3 Steelhead Tying Questions

I must be a little sadistic, deciding that I want to finally make the leap into steelheading, that I want to endure the freezing and frustration that appears inevitable. I was glad to see the 'fingerless gloves' thread, 'nuff said.

Three questions for you experts:

1. I get the impression that around here, dead drifting large nymphs or likewise under a float, nymphing like many do for trout, might be effective - but that it's kind of looked down upon. Why is that?

2. It seems to me that getting the fly down is really important. I tied up some skunks last night, and it looks like there would be room under that body for some lead. But somehow, that feels a little like cheating. Is it? Does it mess up the action of the fly?

3. I tried tying some yarn eggs, maybe not even so much for Steelies, but I expect that dolly's and others will be nudging up behind the salmon about now. I've read several egg recipes, mine come out looking generally akin to a skewered poodle. Any advice? I thought they were supposed to be easy!

Thanks in advance,


You can be a fish recycler, too. Let 'em swim.


Active Member
1.-there are many ways to fish for steelhead, as long as preservation of wild fish is your goal,and you don't harm wild fish, guys on this sight won't get on your back for how you fish- the dead-drifting is effective. It is however very similar to fishing a jig under a bobber, so for some, you might as well use a spinning rod. Many on this sight prefer to swing flys using the wetfly swing to entice strikes, though it is harder to a degree, it is more rewarding for some.
2. Getting the fly down is very important when the water is cold, turbid, and high (winter). Usually a sink tip line is used to get the fly down, so fly weight doesn't matter too much. the skunk is more of a summer steelhead pattern, im sure someone will argue with me her, but generally larger flys with marabou, rabbit, etc are used in the winter because they create a bigger profile. I have never seen a steelhead fly with lead wraps added.
3. Both steelhead and dollies will eat your yarn eggs. Occasionally they will b e keyod on just eggs, but usually they wiil be eating flesh, eggs, egg clusters, and anything resembling salmon spawn. Your fly will most likely work fine. It can either be swung on a sinktip, or deaddrifted with or without indicator, to catch fish.
good luck, hope this helps.


Ignored Member
Yeah, what Tom said.

There are a few folks out that have found a way to bend the rules. They will use jigs or "weight flies" along with large foam cigar style floats or “strike indicators” and deliver this mess with a fly rod. They give a bad name to those that might otherwise be considered as nymphing.

I think that the Pacific Northwest is sorta like swinging fly central. It just seems to be the preferred style in this part of the country.

And finally, yes, adding weight to a fly does change its action and in my opinion detrimentally.

Good luck in your pursuit of steelhead. The holy grail of fly fishing.
1. Only old farts will look down on you. They have nothing else better to do. But watch out that it doesn't start smelling of snagging. That is HEAVILY looked down upon by all members of this site. There is just a fine line. You will have to draw it.
2. Nymphing for trout is one thing. I mean, they bite on nymphs, you float an imitation that looks and behaves like a nymph. They bite it. You have this little (indicator)that goes "bob" "bob" and you strike. Now you've got this fine fish that you carefully release and the crowd breaks into "bravo" "well done" "hell of a dude!"
3. But steelheading is not quite the same. They hang out in specific areas and don't bite on much of anything.
They eat themselves as food. You come along with this heavily weighted hook that is really a snagger in disquise. You bill it as a fly but it's a leaded jig and you know it. Your little (indicator?) goes "bob" "bob" and you strike with all your might ramming the hook from the bottom of the jaw completely out of the top of the head, the fish made no mistake; he was not fooled by you, he just got in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There are no "bravos" for you. Only some mumbled words of obscene repute come from the crowd. And if it is one of the last few remaining wild fish and you kill it, well, now there might be some open hostility. Do I make sense here, my friend?
Bob, the If I Could Just Convert a Few Guys, I Know God's Going To Give Me A Better Spot On Jim's," River In the Sky":thumb :thumb

Old Man

Just an Old Man
Well when I first started out in tying and fishing in the winter time I tied my WB's with lead wire under the body to get the fly down, I didn't use sink tips only a long leader. So weighting flys was a way to go. If you look at a lot of the recipies for tying WB's you will see that lead wire is used. So don't go knocking weighted flies. But I'm not at the point of using dink floats and mini jigs.

