Winter Steelhead Flies

OK I am going to bite the bullet and not use my drift rod this winter. So what are the 4 go to flies, size and weighted or not do you use?
The 4 my uneducated mind comes up with are: Surgeon General, Boss, Freight Train and Comet. All tied on a size 6, 4, and 2 and the first three weighted to fish under an indicator.

I am not an expert but the two flies that I use alot; and the two flies that have yielded winter steelies for me are:

Black Wooley Bugger with Flashabou in the tail and an orange conehead -size 4- swung

Red Butt Polar Shrimp -size 2 - swung and nymphing style

I use the first on dirty water and the second on clear water, but of course do I use all kinds of other flies. But like I said those two produced for me on two medium sized Olympic Peninsula streams.

What has worked for anybody else ?


I have never caught a winter steelhead, but a lot of the really good fishermen I have encountered on the river along with my fishing buddies (not that they aren't really good....) use two-tone marabou flies almost exclusively.
My winter steelhead fly box is almost exclusively marabou, but I do use a few BIG Green butts.
Im not giving away any "secret" color combos, but its not too hard to put BARNEY and THE COLOR OF THE SKY ON A CLEAR DAY together on your own.
Its never worked for me, and it might not work all winter this year too and the winter after that, but I will keep on swingin it.....:D


Active Member
Have something purple and/or black

Have something orange and/or red

You can put some orange, red, or pink on something purple (surgeon general anyone?) or black if you want to.

You can probably leave everything but the size two flies at home.

Your "uneducated" guess at patterns are dead on. Heck if you just fish the Freight Train all winter you'd be fine.

Like most things in life, it's mostly about showing up. If you can show up with the right attitude you're ahead of the field.


Be the guide...
I'm miles from being any kind of expert on the subject - but here are some important (IMHO) things to consider for winter steel - before fly pattern really comes in to play...

1) find the fish: run timing, catching the river on the drop, holding water, travel lanes, rolling fish, past experience, watch where others are catching them - all factors that can help...
2) put your fly in front of the fish: winter steel don't often (but will at times) move far for your fly. If you aren't getting it close enough, you're just flogging the water... Close can be anywhere from 1 to 30 inches depending on water temp, clarity, and aggressiveness of the particular fish... A slower presentation will help keep your fly in the 'zone' longer. Whether swinging the fly on a sinking line, or dead drifting with (or without) and indicator off a full floater - depth and speed control are important. If you aren't sure your fly is 6 (or where ever you feel the 'zone' is) inches off the bottom - you may be wasting a lot of time.
3) confidence\focus - if you know where the fish are (or have a very good idea), and you use a presentation that allows you a good presentation and you are comfortable with (controling the speed and depth of the fly), then pick a fly that you feel good about - your confidence will be high, and you will have much better focus. You will focus on putting the fly in front of fish instead of constantly changing flies and being too hasty with presentation. With each drift\swing you should be focused - anticipating the line to pause as a fish picks up the fly and drifts back with it, or better yet slams it as it flutters at the end of the swing!!

Just my 2 cents
I'm a very lucky newcomer to this sport. I landed one last winter using an olive egg sucking leech. Last weekend I hoohed into one with the same fly and landed one the next day with a black and blue marabou on the Snoqualmie. All 3 took the fly at the end of the swing.


Active Member
A very wise man once said "The fly that will not catch a steelhead has never been tied." If gear chuckers can routinely catch steelhead on a couple of strands of yarn, any fly will do the job.


Be the guide...
Yep, any fly will do, as long as it's a GP :) Just kidding...

The gear chuckers (drift fisherman) that are successful are the one's who follow the same principles I noted above. They fish where they know fish are \ should be and they keep constant contact with the bottom - ensuring their rig is shown to enough fish that eventually one will bite it...

Man, I need a steelhead fix soon :beer1
Amen to needing a steely fix soon, my hands are starting to shake! One pattern that I had luck with on the Ronde last winter was the purple peacock spider originated by John Newbury of Chewelah. But I agree with the fact that it has more to do with reading your water, and putting the fly in front of the fish.

