classic low profile patterns.... skunks, perils, low profile practitioners, etc.. I'd like to say that my favorite classic spey patterns work better than any other, but the truth is that when the fish are playing they'll move to anything presented right. Just think light, moderately sparse and mellow.
The right fly is the one you like. Apart from size, I truly believe that fly patterns matter a great deal to fishermen, but not at all to the steelhead. I just did a fly swap with a friend in Wyoming. I sent him a dozen patterns, all of which have taken multiple fish over the years for me on the Clearwater. However....As Panhandle has noted, "classic" steelhead patterns are much favored here. I've has as much luck with the Signal Light as anything, and would probably pick that if forced to choose just one. In low water conditions, small and sparse is generally better. I like to tie "spider" versions of many classic flies for skinny water. Pick something sexy, get' er wet and keep swinging.
I'm going to the Clearwater next month, to fish for steelhead. What are the favored fly sizes, say for low, clear water and somewhat higher, semi-clear water? Do the locals favor high floating dries or damp, waking dries?
Check out Larimer's "Brazilian" pattern. I like small traditional speys and that pattern. Once they drop the river in mid September it will remain there at stable flows and only one water condition; clear. A lot of guys just fish sparse small hairwings and do very well.
There isn't anything they don't take. Big or small. Eastside steelhead are pretty much the same. If you aren't catching them it is because you aren't covering them, how they want to see it. Outside of the odd fish they don't care one iota about fly pattern. They do care about fly speed and location. Including location in the water column. If you want to fish wakers, fish wakers. They often work as well as anything. Sometimes better.
Unless there is a good rain the water will be clear. The rains can and do play a big part with the early season fishing. Sometimes good and sometimes not so good.
This late season heat wave is not doing the basin any favors. Fish counts at bonnie are terrible right now...unless things drastically change, fast (and hopefully the cold front tomorrow jump starts migration again) the B run is looking very weak (or late arriving, like the 90's) this year. Plenty of fish for the other Snake tribs. But the CW could very well be back to her old ways (stingy) once the small fish split when the cold water faucet is closed.
Any fly is good, as long as it's black. You could do worse than fishing a size 6 Spade.
When Martin Tolley arrived on the Bulkley for three weeks of steelhead fishing with two Wheatley fly boxes containing no patterns other than the Spade, most in size 6 and a few in size 4 and 8, it was obvious he knew a thing or two about steelhead fishing. Over 30 years later, I strive to become as knowledgeable.