Best Steelhead Flies: Our Top 20 Patterns

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Updated on:
Best steelhead flies feature image

Best Steelhead Flies: Our Top 20 Patterns

Tackle Village is reader supported. If you buy a product through links on the site we may make a small commission

Updated on:
Best steelhead flies feature image

Despite the fact that Steelhead are known as the fish of 10,000 casts, they’re a blast to target. As anglers, it’s hard to pass up a challenge like Steelhead, but we understand the importance of being properly equipped any time we step out into the water. Without the proper flies, catching steelhead is even tougher. Take a look at the following list of flies and make sure you have a few of these in your fly box.

1. Egg Sucking Leech

Egg Sucking Leech

Egg Sucking Leech

Egg Sucking Leech
Our Score

Size #2- #6

The Egg Sucking Leech is the perfect fly for those looking for versatility. Whether you’re interested in swinging flies or dead drifting them, the Egg Sucking Leech is up for the challenge. Many anglers will fish this in a tandem rig with a smaller nymph dragging behind it! You can fish this in both slack water as well as faster moving water depending on the method of fishing you’re hoping to do.

Fish it in black, white or olive. The red material near the eye of the hook is often what draws the Steelhead towards your fly. In terms of steelhead flies, you’ll struggle to find one that more productive for steelhead fishing!

2. Guide Intruder

Guide Intruder

Guide Intruder

Guide Intruder
Our Score

Size #2-#4

The guide intruder is one of those flies that are able to thrive on a miserable weather day. It’s raining, the river is off color and you can’t believe anything is eating; that’s when the Guide Intruder steps up to the plate. You can use the dumbbell eyes to get lower in the water column and swing it across the water. This pattern is great for the runoff season right after the winter steelhead are gone. Let the dark color with small bits of flash do the work for you.

Swing or dead drifting works well with the Guide Intruder. It’s easy to cast with a fly rod and it’s many angler’s favorite steelhead fly. This is best fished in deeper water.

3. Wulff Bombers

Wulff Bombers

Wulff Bombers

Wulff Bombers
Our Score

Size #2 – #6

The Wulff Bomber is a large dry fly pattern that’s going to entice steelhead looking to feed near the surface. As steelhead anglers, we don’t get many opportunities to fish for them on topwater. The black and white colors are both equally productive! If they’re feeding on the surface, give both of them a try.

You’ll still want to use your shooting line, but make sure it floats! You don’t want to use this pattern when you’re using sinking line. It’ll pull it below the surface and you’ll completely lose it’s effectiveness. Wulff Bombers are one of the unsung heroes in the world of steelhead flies.

4. Copper John

Copper John

Copper John

Copper John
Our Score

If you know the Steelhead want stoneflies, then the Copper John pattern should be one of your first choices. Steelhead fishing isn’t always about matching the hatch, but when stoneflies are an option, you better have some you can use. Great Lakes Steelhead are big fans of these patterns!

Stonefly nymphs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the Copper John is one that you should use. The copper wire and bead head make this an especially strong fly. It’s going to get low, so if you see fish stacking in slack water, see if you can pick some off near the bottom. Bottom bouncing or fishing this under a float are both productive options.

5. Hare’s Ear Nymph

Hare's Ear Nymph

Hare's Ear Nymph

Hare's Ear Nymph
Our Score

Size: #12- #14

Great Lakes Steelhead are suckers for the Hare’s Ear Nymph. You’ll likely find that steelhead all over the world are fans of this fly! If you fly fish the Hare’s Ear Nymph at all, you’re familiar with this pattern! It’s even an effective pattern for rainbow trout.

If you’re fishing a double fly fig, let this pattern trail behind your large attractor pattern. Steelhead may ignore the attractor and take a swipe at the trailing hare’s ear. You’re best dead drifting this pattern through some more slack water. This is one of the sneaky best steelhead flies!

6. Hoh Bo Spey

Hoh Bo Spey

Hoh Bo Spey

Hoh Bo Spey
Our Score

Size #2

If you need a large attractor pattern, the Hoh Bo Spey fly is for you. It has all sorts of moving parts that are too much for steelhead to resist. Where you’ll find the most success with this fly is in more shallow water. It doesn’t have the weight that some of the other flies on this list have, but it’s equally as effective. A dead drift with the Hoh Bo Spey is going to let this fly work its magic, and all you have to do is make sure you don’t get in the way. With out the bead head, you have some more freedom.

Make the drift as natural as you possibly can, and you’ll be okay. This means that you’re going to have to keep as much of your fly line out of the water as possible.

