Favorite winter steelhead patterns.


Ignored Member
Hell, I'm a minimalist. My favorite fly is what I call the guide's version of a gp. Quickly tied without hackle or eyes, 3 segments in a couple of different colors, black, red, orange, purple and most on one size hook (1.5) with the dressing made smaller or larger for different conditions. Simple. As far as winter fish are concerned this is about all I think you need. A once famous guide (I guess he is still famous) threw a fly down on the counter at the old Skagit Anglers fly shop that looked an awful lot like the one WW posted a pic of and told me this is all you need for winter fish. I believed him.


Active Member
Man alive - all this bullshit talk about whose method is better than the others. Why in the world do you even care?

Some people get riled up about religion. You guys are wasting neurons getting bent about a bead vs a pube strip of feathers!? Seriously? No... Seriously??? Nothing more important in your life is going on right now?

You've truly lost perspective on life if you honestly could give two squirts about what someone uses as fishing BAIT. If that's you, it's time to find a tough shed in the middle of a forest and an old typewriter to bang out a manifesto on.

Threads like this scare the shit out of me.


Religion? Yeah I guess you could say I feel like I'm in church when I'm on the rivers...so yes in a way it's a religion to me...and I'm not afraid to admit that I feel a considerable connection out there...so unpopular as it may seem to those who scoff at any type of religious beliefs now a days...these are mine

Seriously? Deadly....and honestly Jesse it's responses like yours that scare the shit out of me as well....

Perspective on life? and what should that be?...to be a good little member and do the backroom hot dog gurgle? Everybody's buddy and look the other way when something unpleasant happens?...Think it has more to do with trying to get it into peoples head how bad these things are on the wild steelhead!!!

So you asked I answered...If you don't know then shame on you...:beathead:


Active Member
Keep typing away golf man - some day- some one- will listen and answer back. The problem is, it'll probably just be your imagination ;)

Just lighten up. Fish the way you want to fish. The claim that fishing nymphs or beads is harmful to fish is absolutely bat shit crazy logic.
yes,... it does. it takes a lot less skill at the vise too.
we can agree to disagree, but can some1 explain why swinging a fly takes more skill. its the one thing in this debate that still doesn't make sense to me. i haven't landed a steel on the swing yet, but im working on it. hooked one last weekend. its seems pretty straight forward, cast mend, swing (maybe a couple more mends to depending on the structure.). I mean, you can smoke a cigar and enjoy the scenery while your fly is in the strike zone.

nymphing requires constant mending and a nice dead drift, often in complex pockets with multiple currents to deal with.

when it comes to setting the hook, steelhead seem to take swung flies pretty strongly, I haven't (in my limited experience) heard many people claim its hard to notice when a fish takes the swung fly. with nymphing it is easy to miss a strike, there might just be a slight hesitation in the indicator, which looks alot like ticking a rock. You really have to focus on the task at hand.

Maybe im missing something here, but I just don't see why swinging takes more skill. I would appreciate some other peoples insight, maybe im doing it wrong.


Active Member
Dustin, easy to do, hard to do very right. It takes years and a lot of time to develop a feel for the swing and what your fly is doing. This is what seperates guys who catch fish sontimes from guys that catch fish consistently.


Ignored Member
when it comes to setting the hook, steelhead seem to take swung flies pretty strongly, I haven't (in my limited experience) heard many people claim its hard to notice when a fish takes the swung fly.
Don't know nothing about nymphing with a fly rod. I have done some jigging with a gear rod which is likely the same just as swinging spoons with a gear rod is very similar to swinging flies.

Not what I wanted to talk about. I have watched from high ground when someone is swinging a fly and seen steelhead mouth the fly many times on the same swing without the fisherman even knowing a fish was there. So saying it is easy to tell if a fish has taken your fly on the swing isn't truthful at all. Many times I have set the hook while swinging a fly because something didn't quite feel right and finding a steelhead on the end that I really had no idea was there. There is a sense if you will while swinging flies that only comes with experience. Yes, many times fish smash a swung fly but many times the take can be so subtle that you may never know you had a fish.
I guess that makes sense. The same could be said for fishing nymph though (although my perspective is from the bank. nymphing is MUCH easier from a boat with some1 good on the sticks from what i have experienced.)

It seems like it all boils down to reading the water and locating the fish. Would you agree that is a strong common denominator between great swingers and great nymphers? Thanks.


Tropical member
something didn't quite feel right and finding a steelhead on the end that I really had no idea was there. There is a sense if you will while swinging flies that only comes with experience.
Very cool! Kerry,

Keep coming gentlemen! The good is coming out!

There is skill involved in all these methods, and it takes some level of commitment to learn each. IMHO one is not "better" than another. I happen to like swinging so that is how I fish. I would never tell someone not to fish a certain way( if it's legal). The disagreement seems to be whether a bobber split shot and a bead above a bare hook is fly fishing. In my mind it's not.


Geriatric Skagit Swinger
I had to go back and look at the thread title to remember what this topic was. – Favorite Winter Steelhead Patterns. Oh yea – now I remember.

