Purple Flies for steelhead


Active Member
The post on the Purple Spawning Spey got me thinking about purple flies in general. I've always carried a few Purple Perils in my fly box. For those of you who are not familiar with it, it's a fly that Ken McLeod first tied in the late 1930's. The story is that he was planning to tie some Montreals and ordered a supply of burgundy hackle from Herter's (at that time one of the few reliable sources of fly tying materials). Through some mischance he received purple hackle instead and used it to create the Purple Peril, generally considered to be the first purple steelhead fly. It featured a purple hackle-fiber tail, purple yarn body, flat silver tinsel tip and rib, purple hackle and a deer body hair wing. Some folks substitute purple chenille for the yarn and and I usually use the brown hair from the back of a bucktail for the wing. Many years later Ken even tied and fished it dry with considerable success. I hooked my first winter steelhead on a Purple Peril many years ago on the Tolt River, which probably accounts for my fondness for it.

Another great-looking but little-known fly that features purple hackle is Frank Headrick's Hellcat. Frank is one of the last remaining members of that group of fly fishermen who pioneered steelhead flyfishing in Washington on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish in the late 'thirties and 'forties. The Hellcat has a silver tinsel tip, a tail of a single golden pheasant crest feather about 2/3 the length of the body, and a body of fluorescent hot pink (cerise?) chenille with a silver tinsel rib. The hackle is purple and the wing is bucktail or calf (if you've got polar bear use it on this one) with another golden pheasant crest feather laid over the top. The tail should curve up and the topping down, so that the two crest feathers "frame" the wing and touch (or nearly so) at the tips.
... Also Mike Kinney's Purple Marabou Spey - A guide fly if ever there was one. Simple and quick to tie, very durable, and as effective (in winter) as any fly ever invented for winter runs on any of the S4 rivers.

My favorite variation is to add a white throat of arctic fox (calf hair works, also).




New Member
My first steelhead, a wild 6# summer run came on a purple peril, fished just under the surface on a floating line. I usually tie em with a purple chenelle body, purple hackle & tail, oval silver tinsil for the rib (better strength), and brown bucktail for the wing. During the summer or in clear winter water, this is the fly I usually start off with.

Purple is a great color to use especially in clear water. Its noticable, but isn't gaudy. Kind of has that neutral color, not too dark, but not too bright.
Don't forget about the "Purple King" traditional spey fly. It is probably the first fly written about with purple materials. It dates back to the early 1800's. It is in no way tied the same now a days. Back then, the purple was from the body and it was a blend of about 5 different berlin wools; scarlet, black, brown, green and orange. Now purple is commonly dyed and used for hackle, body, wings, etc.

I love to see married wings with the combination of scarlet and purple due to the hue and saturation that the 2 colors produce. If you can tie salmon flies, try those two colors together.

Mike Kinney also has a fly called the "Purple Muddler" which is my favorite summer run pattern fishing greased line.

The color purple seems to be a steelhead favorite.

Old Man

Just an Old Man
What do I know---I'm just an old man

I only have one question for all of you that tie these flies. How come you never list the size of the hook that this is best tied on. I ain't smart enough to guess the size by looking at a picture. And I would like to see if I can actually tie these flies.



Active Member
I tie most of my steelhead flies in sizes from light wire 8's to heavy 1/0's depending on water conditions and whether I'm fishing sinking heads, greased lining or fishing dries. Usually the smaller flies are for summer and low, clear water and the heavier ones for high and/or off-color conditions. I use what we used to call BJTULE (black japanned turned-up loop eye) salmon hooks for almost all of my steelhead flies. I guess we can't call them that anymore since they don't all have a black japanned finish these days.

Old Man

Just an Old Man
What do I know---I'm just an old man

I guess that I'm in the ballpark then as I just went out and got some size 2 salmon hooks with the turned up eye. I also have been tying my woolybuggers on a size 6 streamer hook. I notice that the hook is big to begin with but after you add a few feathers or bunny fur the hooks seem like they really got small.

With my limited knowdege,I'm going to try and tie up some of these flies. Wish me luck.

There's a good article on tying hair-wing steelhead flies by John Shewey in the spring 2002 issue of Fly Tyer. It gives some really great tips for tying these flies, as well as step-by-step instructions for tying Purple Perils. He ties a Purple Peril with a body of dubbed angora goat--it makes a really good looking fly.

Rob Blomquist

Formerly Tight Loops
My summer flies are #6-12 and my winter flies are #4 to 3/0.

What size I use all depends on water clarity, level and weight.
Genetic pollution damages wild
stocks, bonk those Hatchery Zombies!


I have to chime in with my love of purple as a steelhead color. If I could chose just one color to fish year around, it would be purple. For winter fishing I often throw a Payoff, a purple marabou pattern with a red collar of schlappen. In fact the purple/red combo has treated me well on a number of patterns. I also tie a purple spey with a red and purple floss body, a purple BEP hackle and a Gadwall wing for winter/spring fishing. A #5 purple spey with a red floss butt is one of my favorite summer patterns as is a purple muddler. On the Snake River every fall, I use a Purple Hotpants much of the time. This fly, patterned after Bob Arnold's Spade also has a butt of red dubbing or floss to go with the purple hackle and body.

All in all purple rocks as a steelhead color. As a football team, I think its a loser though :BIGSMILE

Go Cougs!


Active Member
At one time I fished marabou spiders quite a bit. I found that a fly with two or three silver doctor blue plumes, a single purple plume in front and maybe a purple schlappen or even a purple guinea feather in front of that was pretty effective. At first I tied it with a silver tinsel, or sometimes pearl diamond braid, body but decided that omitting the body entirely seemed to work just as well. It was my summer and fall standby for a number of years. Silver doctor blue, even by itself, seems to be a surprisingly good color for summer-runs and I used to tie quite a few variations on a blue and silver Spey pattern.

I like the idea of adding a bit of color to the Spade and usually tie mine with fluorescent green, orange, or kingfisher blue butts.