Always keep one of these in your fly box when you’re going fly fishing for steelhead.

7. White Crystal Bugger

White Crystal Bugger

White Crystal Bugger

White Crystal Bugger
Our Score

Size #6 to #10

If you’re fishing in the Great Lakes region, the White Crystal Bugger should be near the top of your list of fly patterns that you’re going to be using. Many Great Lakes steelhead are going to eat baitfish and the Crystal Bugger is a wonderful representation of them. The white color is going to allow this fly to stand out regardless of the water clarity. It’s great to cast with a fly rod and it’s a tried and true pattern that will continue to produce fish regardless of how and where you’re fishing.

It’s fairly versatile in the sense that you can swing and dead drift it, but you’ll find that it can get hung up in more shallow water. If you know the fish are deep, then this pattern will work well.

8. Mini Intruder

Mini Intruder

Mini Intruder

Mini Intruder
Our Score

Size #10

The Mini Intruder packs a punch. You can fish in fast-moving water and it presents itself well despite being moved around by the fast current! In slow water, however, this fly comes alive. The movement it produces even with a minimal current is impressive. It’s not an overly large fly, but you’ll find that it does the job when the water is fairly clear.

If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have to be as intrusive, but still want to stand out, then the Mini Intruder is a great option. It’s fairly easy to fish; let it dead drift and work itself through the current. Plus, do your best to reduce the amount of drag you put on it.

9. Burnt Chicken

Burnt Chicken

Burnt Chicken

Burnt Chicken
Our Score

Size #2

The Burnt Chicken fly is the ideal Steelhead fly. If you’re fly fishing in slow water, then you’re going to want to use this pattern. As it dead drifts through more slack water, the whispy materials are glowing to flow well and attract the attention of these fish. The dragging hook makes it easy to hook into these fish once they strike!
While you can fish this in faster water, you’ll find that they are much more productive when the fish are stacked in slow water. It doesn’t have a bead head, so you can fish it behind a heavy fly, but you could also just fish it in alone slow water!

10. Reverse Marabou

Reverse Marabou

Reverse Marabou

Reverse Marabou
Our Score

Size #6

The Reverse Marabou is another ideal slow water steelhead fly. Whether you’re targeting winter steelhead or summer steelhead, you’ll find that it’s going to land fish. If you target steelhead in the Pacific Northwest, this is a great option. Most anglers will choose to use this when the water is clear and the fish are easily spotted. You can drift this above them since it won’t fall too far in the water column.</p>

11. Hartwick’s Tungsten Cyclops

Hartwick's Tungsten Cyclops

Hartwick's Tungsten Cyclops

Hartwick's Tungsten Cyclops
Our Score

Size #1

Hartwick’s Tungsten Cyclops is one of the top flies you should consider if you’re fly fishing for steelhead in dirty water. The large size and obnoxious colors are going to attract the attention of any feeding fish. It’s amazing the conditions that you’ll find Steelhead feeding, so if you can find them, you can have success. Rely on this fly to get you on fish during those days the river is swollen.

The bead head is easy to fish with, so don’t worry about being overly challenged with your casts. It won’t take long for you to get used to the weight of the bead head. You can both dead drift or swing with Hartwick’s Tungsten Cyclops. A fly fisherman can have a great amount of success if they’re willing to put in the work for these fish on those days most anglers choose to stay inside.

12. Riverrat Squid

Riverrat Squid

Riverrat Squid

Riverrat Squid
Our Score

Size #2

For the final slow and dirty water fly on this list, the Riverrat Squid takes the spot. This is a shank style marabou pattern with a great amount of action. Whether it’s slow or cloudy water, don’t hesitate to break out this fly, and see what you can catch. It’s one of those patterns that I choose to use if I can’t quite figure out what the fish are wanting.

If I see stained water, I like to utilize a bit more color and the black and pink color scheme on this fly is my top choice. I’ll find somewhat shallow and dirty water and let this swing across for a waiting fish. If this doesn’t work, I’ll dead drift it in a slower moving section of water near some riffles. These methods will eventually produce a fish!

13. Silver Comet

Silver Comet

Silver Comet

Silver Comet
Our Score

Size #6

The Silver Comet is a beautiful traditional low water steelhead fly. There is a regular comet fly that anglers are accustomed to using, but the silver comet provides a bit more flash! The silver tinsel is just enough to catch the attention of any curious fish.</p>

It’s not overly large, so you don’t have to feel as if you’re intruding on any fish. It won’t scare then away like a traditional attractor pattern might. Whether you want to fish this in a tandem rig or on it’s own, it’s going to work.

