Top 5 Spring Steelhead Flies

Spring Steelhead Flies

Spring Steelhead

Top Five Spring Steelhead Flies

Most fly anglers eagerly await the start of the spring steelhead run. In this blog post I want to point out what I believe are the top five spring steelhead flies and when to use them. Any list of the top five steelhead flies for spring or for anytime has to include the clown egg. Steelhead love them! That list should also include our rabbit wiggle nymph pattern, a black stone, Ed’s Salmon Alevin fly and Kevin Feenstra’s Shrew  (video below).

Just as important as carrying the right top five spring steelhead patterns is understanding the spring run and when to fish these flies.

Three Segments

The spring run of steelhead should be broken down into three distinct segments. Pre-runoff, during the run off and post run. Substantial variation in both water flows and water temperatures requires the fly angler to vary the patterns to meet these challenges.

Pre Runoff

Pre run off the water is usually low, clear and cold. The number one fly during these times is the clown egg. Clown steelhead fliesegg colors need to differ in different conditions. There is no perfect color that is king all season long. In cold water during winter and early spring combinations of pinks and oranges usually out perform other combos. Just as important as color is size. During cold water I like my eggs to be no larger than a dime. The other top five spring steelhead fly to use this time of year is Ed’s Salmon Alevin. Dead drifted or swung, this little bug attracts a lot of attention.

During the runoff

As the snow pack melts and the rivers increase their water volume they generally become much more turbid. This requires changes in patterns, color and size. First we need to revisit the clown egg. Brighter colors and much larger sizes are now in order. Chartreuse, oranges, bright yellows all have a place in these eggs, which are now the size of a quarter or more. They have to see them to eat steelhead fliesthem! When we have these water conditions we go deeper into my list of the top five steelhead patterns for spring. This is when the black stone and the Rabbit Wiggle Nymph come into their own. Black stones begin to hatch in spring, lots of them moving around the bottom. Tie the large enough to see and they will get eaten.

Post runoff

Post run off, as the spawn hits full swing and the drop backs are on the move, change again! The clown egg is still strong but size reduces back to the dime and colors change. More muted colors similar to the natural eggs will get response. Jon Ray’s Lemon Parade Clown Egg is a player this time in the year. Also our Alevin pattern can be taken as a caddis larva. With steelhead grinding the rocks to spawn they dislodge a lot of these insects.

Drop back steelhead revert to their trout like tendencies, they will eat streamers on tight line presentations. The final fly of the top five spring steelhead flies is a streamer. Kevin Feenstra’s Shrew Pattern is an ideal swing pattern when hunting drop back steelhead.  With the amount of Gobies, Sculpins, and Chubs in the river during the spring, this fly matches the hatch.

Knowledgeable angler carrying these top five steelhead patterns in a variety of colors and sizes can adjust to changing water conditions. Fished in the correct manner in the right places these flies will produce results.


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