So as we wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… for steelhead season to really kick off in Northeast Ohio, I’m putting the finishing touches on the full restocking of my fly boxes. It got me thinking, I remember back when I first started fly fishing for steelhead and I had ZERO idea what the hell I was doing. Not only was I learning how to cast a fly, where the fish were holding, and how to land them, but I also had to learn what flies to use. Through all of this, I’ve been fortunate enough to fish with several really cool people who showed me the ropes. However, one thing I wish I had been able to do was peruse their fly boxes to see what they were using. I could always see what they had on of course, but what would have been very useful to me would be to see what they carry when the fish aren’t hitting what they have tied on. Each person definitely has their own style, and so it should go without saying that each person likely has a stable of flies they carry with them that not only reflect their personal preferences but also the water and species they fish.
Well, I’m offering up a peek into my fly boxes to see what I load up with at the start of every steelhead season. As you well know by now, I’m no expert. What I am though is a guy that catches his fair share of fish so take this for what it is. Over several seasons, my fly boxes have sort of matured based on my experiences. What used to be a random hodge podge of assorted purchased flies, often with fewer than 3 of each type, has developed into a categorized and well stocked collection of proven and home made flies. Granted, I will always have some experimental designs in my boxes; flies I want to try out but that haven’t had their chance to prove themselves yet. But there are now essentials I carry with me at all times because I’ve had success with them in the past.
First off, the small baitfish box.
This is probably my favorite box, not just because I love these new Tacky boxes, but because these are the styles of flies I’ve had the most success with. These are all size 12s. For whatever reason, I’ve had more success with the smaller baitfish patterns than larger ones. First off, we have the black nose daces in the bottom left. This is my favorite fly. I caught my first steelhead on a dace and many since. Top left we have mickey finns. Then in red, chartreuse, purple, and kingfisher blue, we have a fly I design called a dagger. It’s a super simple fly to tie that operates similarly to other bucktail streamers. Difference being, the wing will be the bright color with black on top, and then the tail will be the same bright color. Same silver tinsel body and wire ribbing as a dace or mickey finn. I’ve got 40 flies in this box total because, as I said, this is my “go to” box for steelheading, so it’s well stocked.
Next up, the larger bait fish.
In this box, we have… well, larger baitfish. These are generally size 6 or 8 with a few exceptions maybe, but I can’t remember. In here we have of course, Andy’s Moustache Sculpins in purple, olive and white. I have a few weighted versions of the black nose dace to get into those deeper pools. I have three different full bodied minnow patterns I came up with that are mostly experimental at this point. On the right, more experimental minnows, along with some brown and white zonkers and some freshwater colored Clouser minnows. Most of these have a little bit of weight built into them already. The reason for this is that while I can get away with throwing some shot on my smaller baitfish to run through riffles, those shot weights could set off alarms if run through a deep and calm pool with high visability, but where I’ll still need to get down deep.
Next we have kind of a random box.
Here we have the proven Great Lakes steelhead magnet, the egg sucking leech. Although, this is the one fly I just haven’t had time to restock on yet, so the cupboard is pretty bare on that one. On the left, we have two experimental flies. The red version I’m calling the Black Dhalia and the blue version I’m just calling the Bruiser. Don’t know yet how successful they’ll be, but as you can see from how many I tied, I’m optimistic. In the upper right are two other experimental flies. The rust olive fly I’m tentatively calling the shaggy bugger and the orange fly just doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s a BRIGHT fly. “Lighthouse” maybe? I dunno. We’ll see if it fishes first before we bother with a name
Next, the bugger box.
Ah, the tried and true Woolly Bugger. You cannot go wrong with this fly and you should always have a stock of them in purple, olive, brown, white, and black. Also in this box is a variation on the black nose dace called the golden dace, along with some white deaths and a redheaded version of the white death to play with. I haven’t had a chance yet to try a white death but I’ve heard nothing but great things about this fly and I’m excited to try it out.
Last, and in my mind, least, is the egg/nymph box.
I’ve made no secret that I definitely have a preference towards using streamers for steelhead fishing. That said, sometimes the fish are just keyed in on eggs and you can strip the perfect streamer in front of them and they’ll just move out of the way to avoid it. When it comes down to being skunked or not, I’ll dip into this box, although reluctantly. Here we have several different colors of crystal spawns in the upper left. Below that, we have some steelhead hammers in varying colors, a couple larger stoneflies in black and orange, some weird blue prince nymphs (the only purchased flies left in my boxes), and below that is a fly that I developed for carp, called the Cheese Doodle, but that I think may work on steelhead as well. In the compartments we have some sucker spawns, scrambled eggs, veiled eggs, smaller stoneflies, caddis nymphs, prince nymphs, some breadcrumbs (for carp) and when you’re really desperate, when everything else has failed and your ego couldn’t possible be bruised any more, there are some eggi juan kenobiss [shudder]
Well, there you have it. Like I said in the beginning, a person’s fly selection is a reflection of not only the person, but of the environment they fish in. Montana guy, BC guy, and Great Lakes guy are all going to have wildly different stashes. Hell, my stash even differs greatly from Andy and Erik. However, it never hurts to check out what other people are rolling with when they head out. You may find some brilliant new idea or you may just confirm some flies you already know. Either way, its fun to go rummaging through other peoples’ stuff. Tight lines!