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"Flyfishing & Tying Journal" doesn't usually excite me, but the Winter 2017 issue, with its theme of steelhead fishing and flies, is a visual and conceptual delight. Grab it if it's still on the newsstands.

It got me to thinking about the evolutionary course of steelhead flies, which, like evolution in general, moves in an overall direction, but with many diversions and retrenchments along the way. For decades, it seems to me that there was an overreliance on chenille, hairwings and maribou, often to no good purpose. But along the way, occasional gems have appeared that got their components and proportions right; many of these have endured.

I'll ask an arbitrary question: If you were restricted to fishing for a year with your choice of a dozen steelhead flies from the beginnings to 1945, and then fish the next year with a dozen flies, your choice, designed from 1945 to the present, in which year do you think you'd catch more steelhead? (Let's assume that run strength and climate conditions are the same for both years.)
 
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I don't think it would make much difference.

I have very poor success with the most modern overly large patterns. Loop leeches are the biggest i have had luck with.
I think modern flies are to big sink too deep and flash too much. Steelhead aren't bass.

Give the same time on the same water i think standard hair wings would catch just as many fish as modern flies.

Keep in mind that modern files can only be fished effectively because we have gone from 8 and weight rods to 11-15 weight rods (6-10) wt speys.
 

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I'm with Rob. I like to tie crazy stuff. When I remember to tie. But I love the hair wings and ESL/Bugger style flies a lot. And they are catchy as all hell.
 

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Yes this was a good issue. First one I bought in years.



Definitely prefer old school patterns. But do use the newer larger intruder/attractor patterns also.

I like marabou patterns a lot.



DS

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While it is fun and effective to fish old school patterns for my major steelhead addiction -the dry fly game the explosion of patterns in the latter half of the last century greatly improved that game.

I agree with WW that the muddler is a great pattern that has meets the pre-1945 date as being old school. However I don't recall see woolly Buggers until around 1970s and marabous really did not come into wide use until well after 1945 (yes I know Knudsen's white streamer was developed pre 1945 but that original pattern was tied with chicken feathers).

Curt
 

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It wouldn't matter to me. Steelhead will hit a cigarette butt or filter. Not very selective. I can fish most any fly confidently for steelhead, selecting a size that is appropriate to the water conditions, i.e., I wouldn't fish a size 14 trout nymph in high winter flows.
 

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It wouldn't matter to me. Steelhead will hit a cigarette butt or filter. Not very selective. I can fish most any fly confidently for steelhead, selecting a size that is appropriate to the water conditions, i.e., I wouldn't fish a size 14 trout nymph in high winter flows.
Sometime around 1970 I was standing on a bridge that crosses East Fork of the Lewis and watching a pod of spring Steelhead. My friend picked up a pop-top that was laying in the debris at edge of bridge and dropped it in the river above the pod. Steelhead picked it up as it fluttered very enticingly down the first 2-3 feet of the water column, spit it out and another repeated the motions as it continued its flutter down the water column. I tried for years to make an accurate copy of that as a lure, light yet castable.
 

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About 8 years ago I was onto an active pod of steelhead. Caught 4 as I recall all on different flys. I deliberately change patterns to see if it would make a difference, it did not.

So why do we have probably 50+ different patterns when fishing?



DS

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I'm guessing the "the fly doesn't matter" crowd is also the crowd who only fished when the conditions are right. Fair enough. In good conditions traditional flies are as good if not better than anything.

For those of us in the "fish when you can" aka people with kids, modern flies can be a lifesaver. I'm probably responsible for more dead bunnies than a pack of fat coyotes.
 

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. I'm probably responsible for more dead bunnies than a pack of fat coyotes.
This statement made me go take a look at my bucktail drawer.

Lots of deer have made the ultimate sacrifice in order for me to tie Clousers. I pour out a little liquor for them each time I tie one up.

Paint Fawn Art paint Feather Art
 

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Old School... up to the point of articulated or stingers, which I think adds action that most old style flies did not have. For years as we pulled into the Blue Creek launch on late summer evenings, we often spoke with two guys that fly fished the willows just downstream. Two "old timers" that did very well there and usually on Muddlers. Not having really spent much time fly fishing for steelhead to that point, I was always curious about how they were doing and picking their pockets for info. I remember one of them saying; I could probably catch these fish on a tuft of my sweater -- 99% of it is getting the correct presentation. Most nights one or both had fish.
 

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Put this idea to bed years ago. Steelhead are not in freshwater to feed and they haven't lived in freshwater for at least the previous year. They have no idea what food is available (they don't care about food). They just get bored sitting down there at the bottom. The fly matters not, I've proved that to myself. Visibility, therefore color (sometimes), and presentation are everything. Traditional steelhead flies include muddler types to me. Pretty much only swing traditional flies because they are pretty and please me.
 
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