Jay Allyn

The Poor-Student Fly Fisher
I too need a good metalhead fix. I like to use big pulsating flies: Marabou flies, rabbit fur flies, and long soft hackle flies. Some weighted some using sink-tip line. Purples, blacks, pinks work great. Also I carry Freight Trains (and variations of), Green or Pink Butted Skunks, normal Skunks, and Purple Pearls.
Oh, all my friends it isn't knowing how to read water, though I always appeciate insight, it is what do you use! Now give me a handful of corkies and my drift rod i will catch fish! and have been doing so for a very long time! As I see it both a corkie and a fly need to be presented the same way, right in front of the mouth and be some what intimidating! I have caught a lot of winter fish but none with a fly! I have played the game for a very long time! I grew up on the Green, punched out many times on the Cedar and the Toutle was one of my all time favs! So what flies DO YOU USE? OR are we going to play the i am too cool game like secret fishing waters? if a fly is too cool to post then what is gong on? maybe i will just grab my drift rod and go catch some fish!

In mentioning the Surgeon General, did you mean that honored, but now little-used fly, or the General Practitioner? Also, the Comet is a style of fly, not a particular pattern, and is tied in many colors. The Boss is a Comet, and a fine one.
One could do a lot worse than your selection. But rather than settle on a small array of patterns and fish them relentlessly, I go the opposite way: Since there's a lot of fishing time between hookups on winter steelhead, and since they've been proven to take anything at times, I keep tying and trying new patterns, if only to keep my hopes refreshed. (When I was an Education major, I learned about the Hawthorne Effect: any new teaching method will almost always produce improved results, at least, in the short run.):professor
Really...the fly does not matter. Fish the flies you mentioned in sized 2/0 down to 2 and you are set. Honestly if you can catch them with a corky you can catch them on anything.

It just sounds like you have not REALLY tried going after them in the winter. It is about 100 times harder to catch a winter fish than a summer fish IMHO. You just have to make peace with the fact you may go weeks at a time between fish.

However if you are going to use an indicator just stick to the float rod}(

If you must have a pattern use a blue and purple popsicle (still it doesn't matter).

Persistence is key.

Good luck.

Here's my newest drill (no. 856 1/2).

If in my pontoon boat, I'm going to stop at the end of the tailout and fish the rapids of the NEXT hole. If wading, I'll walk to this spot.
No more Mr. Swing (Well, maybe, at some point just so I can roll out some of those bbbbiiiggg spey casts of mine).
Leader will be 10' of 20 lb. and 4' of 15 lb. test. The leader will be equal to my rod length.
A float will be used, that red round job from Port Angeles that is adjustable. I may use several at once, whatever it takes to float the buck shot. Sorry about this, but I warned you that I was going to get down and dirty
I WILL tick the bottom with my fly which will keep getting bucK shot added until it goes to the bottom and I see it does and then up comes the float until we just miss or only tick every now and again.
I fish only the fast water--right in the waves, first and then the edges and then I move on.
I plan to rip off dozens of flies (I've got too many anyway) tangling with the bottom and the rocks.
Friends, it looks bad from the air but the rapids can be very quiet water down on the bottom after the rocks have taken the heat out of the water.

I had a dream. I was a sculpin. I tried to hang out in the fast water to get away from those bastards but they were everywhere, nipped me a new anal orifice, they did. Woke up screaming for MACrowdy to help me!

Bob, the Don't Try This Unless You Are Willing To Give Me Credit If You Win. I want size, where, when, on what, and all other details as payment. }( }(
This would make you throw away your gear chucking stuff:

-BLACK Marabou or Rabbit
-3-4" length, if less than 12" visibility.
-Sink Tips are critical! Type III or IV
-Short leaders 2-3' including tippet
You can't ge any basic than this, no secrets here.

Here is the main key:
If you don't apply any of the 3 P's, forget it and throw a Hot Shot Cop Car!

PS, this applies to single handed rod dudes...

Peter ><>

"Follow Me and I will make you fishers of Men" Matthew 4:19