Is there anything better than watching a steelhead cartwheel through the air as it violently shakes its head, attempting to toss our flies?
It’s scenes like these that ruin other fish for anglers and leave them with an insatiable appetite for the chrome beasts that emerge each fall from the depths of the Great Lakes. They can be painfully hard to figure out, however. There are days when it seems like any fly we cast will do the trick, and plenty of others when it feels like our best efforts are futile and perhaps we don’t know very much about these fish. Over the years patterns have burst onto the scene only to fall out of favor, color fads have come and gone, but through it all these six patterns can be relied on to catch steelhead across the Great Lakes.
Orange Single Egg
As steelhead start to enter the tribs each fall, their sights are set on feeding. The focus of hunger is fish eggs, whether that be brown trout or salmon that also enter the waterways from the Great Lakes. Orange is the single most productive variation for anglers looking to imitate natural egg colorations and is not surprisingly one of the best flies to have on hand for steelhead.
Pink Sucker Spawn
Pink is another one of those colors that puts fish in the net throughout the region. Sucker spawn are one of the most commonly used egg pattern imitations, making the pairing between fly and color an obvious choice for one of the best flies for Great Lakes steelhead.
Black Wiggle Stone
While eggs dominate fly selection for steelhead, one of the few exceptions is the realm of stoneflies. The wiggle stone provides an articulation movement that fish will find irresistible. Black is also a color not often used in egg patterns, so using a black wiggle stone as a point fly in a nymph rig is a nice way of providing some variation in size, color, and action.
The tributaries of the Great Lakes usually aren’t incredibly rich in bug life. While there are some exceptions, caddis typically makes up the bulk of a steelhead’s diet. The electric caddis has a vibrant color, which makes it perfect to catch the attention of any fish that might be in feeding lanes looking for their next snack!
One of the most prevalent baitfish in the Great Lakes is naturally a good choice for flies that steelhead love! Fresh fish, usually in September and October, will aggressively follow and inhale emerald shiner streamers. Having a ten-pound fish track down and smash a streamer in plain sight is an experience unlike any other.
Egg Sucking Leech
During the spring spawning months, there are few flies more deadly than the egg-sucking leech. Fish will instinctively attack these red robbing imitations with ferocious tenacity. One of the great things about this fly is its ability to be fished as a streamer or dead-drifted under an indicator.
Whether it’s the first thaw of spring or the deep freeze of winter, steel headers should never leave home without these six fly patterns. They’ll consistently produce fish through the myriad of conditions and weather that’s thrown at anglers in the region. The next time a 26-inch buck steelhead rears back and ferociously head shakes, the pounding of your heart is all due to choosing the right fly and odds are good that it’s one of these!