When planning which steelhead flies to keep on hand, there are a multitude of factors to consider including water levels, clarity and temperature, as well as the weather and the time of year. Picking the right steelhead flies to catch one of these anadromous fish known as rainbows can be daunting.

It's about having steelhead fly patterns in your tackle box that can be counted on to hook a target fish in at least one of the four seasons in specific conditions anywhere – from the tributaries of the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes.

No fly box is complete without some local favorites. Every river has its own color and flow—its own brand of invertebrate abundance, but overall, your selection for steelhead flies has everything to do with timing and conditions. A good tackle box runs the gamut from small and dull to large and bright. The following selections are meant to cover the winter season’s spectrum of water levels and clarity, with steelhead fly patterns proven to catch fish across the continent.

So many ways to target steelhead on the fly – not going to say one is better than the other – but in the end we are all trying to get that take that inspires us to keep fishing for these amazing ocean-run rainbows. At the end of the day, it’s really your preference whether you choose to target these fish with a singlehanded rod or a switch rod, or the all-knowing spey rod. Each technique has a different approach to selecting the best steelhead flies. Whether you choose to dead drift flies, or swing or skate, each has its own approach to getting the fish to react to your presentation.

Steelhead flies can really vary depending upon the region where you are fishing. For example, steelhead anglers on the west coast tend to fish rivers that are bigger than the ones found entering the Great Lakes. That makes the fish out west harder to locate, and thus require a whole different style of fly fishing.

These facts suggest at least four groups of steelhead flies:

1) Dead-drift imitations of eggs;
2) Dead-drift imitations of invertebrates found in the river;
3) Flies with materials that trigger a response with color and action; and
4) Compromises between the first 3 groups – steelhead flies that attract with flash and color on a dead or slightly-animated drift, yet do not closely resemble any natural steelhead food.

Pro Tip: Cold water demands additional coverage. Steelhead are much less likely to chase a fly even six inches in 34°F water. The fly has to hit them on the nose. In water over 42°F, steelhead may move 20 feet to hit a fly. All this being said, let’s pick out some steelhead fly patterns that fall into these categories.

These lists show our specific favorites, the most effective and reliable steelhead flies, from each group:

Best Egg Patterns for Steelhead Fly Fishing

Top Steelhead Beadhead Nymphs

Don't be a stranger if you have any questions. Feel free to give us a call, send us an email or definitely stop by the shop if you're in the area!