Whether you’re chasing trout or steelhead this winter—East, West or anywhere in-between—these proven patterns, straight off the vises of some of America’s best tiers, should serve well. . . provided your hands are warm enough to tie them on.
Galloup’s T&A Bunker ●
When cast from the bow of a drift boat, Kelly Galloup’s T&A Bunker looks like a swallow crash-landing on the water . . . until it gets wet. Then this creation—originally tied as a Great Lakes alewife imitation—comes to life, and the big bank rats can’t refuse it. Says Galloup: “The T&A Bunker may be my favorite fly that I’ve designed. It just has everything that a big-fish fly needs. It has a big profile, it is incredibly light to cast, it is fun to tie, it swims in an S-turn fashion and fish love it. This is my go-to fly on bright days. I generally fish it with the across-stream jerk-strip retrieve, but it can be fished upstream or on a swing with equal results.” ’Nuff said. Own this fly and throw it.
Otter’s Embryo Egg ●
It looks like an egg. It’s squishy like an egg. It must be an egg. Get in the heads of those rainbows, browns and bulls with this killer pattern.
Hickman’s Flash Taco ●
Nobody sniffs out steelhead better than Jeff Hickman. That’s because he spends time guiding in Oregon and British Columbia, and on his off days—you got it—he goes after steel on his own. His Flash Taco is a game changer on coastal streams, even when the water is high and colored. If you need a fly to stand out, tie on a Taco and force a fish’s hand.
Garcia’s Darth Baetis ●
Bring your readers and/or a bottle of Prozac to tie this size-20 mini-nymph to 5X or 6X tippet. You’ll be happy you did when the Baetis get active. Tier Greg Garcia, after pumping the bellies of trout, says the red head is what trout key on. Drift a few of these, and you make the call.
Johnson’s Lady Gaga Intruder ●
World-champion spey-caster Travis Johnson is a West Coast steelhead junkie based in Portland, Oregon. The Lady Gaga is one of his go-to flies while fishing his home waters—the Sandy, Clackamas and Deschutes rivers—but it serves well elsewhere too.
Morejohn’s Bantam ●
The Bantam is a remedy for low-water conditions and steelhead that aren’t grabby. Slip this innocuous fly, which was created by Miguel Morejohn, beside some ledge rock during the middle of a bright afternoon or swing it into the skinny shallows, and instead of sending a steelhead to the farthest reaches of a run, it might produce an eat.
Shawn Brillon’s Lucent Pheasant Tail Jig ●
Eastern steel. Western steel. Winter trout. Doesn’t matter what you’re after—this beadhead nymph dives deep and brings up fish from the depths. We know, we know—indicators and nymphs aren’t for everyone—but when the swung fly can’t reach the bottom of a deep slot where surely some metalheads or big trout are resting, the LPTJ just might.
Berry’s Rambulance ●
Think of the bait boys and their color selections—orange and pink. And that’s exactly what the tube-style Rambulance offers. High water, lower water, rising, dropping. Doesn’t matter. Orange and pink produce, and Bruce Berry’s Rambulance, which is weighted with a cone, gets to the steelhead and grabs their eyes.
Hieronymus’ Party Girl ●
You could say it’s all in a name—and doesn’t Party Girl make you want to catch a fish on it?—but this thing swims well and its dumbbell head gets it down to the steelhead. And you already know, as the Party Girl’s creator Mark
Hieronymus agrees: metalheads love pink.
Ritt’s Tung-Syn PT ●
How many times has winter turned to spring in a single day, and all of a sudden you’re standing in the river with your pants down, so to speak, with a bunch of midges and worms in your fly box but not a single Baetis imitation? Which is appalling, because those little spring mayflies are drifting in droves. Keep Al Ritt’s deep-sinking tungsten PT in your boxes, and you’ll be ready for that first wave of mayflies.
Dorsey’s Mercury Black Beauty ●
Colorado fish guru Pat Dorsey tied this fly to match midge pupa on his local tailwaters, and it should serve you well all winter whether fishing freestones or below a dam. The silver bead at the hook eye imitates a natural gas bubble that forms on midge pupa as they struggle to the surface, and fish key on that visual. Double bonus: This is a simple fly to tie.
Frank’s Worm Bomb ●
Colorado-based fish addict Frank Smethurst is no stranger to large tailwater trout, and his Worm Bomb is a “getter” during winter. Fasten this nasty creation to a piece of 4X or 5X tippet, drop a sow bug or scud off the back, and you have the makings for a fish-filled day. Purists: You can uncover your eyes now; we’ll move on to the next.
Hudspeth’s Voltaic October Caddis ●
Born in Oregon, this fly fishes well wherever it’s thrown, including Great Lakes steelhead streams. Swim the VO just under the surface, above the lip of a rapid, off a Scandi head and a floating leader, and hang on for the tug.
Morgan’s Para-Midge ●
Midges are the most prolific protein source on most trout rivers, and the fish completely rely on them during winter. They crush them under the surface, but they’ll eat dries on top, too, and Morgan’s Para-Midge is a great choice when you see those snouts breaking the surface around 2 pm.
Grill’s Cap ’N Crunch ●
According to Bozeman, Montana-based tier Andrew Grill, the Cap ’n Crunch originally was tied for trout and summer steelhead, but it has found its way into his winter steel collection too. “If conditions are low and clear and the fly is tied to be about three inches long,” Grill said, “it’s great for winter steelhead. It’s flashy without being overly bright, and it can get a steelhead’s attention even in clear conditions, because its not too ‘loud.’ It’s also moderately weighted, so it can be fished deep on a heavy sink-tip. This fly is a mash-up of an intruder and a muddler, and it’s my go-to trout spey fly in southwest Montana. It has stuck a fair share of steelhead too.”