Steelhead will eat anything

Or so it would seem, based on the box of flies I’m packing for an upcoming trip to a summer steelhead river east of the Cascades.

When tying steelhead flies, or really in life, there are only two rules.

Rule #1: All action is good action.
Rule #2: If things get weird, see rule #1.


Most of the flies in my box look like alien life forms dressed in drag, or a squid at a rave. Glittery pastel colors, silver-painted lead eyes. The rest look like taxidermy song birds or rodents. To some extent, that’s what they are… mostly feathers and rabbit with a little mylar.

If a steelhead is supposed to hit a fly out of aggression, then I think I’ve achieved what most fish would consider an affront to nature. They’ll all swim as if they need to be put out of their misery. And probably half of these flies would actually work.

I grew up in the Midwest, fly fishing for pike – fish that will eat anything for a different reason, because they are crazy hungry! Six years into chasing fish that don’t eat, I’ve started piecing together what I consider some rules, or guidelines.

Steelhead like motion. Crazy marabou, flapping rabbit, gangly ostrich herl. Put it on there! I want articulated leeches four inches long. And forget the tubes (though I do like Pro Tubes). But shanks just shudder and juke in the water better than a plastic straw wrapped in feathers. For all you tube fans, this is my rulebook, go start your own.

Put on that rubber! Seriously, there’s no fly pattern that wouldn’t benefit from rubber legs. Popsicle? Sure. Green butt skunk? Put ‘em on there. And don’t even get me started on those curly tails. Super hot. See rule number one.

Get heavy. I’ve been casting heavy flies most of my life, because I don’t trust skinny people or things. And I certainly don’t trust fly line manufacturers who’re guesstimating how fast their sink tips will drop in the water column. I’d much rather control my depth with fly weight and swing speed. The welts on the back of my head are the proof.

Just tie a dozen egg sucking leeches. With big pink beads, lead wraps, rubber legs, UV flash material in the tail… and that’s it. One fly. I won’t even take my own advice, because I’m too busy making abstract art projects out of dead chickens, hopped up on head cement fumes. But seriously, that’s the one fly.

And that’s how cults are formed. Steal ideas from other people, apply causality to a few coincidences, sacrifice some small animals and all of the sudden you’ve got a way to make sense of a random world.

Disclaimer: I have probably caught less steelhead than anybody else who writes for this blog and have a mental block against dry flies, scandi lines, and doing things the easy or correct way.


This entry was posted in Central Oregon Fishing Report, Fly Tying, Summer Steelhead. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Steelhead will eat anything

  1. Ferret_fishing says:

    I see no rubber legs on any of these flies. Yet none the less i love this blog very entertaining and only funny cause it’s all true.

  2. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    Thanks! So… the reason the rubber legs are missing is because I didn’t photograph my dead drift pile. All rubber, all the time. It’s like a rubber band factory explosion.

  3. Fishhamp says:

    Would love to see that dead drift pile! Septober Caddis with rubber legs… hmmmmm…

  4. Mike says:

    Man, awesome post. If I could write my own rules they would be the exact opposite! I guess that is just steelheading.

    – I love tubes but when I need a bigger fly I tie them in sections and stack them so the tube is not one long section. I find this aids in the movement of the fly, kind of like hinges.

    – I have stopped fishing flies with any weight at all. I have found that the fly can sink in the meat of the drift but with control on the line it can raise back up and into the shallows with no hookup. It takes much more of a straight across or up river cast presentation but it really helps keep the swing going all the way to the bank. Not my idea at all, learned it from some notable guides.

    Thanks for the post, I love the site!

  5. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    Mike, you’re dead on! If you fish the exact opposite of my rules, you will catch steelhead!

  6. Loni Ellis says:

    Great info and a great blog. I think your the Andy Rooney of the fly world.

  7. David Jensen says:

    Wish I was heading East with you to see some fresh steel. McKenzie is producing well, but a good percentage of our fish have been in the system for months, and are not fighting as hard. Good luck!

  8. Nick says:

    Well said sir! Well said.


  9. Flue says:

    Such an excellent dry sense of humour ;-) I hope you don’t feel too lonely.

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