Size and type of steelhead fly is pretty much controlled by the size, speed, depth and clarity of the stream. In summer, when you're fishing a stream flowing at several hundred CFS (cubic feet per second) and you can read the brand on the beer can that some mouth-breather left on the stream bottom, little flies such as nymphs, slender wets, damp semi-dry flies or skating dries seem most appropriate. In the rainy season, with rivers pushing discolored water at the rate of five figures, big attention-getters like maribou spiders seem like the only thing that might work. That may not necessarily be fact, but that's the way most of us play the odds.
Re lead weighting: All things being equal, I'd rather not use it, but all things are seldom equal. I often fish the Nooksack River, which is mostly deep and fast. Lead weighting probably does somewhat retard the action of a fly, but if it's the only way to get it down to the Zone, so what? I tie my lead-weighted flies with a band of gray thread over the primary head color and keep them in a separate box. One reason I prefer the Skagit to the Nooksack is that it has a higher percentage of softer water where an unweighted fly can reach bottom. A selection of different density sink-tips is more important than having dozens of patterns of flies. One more thing about lead: It seems that the more we learn about it, the more toxic it becomes. We've only been leaving steelhead flies on stream bottoms for a few generations. Assuming that there will still be steelhead ten generations from now, what would be the cumulative effect of all the lead that's left in streams? That's why I now weight my flies only with lead-free substitute.
About fly selection for steelhead, I'm reminded of a line from the first episode of "The West Wing," in which the Chief of Staff says of the President, "I've been his friend for forty years, and I have no idea what he's going to consider important on a given day." Steelhead may, at any given time, bite anything from a Syd Glasso original to a cigarette butt. But the odds that a steelhead will be tempted by whatever fly you show to it now are long and daunting. With that in mind, we blunder forward.
I see nothing ethically wrong with weighted flies for steelhead. The first steelhead fly I ever tied was a weighted skykomish sunrise. Also, nymphing is a legitimate and efficient way to fish for steelhead in certain waters. Indeed, weighted flies under an indicator is an obvious way to nymph for Steelhead because you're not using sink tips.

However, weighted flies don't work for swinging flies. If you're using a sink tip, the weighted fly is going to hang up. If you're grease lining (think of swinging with a floating line), the fly will hang unnaturally and [probably] too deep.

I was guided on the N. Umpqua this last summer and got a full lesson on nymphing and swinging and when to use each technique. I learned (sorta) what kinds of water lend themselves to nymphing and what kinds beg for a swing. Deep water, narrow channels, or both lend themselves to nymphing. Shallow water, broad runs/tailouts, or both lend themselves to swinging. Both types must have boulders. This gives the fish a place to rest/hide and provides the hydraulics necessary to move your fly in ways interesting to the fish.

Good luck,



Active Member
Thanks for your post to help clarify why people nymph for steelhead. I also see it from a "depends on where you are fishing perspective". Especially on smaller water, nymphing usually can result in a much more effective presentation. Often on the same river, I will both swing and nymph, depending on the type of water I'm fishing.

Nymph fly selection matters alot for the steelhead I've fished in CA, in many cases for both summer and winter fish. I've found many cases where matching the nymph to a particular stonefly or caddis makes all the difference between a good day and a bad day. Maybe in WA there's less insect life to support that assertion but I am certainly going to try to find out.

Finally (maybe this will bring the flames), I strongly believe that it takes at least as much, and probably more skill to be an highly effective nympher versus an effective "swinger". Granted, I do get more of rush hooking a fish on the swing, but I can point to plenty of situations (e.g. tight slots of soft water), where it just won't provide as effective presentation.
There's nothing wrong with weight on a fly. If someone says so, don't listen. When using a downstream swing, it does not hinder fly action if you tie on with a Duncan loop. Tailor your technique to the water. Swing flys to cover more water and use nymphing to probe slots, pockets, etc.

Presentation is the most critical element. You need to smack that fish upside the head with the fly, at whatever depth it may be laying. To do so you need options and flexibility in your system. Since steelheading isn't about matching the hatch, pick a few good patterns and tie them in a selection of weights. The easiest way to adjust weight is with dumbbell eyes. Bead chains are the lightest, then small lead eyes...on up to 1/8" dia. eyes that make the fly look like a perch jig.

These heavier flys can be used as jigs for nymphing or swung traditionally. They're very versatile.

Weighting your fly compensates for leader float, wherein your line sinks faster than your leader and fly. Using a weighted fly also allows you to use a longer leader if you want, depending on water clarity. This is especially important in Spring/Summer.

To summarize, try to get a multi-tip line and use the line tip to make macro adjustments for depth, and the fly weight (and leader length) to fine tune it.

Happy Fishin'


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