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Steelhead Fly Color

Steelhead are color-conscious to the extreme. Salmon seem to respond more to whole/single colored flies (can mix with black).

A quick look at my observations of Steelhead fly colors and how the colors of flies change through-out the year/seasons.

Why do Steelhead strike flies?

Possible Responses:

  • Automatic Condition Feeding Response - representation of food.
  • Curiosity Response
  • Survival Competition Response
  • Territorial Competition Response
  • Anger Response

Color can be a part of the strike responses above.

I write this tip as I'm asked this question a lot - "what color of fly to use?" Pink may have been the color two months ago, but what is the color today.

Each season and each river Steelhead are attracted more to a particular color than other colors that may have worked preciously or in a different river.

Things to consider:

  • Water temperature seems to influence fly colors like purple. I do best with purple when the water temperature has warmed up. When the water has cooled down in the fall and winter I switch from Purple to Blue.
  • Location - rivers that are closer to the ocean, pink and black/pink are go to colors. Rivers that are inland (150 + mile) colors like blue, chartreuse, purple, and red are go to colors.
  • Black is not a color, but it is the most important color. Black = silhouette.
  • Water Clarity - colors work differently depending on the clarity of the water. Example, in the winter I will use pink and black flies more if the water is colored. If the water is clearer, I will go black and blue. In the summer I use a lot of black and red flies if the water is muddy.
  • All colors work - it is about confidence in the fly choice.


  • Pink: Late fall, winter, spring (Canada or coastal rivers all year)
  • Purple: Late spring, summer, fall
  • Orange: Fall, winter, spring
  • Red: Late Spring, summer, fall (In bright sun works all year). In late spring, I go to flies with some red in them, or all red and use all season up to winter.
  • Blue: Fall, winter, spring
  • Natural colors (browns, rust, burnt orange/yellow): Summer, early fall, fall

Color Combinations:

All colors work with black. Often adding color accents to flies like tails, or heads will make all the difference. Great color accents are red, chartreuse, and orange.

In general my flies change from black and pinks in the winter to purple and reds in the summer. What color works best for you?

Steelhead Fly Colors

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