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Tips and Tricks #8 - The Fly Matters

More than ever the fly you tie on matters.

I think for most fly fishermen the debate over climate change isn't a debate but a fact. The planet is warming, and the weather fluctuates in extremes. Extreme heat, drought, cold, wet... a little normal would be great.

With Steelhead and Salmon - what has happen two years ago for hatchery and three - five for wild years fish effects the returns today. Also along with climate change is more fishing pressure both commercially and recreationally. Bottom line in the west is less Steelhead returning. I've seen cycles in the amount of fish returning change over the decades, so hopefully fish counts will rebound, but in the meantime make your presentations with your fly count more, and the fly does matter NOW more that ever.

Fly Talk:

Size matters - play attention to size. Changing size from big to small and Vise versa. Things to consider:

  • Water Clarity - bigger for off color to muddy, and smaller for clear
  • Water Temp - bigger for cold, smaller for warmer
  • River Flow (how high) - bigger in higher flows even when clear, smaller in lower flows
  • Sexual Maturity - bigger for fish closer to spawning like winter Steelhead, and sometimes late fall. Smaller for summer Steelhead or fish that are not sexually developed.

Color - fish are not color blind

  • Black is the universal color, but it is not a color, it is the absence of color, black creates silhouette and profile for the fly. If I had to pick one color it would be black. If using black the size of your fly is very important, more so than the other colors.
  • Pink - for me equals coastal. Closer to the salt, more pink seems to work
  • Purple - for me purple is the inland pink. A hundred miles or more inland purple works when maybe pink won't. Also purple being darker creates more silhouette. Also I use lots of purple for my summer and fall flies.
  • Chartreuse - very good clear water color, and an enticer
  • Orange - a good egg color, also good fall color as there are fall caddis displaying oranges. Fish have an instinct to remove eggs/roe from the river as a survival mechanism for their future fry.
  • Red - A very good color in muddy water, and bright light. The color red becomes grey ten feet under water in the light spectrum. Also fish have an instinct to strike wounded prey and red is the color of blood.
  • Natural colors like brown and olives and hues around this in the light spectrum. The longer fish are in fresh water the more native trout like they get. So Steelhead that are a distance from the ocean or Great Lakes may respond more favorably to these colors.
  • White - it reflects all colors in the light spectrum. White use to be used on many old flies before the advent of flash. Also a good bait fish color.

Mixing colors - most fly patterns have several colors in them. I like to use black for the core and then colors over. When selecting colors think of the above.

Fly Movement - very important. Look for movement in the fly both in slow moving, soft water, and faster moving water. Also how does the fly look in the water sweeping across the current, not just head to tail movement. Often a fly selection will be different depending on this. Steelhead like slowing moving flies. Slow the fly presentation down, but have movement in the fly - flowing materials that undulate.

When going on a fishing trip it is good to have a selection of flies for the conditions that you anticipate, and also for the unexpected like rain that turns the river muddy. Also if you expect a high muddy river and you get there or go to another river and it is low and clear.

Best fly to use is the one that you have confidence in. That usually is the fly that you caught your last Steelhead on. Select a fly and fish it, don't change every tenth cast. If you go through a run with no results and you know that fish are in it. Go through again with a different fly. This is a great way to learn about flies that work for you and your river.

See some of the flies that Grabflies uses to catch Steelhead and Salmon (Click Here)


  • Swinging Flies For Olympic Peninsula Steelhead (Watch it - click here)

  • Fish Magnet Flies By Dave Robinson (Click Here)
  • FishMADMan Tube Skating Flies (Click Here)
  • GrabFlies T-Line, The best Shooting/Running Line (Click Here)
  • Other new flies and stuff (click here)

  • Thanks for reading, Tight Lines, Jeff Layton -

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