Favorite winter steelhead fly

I am new to the site and some what new to WA moving from New Mexico a couple years ago. Since then I have been vicariously following this site. The wealth of knowledge I have attained from everyone has been invaluble in my pursuit of steelhead or fly fishing for that matter. I have been fortunate enough to finally catch a couple steelhead this year on a fly rod and also lose a couple. The ones that I lost haunted me days after, constantly questing myself what could I have done differently?
Anyway, here's my question what are your favorite winter steelhead flies?

After tying flies and throwing them at steelhead for 36 years, I can authoritatively tell you this: There's no such thing as a good steelhead fly.
By which I mean: There's no fly that you can buy or tie that, if you fish it tomorrow, will materially improve your chances of hooking a steelhead, compared to a random selection (within reason; obviously, billfish poppers and Baetis emergers wouldn't be wise choices). A piece of frayed yarn, tied to a bait hook using your thumbs and teeth, has as much chance of catching you a steelhead tomorrow as an exhibition-quality fly that takes $20 worth of exotic materials and several hours to tie.:hmmm
I'm not suggesting that you ignore fly choice; it's a fascinating and harmless aspect of steelhead fly fishing. What I'm saying, though, is that, if you had one question to ask about steelhead fly fishing, that question should be: "How can I learn to read water?"


Active Member
I agree with the above comment about "fly doesnt matter, mostly". I watch my buddy throw pink yarn on a hook with his baitcasting rod all day and he averages probably 20 fish per day. I throw out sweat looking babine specials, freight trains, bunny leeches, ect.. and have never exceeded 3 fish in one day. Then again I havent fished Clay's sparsely tied summer run fly either ;-)

I throw what im confident in...plain and simple. Of course conditions play in on what color of fly and length of leaded/sinking head I will put on, but other than that I use the following flies 99% of the time:

babine special with a pwoens twist
yarn eggs
pink bunny leeches
egg sucking bunny leeches

~Patrick ><>
Good points, I don't believe there is a magic fly, but I normally stick with a black, purple or pink bunny bug. Or an egg pattern, but every steely I have caught this year has been on the bunny.

Mike Etgen

Not Quite A Luddite, But Can See One From Here
New River Mike

So far, my favorites seem to be any that I can tie in fifteen minutes or less. The fish seem to be more ambivalent, however...

In my experience and from knowledgable sources, 9 times out of 10 Steelhead will take black marabou or rabbit over anything, probably due to its natural,suductive and enticing movement and shade of color, the other is purple.
My favorite fly to fish and tie is a black articulated marabou fly, also tied in with different accents but black being the dominent color.
Funny I know this guy that uses a clump of black marabou on a #4 hook he tied in 60 seconds and has 9 Steelhead days!!!??? Hummm.

Peter ><>

John 14:6


Active Member
Where to fish and what depth are really the key to fishing for steelhead. The pattern can matter but most people miss fish because they are fishing too high in the water column or can't read the water well enough to find fish. I've seen far too many people wade through great holding water to cast out into the middle of a river. Start with egg sucking leeches and then key on depth and location. Just my 2 cents...

Black or purple Marabou or rabbit is the only colors I have had luck with. The flies can be poorly tied or really well tied it does not seen to matter. Mixing the two colors does seem to get me a few more hook ups. Getting lots of hook up this year just not many landed. Will try again this weekend if the river levels will let me.


Active Member
I agree with most of the comments below with some differences in opinion. Reading water is definitely at the top of the list or priorities. But, in my mind presentation is tied for the top spot. How many times have you fished through good water behind someone and caught fish because your swing was slower or deeper or faster in certain situations. Or better yet, how often has a better fisherman come in behind you and picked your pocket? I believe that this is partially luck and partially presentation.

The choice of fly is a distant third. But, that said, I have had some extremely maddening days where the fly absolutely did matter. One day on the Sustut in a run full of fish I went through three times with a black fly, a purple fly, and a red fly without a pull. I switched to a cerise and purple fly (same type, same weight, etc.) on the fourth pass and hit three fish. That color combination went on to produce a couple more fish that day when everyone else on the river was skunked; this was my best steelhead day ever.

So, I believe that at times fly choice does matter. But the problem is that it's not consistent.

For me, in the winter, my favorite fly is a large GP in black or purple or sometimes orange. If I need a little weight on the fly I always fish either an articulated bunny leech or intruder or a weighted marabou tube fly of some type. The fly has to have good swimming motion; lots of flies look good in the shop or on the vise but don't swim well.

Thanks for all the input! All the flies suggested have been at the end of my leader at some point this winter. However, the only success has been with the yarn egg... I guess if I manage to put any of those flies in front of their nose that will better my chances:D. My first obstacle was learning to read the water as suggested, and tying into steelhead has greatly improved my confidence. Hopefully this weekend I can put the first steelhead notch in my new IBIS :D

Try a number 4 Gold Comet.

Hackle: mix of red and orange hackle tied sparse.
Body: Gold tinsel
Tail: Orange and Red Bucktail
Hook: Should be Stainless or Silver plated; gold hooks are best.

Try this when you want to hook six or eight fish.

Bob, the Cackle, Cackle:rolleyes

Sharp Steelie

PeteM - your right on the money, if I'm not loosing
some flies on boulder snags (especially winter)then
your not getting to where the fish are. I've had some
good luck with Polar Shrimps in the past and just found
out this year the little floss flies also work on
winter runs. I almost always go for the water that is
the hardest to fish with the most snags and try to put
the most natural drift possible through it - If I'm
not getting into a lot of fish I tend to loose a good
half dozen flies each time I head out. (It's definately
easier on the pocket book to tie up simple patterns
that your not worried about loosing).:thumb

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
Yeah, I agree, almost any, and I mean ANY fly will catch a steelhead. But hands down, the fly that has caught the most for me is the bunny leech, and to be specific the pink bunny leech. Hands down for the last 20+ years has banked more then any other. Especially on the OP rivers. But that's my "go to" fly.