"Thin" Flys vs. Traditional

A few months ago I fished the lower Descheuetes (LD)with a few folks over 4 days for our annual visit to the Church of the almighty Steelhead camp. During that time we had an interesting conversation in regards to thin/sparse fly's vs. the traditional thick flys. Everyone agreed, on the LD, "thin" was a much better choice. However, many felt that on other rivers, such as our SKY here in WA, a thicker pattern, such as bunny leach was better. I don't agree! Seems to me that steelies have the mentality that "less is more" and are willing to strike more frequently as a result! Is it me or are most fly's now as sophoisticated as they have become, being tied more for viewing rather than landing a winter steelie.



Steve Buckner

Mother Nature's Son
For the most part, I try to fish the smallest fly that I believe a fish can see given the water conditions. Second to that, I believe that hatchery fish tend to behave somewhat differently than wild fish in that they prefer sparser flies, but again, I believe size, color, fullness have to be factored in based upon the weather, water conditions, light conditions, and the time of the run being fished. Fresher fish tend to hit large patterns, fish that have been in the system longer tend to be a little more gun shy.

John Hicks

Owner and operator of Sea Run Pursuits
I think that if you look back thinly dressed flies are the traditional ones used. Thick heavily dressed flies are a newer design.
You make a good point John! I guess i should have amde a bettter choice in wording! Something along the lines of modern or flys of late.

Speaking of thin flies, has anyone had any luck using thin up on the north fork Sky recently?


Well-Known Member
I think most steelhead fly patterns are designed to hook steelhead anglers. I think steelhead generally don't care what fly pattern I'm using. When I think of all the drift fishermen out there, outfishing me 5 or 10 to one with a colored corky and a piece of yarn, I cannot bring myself to believe fly pattern matters all that much. Presentation matters about 99%, I think.


Salmo g.


Active Member
I agree with Salmo g. I usally fish big pretty colored patterns because they please my eye. I have noticed no difference in my success.

Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
People could probably get most of their steelhead fishing done with a peice of marabou lashed to a jig or fly hook with some weight. A wolly worm in a few colors would also cover pretty much everything.

The only time I have ever noticed a different in the fish is when they were eating (see, "not" feeding) nymphs, and would hit something very small with a bit of white, but would not touch a big black stone. Size and then color, pattern does not matter much IMO.

Tim Cottage

Formerly tbc1415
Thin flies think better. As in, think to the bottom. They are also move cross current with less resistance.

I try to believe that fish love a thin, long hackled fly on an open loop knot that vibrates and wiggles in the current.



Active Member
steelhead are beautiful fish deserving beautiful flies. full dressed, low water dressed both are beautiful to behold. tie'um to please the eye is just fine with me as i get great enjoyment from the tying and the fishing of my art form.

if i was at all concerned with fish numbers, i would go back to a corkie, eggs and a slinky or worse yet, a bobber.


Well, at least I'm supposed to be...
I don't remember whose video I was watching, but they said that more sparse flies should be used closer to the salt. As the fish works its way away from the saltwater its eyesight deteriorates and he suggested you use a thicker fly upstream as they are easier for the fish to spot. He made the video and I didn't so I figured he knew more than I did.


Active Member
That would probably be Alec Jackson's Spade Fly video. Although his inland versions of the Spade are somewhat more heavily dressed than his coastal version, they are still sparsely tied and I don't think would qualify as overdressed.
In years past we employed sparsely dressed flies for clear water. They also tend to sink faster without the addition of lead eyes. For years my go-to OP winter fly has been a Brad's Brat with the original wool body and a short, sparse wing of polar bear; sizes 1/0 through 6, depending on the river and conditions. I always tie it in a couple of hook weights. In Gamakatsu for instance I us both T10-6H and T10-3H, for various versions of my winter flies and for the conditions. The only fly I use with added weight is the original Comet and only with straight bead chain, which does not affect casting or the swing but does dig down well into deeper runs. Just my
Good Fishing,
Les Johnson
Preston said:
That would probably be Alec Jackson's Spade Fly video. Although his inland versions of the Spade are somewhat more heavily dressed than his coastal version, they are still sparsely tied and I don't think would qualify as overdressed.
He uses that principle on many of his flies. A larger coastal skunk as opposed to a thin coastal one. His flies do tend to be really sparse anyways. I like using sparse flies myself. I am not really a fan of the MOAL leaches or that kind of jazz. I fish alot of water that is better suited to spey flies and other "underdressed" types of flies.

Latest posts