a goodie

in this thread from 2002, Veverka's book hadn't even been published yet. And flytyer was way ahead of me (frankly, that's not that hard to do) when he mentioned Irish shrimp patterns. I've recently REALLY gotten into them with an eye towards the coming atlantic salmon season in New Brunswick. Claret is sort of a forgotten color up there, but I really, really like it, and I'm gonna find out if the salmon have forgotten how much they used to like it, too. To that end, here's one of my new best friends, Life on Mars:
Recipe (from originator Peter Kealey):
Tag: 3-4 turns fine oval silver tinsel
Rear body: holographic silver mylar ribbed w/3 turns oval silver tinsel
Center Hackle: Hot orange cock quite long over which is tied 12-15 strands orange bucktail (I used PB, really looks good) and 4 strands silver krystal flash
Front Body: Ruby claret floss
Head hackle: claret
Eyes: jungle cock
Head: fire orange


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I agree that Glasso's flies are an integral part of steelheading history, but what about Wes Drain, and Harry Lemire?
If I were to pick a fly tier who took it somewhere never done before it would most deffinately be Dave McNeese!
That being said, Roballen nailed it! The greenbutt skunk and muddler are the two flies I always carry! They can be fished in any manner you can imagine and put fish on the beach, period!
I hate to say it, but the woolybugger is right up there. It can be tied any way or in any color you please. Deadly!
Have confidence...

If this short thread proves one thing, for the 8.5 years it has been 'running', it is that there is no "magic bullet" fly for steelhead.

The very same can be said for Atlantics...but I'm not so sure with the Pacifics as I have limited experience.

However many tomes are produced by the tying/fishing jedi, and thumbed through and emulated by the rest of us, however pretty the flies, or exact in their reproduction, pleasing to the eye, and with both movement, silhouette, form, and swing characteristics on the end of your leader, they are all just attractants to what are, in essence, not very choosy creatures.

Be confident in what you tie, the style, the size, the hook, the colours, and then fish it with confidence, and enjoy your fishing ;)

Its all such a grand chase. The flies that I've held in my hands, tied in Ireland in 1798 (with museum-grade provenance), would be great flies still today...just a little less colorful. British sea captains hadn't started plundering the world's supply of colorful birds quite yet at that date.

But it is all about what feels good, looks good and fishes well, I agree.
That's why we tie our own flies!
You fish something that in your mind is the "magic bullet," but in reality doesn't fish any better than the "lowly" woollybugger.
Like Hazel says, "They'll take your car keys if they're in the mood."
beautiful work!
Without a doubt there are two I fish at different times of the year and are my go to flies. The Skunk in the fall and in the spring a Muddler minnow. i tie several variations of both but are the same theme.
No matter how hard you look no matter how many people you talk to you will not find a fly or better yrt a pair of flies that define steelhead fly fishing more than the Skunk and the Muddler. In their variations and colors. I'd be willing to be more steelhead have been caught on thoes two flies than have been caught on all other flies combined.
Next time you have a visible fish try a dead drifted skunk on a heavy wire hook.. Deadly i'm tellin ya.:)
That can be taken to the bank-;)

Glasso never wrote a book, nor did his protege Dick Wentworth or his very good friend Pat Crane write a book or article. The only thing I'm aware of that Glasso wrote was a letter to the OSPREY newsletter and it was almost completely devoted to the his account of how he came to fish for steelhead and how his spey flies came about.


That is a great looking CLARET SHRIMP.
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