BY: Justin Maxwell

The Steelhead is perhaps the most powerful and fastest of all the migratory fish species. Most fishing guides will insist that a Steelhead is a sea-run rainbow trout that has developed migratory instincts. However, they still defy strict classification and are regarded by many scientists as a variety of Pacific salmon.

Endowed with legendary fighting ability, Steelhead are frequently wary taking a fly, often taking a good hard look at a fly when its first presented. Big, strong fish, they are found in waters that drain toward the Pacific Ocean. Steelhead can weigh in excess of 50 pounds and be more than a metre long. They migrate into freshwater streams and rivers to spawn and unlike the similar Salmon species, they spawn more than once a year.

The Steelhead fly fishing season varies region by region but in most rivers across the country, there is steelhead run from November to May. Winter steelhead fishing is very dependent on water level, temperature and clarity. During winter, these fish like deep pools with little current. At other times of the year, they are more likely to be found in fast, deep water.

Single-hand rods are the most popular for steelhead fly fishing, usually a 9ft 6in to 10 ft long rod of #7 to #9 weight, matched to a strong reel having a smooth drag. When purchasing flies for steelhead fishing, choose a well-tied flies on premium-grade hooks.

Steelhead fly patterns are as wide-ranging and diverse as Atlantic Salmon flies. In general terms Steelhead flies tend to be tied with brighter colours with purple being very successful. Spring and winter fishing will certainly require the bigger, bold and brassy Intruder or Marabou style patterns. However, during the summer when there is good visibility, this is the time to apply some more subtle flies such as the Lady Caroline or Jack Spratley. Your selection, whilst not attempting to cover the almost infinite number of Steelhead patterns, should represent some of the most successful which will set you up nicely for any Steelhead fly-fishing trip.

Traditional Wet / Spey Flies

Spey flies can be labelled as some of the most beautiful and rewarding fly patterns for both Salmon and Steelhead. Their heritage can be traced directly back to the Highlands of Scotland and the Atlantic Salmon patterns on which they were based. Typically, these were used as summer flies and fished with a floating line.

Intruder / Streamer Flies

Fishing deep is often the most successful technique for Steelhead and for that you need look no further than the Intruder series of flies. Extremely effective all year round and essential when the water is carrying some colour, or when you are fishing early or late season.

Dry Flies

These can be divided into two categories: ‘searchers’ and ‘takers’. A Dry Fly can have a unique effect upon Steelhead in that they can evoke a positive and sometimes very aggressive response from what might be an otherwise dormant fish. ‘Searchers’ are the flies that are not only highly visual but will aggravate a Steelhead into moving at the fly whether in the form of a take or a boil, a Pinky being one of the favourites. If the fish shows on a searcher but does not take then switch flies and use a wet fly, a ‘taker’ such as a Black Magic or a Jack Spratley.


Tube Flies are gaining popularity amongst Steelhead fisherman for all the good reasons that have made them very popular amongst Atlantic Salmon fishermen.

About Author:
Justin Maxwell Stuart at has a decade of experience of fishing Steelhead fly patterns in the best rivers on earth, and provides a huge range of premium grade steelhead flies for sale at Salar Flies. Ph: +44 (0) 203 239 2022- E:

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