Winter Steelhead Flies – What Size Fly is Best?
One of my dear friends believes, to the core, that big fish want big flies. Big flies are indeed the latest rage these days. Most of the summer steelhead flies I tied in the 1970s were #6s and the winter steelhead flies were #4s. These days it seems that a fly in that size-range would be better suited to spring creek trout than steelhead. Big MOAL Leech flies, Intruder style flies, and Articulated Leeches seem to be what fly anglers are buying, tying, fishing, and talking about these days.
Photos of king salmon caught in Alaska usually display an Intruder-like fly hanging from the corner of the salmon’s mouth. The same is true, more or less, of all the photos of Sandy River steelhead held by Mark Bachman’s clients. Big nasty, undulating flies are front and center wherever I look.
Here’s an example. I had the good fortune of fishing with Mark Bachman and Josh Linn – fly fishing guides of the highest caliber and Sandy River experts. Thanks to them, I experienced fantastic river-time, improved my casting, got tugged, got grabbed again, laughed, showed mark how to use a Spey rod for a wading staff and even caught a steelhead in water that most people would have considered un-fishable except with a gob of eggs anchored to the bottom. Listen up. The Big-fly-thing is not a gimmick. Mark, Josh, and the savvy fly fishers they work with spend a lot of time designing, testing, fishing, and selling these flies because they catch fish – plain and simple.
My winter and summer steelhead flies range from little-bitty-things to scary-big. Hour for hour on the water, I catch more steelhead on small to medium size flies. The big flies do bring on the big yank, though, no doubt about it. And it is indeed addictive.
Searching for steelhead in big open rivers, I think, is one place where the Intruder style fly or the big Leech-type fly is superior to smaller flies, especially in cold winter flows where steelhead may not be prone to move very much to take a small fly that swings by ten feet away from their position.
The exception might be in clear winter flows, even on big rivers, when the fly fisher knows the water well enough to predict the steelhead’s position in a pool or run. This is more along the lines of fishing to a steelhead than fishing a lot of water not really knowing where a steelhead encounter is more likely to occur.
I’ve been having fun recently making how-to videos with Chris and the Caddis Fly Shop crew. After some initial camera aversion, I’m getting warmed up and we’ve found that all the usual mistakes, errors, and broken threads are definitely a) going to occur on camera, and b) add a taste of well-appreciated reality to the videos.
Anyway, keep an eye on the Oregon Fly Fishing Blog to see some of the antics as they roll out over the coming weeks.
You will also see Barrett tying flies for winter steelhead; southern-clime bonefish and the like; and yes, early season trout. Barrett is an amazingly creative tyer and fly fisher; he comes up with new ways to tie old stand-bys and out-of-the-box stuff for fish all over the world. He can talk tarpon and trout and speak with authority on both. Me? No way.
But I’ve had fun sharing some of my large, medium and small steelhead flies, creations both recent (the monster-size Intruder flies) and time-tested. Check ‘em out on the blog when they roll the videos, and please Chris, delete my terrible bungling whenever you can.
As far as the best size for your steelhead fishing goes: fish the fly you have greatest confidence in. Big fly or small fly, concentrate on presentation and fish well; the fish will come, eventually.