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How to Choose a Steelhead Fly

Steelheading Through the Seasons


Recently we shared a list of our favorite steelhead swing patterns for fishing for steelhead fishing from CA to Kamchatka, Russia. I wanted to provide some context for them based on lessons I've learned. For steelhead flies, I am considering 4 things: size, weight, color, and movement. In an effort to control something uncontrollable, I've tried to provide some of the thought process behind choosing flies for steelhead fishing. Now these are just beliefs I hold, they are not all my own, nor are they law. They're just a few things I have observed fishing around the Pacific Rim with some of the world’s best steelheaders.


Criteria

Size

I choose my fly size based on water clarity tending to go smaller in clearer the water and bigger when the water is more off-color.


Color

I choose my fly color based mainly on the water clarity and light conditions. I usually tie on a dark fly and see how it shows up in the water and if It looks good I’ll fish it. If it doesn’t I’ll tie on a pink fly and see how it looks. There is the old adage "bright skies/bright flies, and dark skies/dark flies"– but beyond that I believe fresh, bright fish really like pink and orange flies that are more akin to the Krill and shrimpy stuff they eat in the ocean.

Weight

In shallow or slow moving water you are going to want lighter flies, and the opposite is true for deep or fast moving water. You can adjust this based on what sink tip you are using. So you can fish light flies on heavier tip which is a great way to stay off the bottom, whereas a heavy fly on a light tip and long leader can be a great way to get down quick. I might start the run with a heavy fly and then switch over lighter fly as I work my way down the run.


Movement

Movement in a fly is something I pay a lot attention to. I choose flies with stiffer collars in faster water and wispier marabou flies in slower moving waters.

All-Water Flies

Mini Ostrich Intruder

The darker Mini Ostrich Intruders Black/Blue and Mini Ostrich Intruder Metal Detector are go to flies for me. I tend to use brighter colors like Mini Ostrich Intruder Pink and Mini Ostrich Intruder Orange when I am looking for fish fresh in the system. The Mini Ostrich intruders have a decent profile and hold up when in faster currents. They even have pretty good movement in slower water. I like the size and weight of these flies. If the river is off-color then I like it’s big brother the Stu’s Ostrich Intruder.

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Mini Dirty Hoh

I have caught good fish on this fly. The fly has a bulky head with a strip of rabbit and some rubber legs behind it, creating awesome movement in slow and fast water. When the materials soak some water this fly get’s down pretty good too.

Ultra Mini Intruder

A bit bulkier than the Mini intruders, this is a nice fly for most conditions. I really like the Pink/White version of this fly. Great movement that will fish well in slow and fast water.

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Slow Water Flies

Slow water flies should have a good amount of movement so flies tied with marabou and whispy materials are a good bet.

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Dirty Water Flies

When the river gets high and dirty, we get high and dirty. Just kidding... kind of. For high-water, a big profile and some flash will help. Swing your fly in close to the bank and move slow and you might get one even in blown water.

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Low Water Flies

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About The Author

George Revel is a California native who has traveled around the world with the hopes of lucking into Steelhead. George has caught steelhead in CA, OR, WA, BC, AK, BC, and Kamchatka Russia.