I posted up a picture of one very successful tie that I use and I’m sure most of you just glossed over it – the thing has no ‘bling’ and it sure as hell doesn’t resemble a bug. In fact there are damn few ties in this thread that resemble a bug of any sort. That’s right! Bugs! Remember bugs? Those things that “Flies” were originally intended to imitate…

Most of us are not “Fly Fishing” in the traditional sense of the word.

Traditions, such as they are, may best be used to describe a fixed point in time, or perhaps even better, an era. As environmental conditions evolve, newer equipment devised and different methods of presentation discovered to be effective, it can only be appropriate to begin a new chapter in the continuing perceptions of tradition. When desiring a return to or a longing for past traditions one needs to choose between which hash marks he is referring to. Or to put it plainly the traditions of which era? The 50s? The 80s? The 30s? The 1830s? or yes, even the 1990s? In biblical times fishing was traditionally done with nets and the thought of doing it solely for recreational purposes probably unheard of. And what traditions there were subject to be waived in the interest of survival.

Once-upon-a-time it was deemed proper etiquette to present the fly only by casting upstream to rising fish, and only rising fish with a properly greased representation of what the hatch of the moment was. Although it’s obviously technically feasible to attempt this on the Skagit in February, I think I would rather stay home and watch Jimmy Houston kiss bass on the lips. Following tradition for tradition’s sake is better experienced as a study of the old ways for educational purposes. Do it to glean an understanding of where we have been and how it helped us get to where we are now.

Ever notice that most Steelhead fly fishermen’s early attempts at tying result in shrimp patterns? Or egg patterns? Some traditions die hard. But when they do, new ones are forged.

And never forget; tradition can also be an anchor, a ball-and-chain-like impediment to progress that sometimes not only benefits the fisherman, but the fish too. Tradition can be divisive, disruptive, and damaging to the sport. Holding one’s methods and preferences above those of others, a version of elitism if you will, does the sport no good. At a time when the very fish are endangered to the point of extinction, anything that brings division to the rank and file of recreational sport fishermen must be avoided. A sad thing indeed if the sport were to die from lack of fish while we argued the merits of various casting and presentation techniques. Doesn’t it seem far more constructive to direct your passion towards endeavors which might benefit our opportunities to fish, instead of expounding the virtues of this method over that?

And believe it or not, the fish once it decides to strike, is oblivious to your technique…trust me I know this from personal experience.

Fishing, and fly fishing in particular was once defined by those who practiced it and enforced by those, who by virtue of owning the land, owned the fishing. Now it is defined by law and transgressions of this law punishable in court. We as the practitioners neither own, define, or enforce that which we do. Nor do we, except by the most impractical, obtuse, red tape laden, and inefficient methods, have any say in our sport. And for this great privilege we are charged an annual fee that seldom changes to reflect our often diminishing opportunities. And yet, I still consider myself fortunate to be able to fish when I can. Why this is will be fuel for another topic on another day.

Having said all this there are some traditions that deserve continuity and preservation. Traditions that all of us need to revere and practice on the water. Next time you’re suited up in fleece, neoprene, studded felts, polarized lenses, breathable rain gear and casting space age graphite rods with precision machined disc drag reels spooled with Dacron backing, PVC fly line, and monofilament tapered leaders, (with or without strike indicator), try to practice a little tolerance, some courtesy, and try to enjoy the camaraderie of your brothers in the sport. Because when our fishing preferences are stripped of their prejudices and pretensions and exposed in the most basic form; we all simply cast a lure in the hopes of enticing a fish to strike. Everything else is just window dressing.

So…let’s go back to the tie that I posted up. It looks simple because it is, but if you look closer you’ll discover that nothing on it happened by chance. This tie had its genesis in what we used to call ‘mops’ – or if that shocks your sensibilities, ‘leeches’. Essentially those were some marabou wrapped around a hook and tied off. You could tie up a box full in one evening. When you have a virtual unending supply to work with you’re not so picky about where you throw ‘em or how you fish ‘em. You fish differently; closer to log jams, closer to the far bank, and closer to the bottom because losing one is no big deal. You start getting them to where the fish are – always a good thing!

However, although using simple leeches cured some problems, the ‘cure’ as it were, created different problems. Because of my new fishing techniques I tended to lose a lot of them and fishing deep meant lots of hang-ups when trying to swing it in close. It also became apparent to me that marabou of the quality I liked to use was usually too damn long and causing some short strikes.

I switched to the 7999 wet fly hooks, wound and gathered up the marabou on it differently to encourage the hook’s natural tendency to ride hook point up and leave less of it trailing behind the hook point. I added the hackle to the front and trimmed it to also encourage the ‘up’ orientation in the water. With enough leader length to allow it to flip to point up when it hits the water, losing one happens a lot less frequently. The modifications do add to the tying time in a small way – but I don’t have to tie as many.

The color – gentian violet. Not blue, not purple, but violet. If you are wondering why, do some research on steelhead and the light spectrum they see into.

This is the ‘lure’ that I deliver with a fly line and a fly rod. And that is what it is = a lure.
Call it a fly if you want, hell call it a cannon ball if you want – I don’t care. But it does fit the Washington State definition of a “Fly”.

And I never, ever, give one of these to Kerry. :)