Let this bounce along rocks or over a gravel field. Eventually, a curious steelhead is going to pick it up!

14. Steelhead Worm

Steelhead Worm

Steelhead Worm

Steelhead Worm
Our Score

The Steelhead worm is a bit of an unfair pattern. It’s truly one of those flies that you use if cannot figure out what they want. Most anglers use it as a trailing fly on a double nymph rig. Whether it’s pink, borrow or red, it’s nice to have a few of these in your fly box.

Fly fishing with worms isn’t overly challenging, so make sure you put them near the fish and let the current the work. You can even land a rainbow trout that is trailing and looking for a free meal. The worm truly is one of the best steelhead flies.

15. Stonefly Nymph

Stonefly Nymph

Stonefly Nymph

Stonefly Nymph
Our Score

Size #8

Stonefly nymphs are like candy for steelhead. Fly fishing with a stonefly nymph doesn’t have to be overly different than normal nymph fishing, but you may not have the luxury you would to high stick your way through a run. This means you’re going to have to be extra particular about how you drift this fly. Stand as close as you can and let the fly do the work.
If possible, just let this bounce along the bottom. You can even fish it under a float if you so choose. If you’re hoping to fish in more shallow water, then let use this fly without a bead head. However, getting deeper in the water column can be useful, so be prepared with a couple bead head patterns in case.
Great Lakes steelhead are especially going to love this pattern.

16. Fish Taco

Fish Taco Fly

Fish Taco Fly

Fish Taco Fly
Our Score

Size #6-#10
The Fish Taco is a great fly to use if you’re fishing deep. With the trailing hook design, it’s not going to get hung up on the bottom like many other flies similar to it would. It’s one of the best steelhead flies for bottom bouncing. When most of us use deep-diving flies in the winter, we worry about losing our fair share. You can trust that the fish taco is going to stay out of the debris better than most on the market.

The Fish Taco streamer is a nice and loud-looking pattern that’s going to attract fish in stained water.

17. Steelhead Bomber

Steelhead Bomber

Steelhead Bomber

Steelhead Bomber
Our Score

Size #6-#8
Any day you can get a steelhead to take a dry is a great day. Many anglers say that the steelhead bomber is their absolute favorite dry fly! The summer and fall are definitely most productive seasons for this pattern. As it drifts downstream, it’s going to move a decent amount of water. It can work in smooth or choppy water, but make sure you use a larger size if the water is moving.

Long rods and large leader are the name of the game with this pattern.

18. Mouse Rat

Mouse Rat

Mouse Rat

Mouse Rat
Our Score

If you’re fishing in the evening, the mouse rat is a sneaky good fly. It’s another dry fly that can move a great amount of water. You’re going to get massive strikes when a fish takes this!
Find reeds or weeds along the shore when you’re looking to use this fly. That’s often how mice are going to get in the water. Fish are often waiting at night time for this to happen, so be ready to set the hook! Once a steelhead takes it, be prepared for a fight. Don’t be surprised if they take you into your backing.

19. Nuke Egg

Nuke Egg

Nuke Egg

Nuke Egg
Our Score

No steelhead fly list is complete without egg patterns. Egg patterns are far and away some of the most productive patterns you can find. The nuke egg imitates the sticky substance that holds eggs together. Tie a strike indicator above it and let the egg drift downstream. When in doubt, throw an egg pattern!
Most anglers like to fish this pattern through slack water that they’re able to find. This way, one egg doesn’t get lost in an extremely fast-moving current.

20. Woolly Bugger

Woolly Bugger

Woolly Bugger

Woolly Bugger
Our Score

Size #4- Size #8

If you’re looking for a tried and true fly, the Woolly Bugger is your best bet. It can be swung, dead drifting and imitate just about any thing you want. It’s not overly complicated to fish, and you’re going to land fish with it.

Most anglers like to swing this fly, but I’ve found that dead drifting it can be even more productive. If you’re fishing faster moving water, it can imitate everything from a baitfish to a crayfish. Fish with the white or the black colors and see if you’re able to entice any fish to strike in darker water.

Conclusion

There are dozens and dozens of steelhead flies on the market. Since these fish are so specific to certain regions, you’ll find that flies differ depending on where you’re fishing. However, the flies listed above are fairly tried and true, so you can have success with them anywhere.

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AUTHOR
Danny Mooers is a passionate fly fishing and angling writer from Arizona. Danny loves sharing his passion for fly fishing for trout and other species through his work for Tackle Village.