Pro Tips: 5 Flies for Winter Steelhead

Written by: Keith Allison, of Chrome Chasers Fly Fishing, and Evan Jones

Keith with a fine steelhead, which fell for a Double Station Intruder.
All photos by Keith Allison, Chrome Chasers Fly Fishing

It’s almost that time of year again, when dropping temperatures and shorter days begin to separate the casual anglers from the truly dedicated. Clearing out frozen guides every few casts isn’t for everyone, but rewards do await those hearty souls willing to brave the harshest elements. This is especially true for anglers living in steelhead country, since winter is usually when the biggest fish show up. Nobody wants to waste time throwing subpar flies when it’s freezing cold and dark by 5 p.m., so we asked 30-year veteran Olympic Peninsula guide Keith Allison from Chrome Chasers Fly Fishing about his favorite flies for winter steelhead. (Click the fly name for a link to a store where you can buy these patterns or similar.)

1. Hoh Bo Spey

This pattern fishes best in slower,clearer water at moderate depths. I try to keep this fly around two inches in length. Another color combo I use frequently is a chartreuse butt, orange dubbing ball and pink or cerise marabou. In super-clear water conditions, I will use more natural colors like olive and black.

Hoh Bo Spey
Hook: 25mm shank joined to Intruder-style hook (such as a Daiichi 2557), sizes 2-6.
Thread: Color to match the body, 3/0 or 210-denier.
Body: Steelie Blue Ice Dub.
Dubbing ball: Dark olive Creepy Crawley or purple Ice Dub.
Flash: 3-5 strands Holo Flash or Krystal Flash.
Collar: Black marabou.

Tying notes: I usually tie these on a 25mm shank, using 50-pound Power Pro for the hook loop. Add a Steelie Blue Ice Dub dubbing loop at the back, and a tight dubbing ball of dark olive Creepy Crawley Ice Dub or purple Ice Dub in the middle brushed out (with or without some Lady Amherst Pheasant), but always with 3-5 strands of Holo Flash or Krystal Flash doubled over and finished with black marabou tied tightly in front of the dubbing ball, using three or four wraps to secure it.

2. Tube Egg-Sucking Leech

Leeches fish well in all water conditions, but I tend to use them more in stained water for the profile and their incredible movement. There are many variations on this fly over the past decade or so, notably including the Dirty Hoh by Jerry French.

Tube Egg-Sucking Leech
Tube: Fly tubing of any brand.
Thread: Black, 3/0 or 210-denier.
Body: Dark olive Creepy Crawley Ice Dub.
Tail: Black rabbit strip.
Flash: 3-5 strands of Holo Flash or Krystal Flash.
Collar: Black saddle hackle.
Head: Hot-orange cone.

Tying notes: This fly starts with a dubbing loop over the tube using Creepy Crawley dubbing in dark olive, lightly dressed with six to eight wraps. Next, attach a three-inch rabbit strip, and finish with saddle hackle and a conehead. I have been tying tube-fly variations the past few years, but I have steered away from using the tandem tubes, as I have found that they can be difficult for clients to use and result in frequent fouling. Now I generally use one tube long enough to mount a straight eye hook into the rear of the tube to let it swim free on the leader.

3. Double Station Intruder

Great fly for deep, slow pools. It’s sparse, so it sinks well, but still has lots of action in slow to walking-speed water due to the dual “station” design, allowing the materials to flare out widely at front and back while maintaining a slim body profile in the middle. I also tie this fly in orange/pink, orange/white and chartreuse/blue.

Double Station Intruder
Hook: 25mm shank joined to an Intruder-style hook (such as a Daiichi 2557), sizes 2-6.
Thread: Color to match the body, 3/0 or 210-denier.
Eye: Hot-orange dumbbell, sizes medium-XL.
Body: Blend of black Seal Dub and copper Ice Dub.
Flash: 3-5 strands of Holo Flash or Krystal Flash.
Collar: Ostrich or rhea in two different colors.

Tying notes: I start with a long shank, attach 50-pound Power Pro to the shank from back to front, and return through the eye, lashing down back to the rear. Then I create a tight dubbing ball at the rear of the shank to serve as the first “station”, using black seal dubbing brushed out, then attach flash of your choice and ostrich or rhea in two colors tight to the rear dubbing ball. Next, create a compound dubbing loop long enough to wrap up to the forward station. I used black seal dub and copper Ice Dub here, or wrap the body with tinsel of your choice. Create another forward station dubbing ball larger than the rear one, attach flash and double back. I like to wrap the flash around the eyes to create stability. Attach ostrich or rhea behind and in front of the eyes, I’ve used black and purple on this one, and you’re all set. 

4. Squidro

Another great all-water fly with an awesome profile, ideal for conditions with less visibility.

Hook: 25mm shank joined to Intruder-style hook (such as a Daiichi 2557) sizes 2-6.
Thread: Tan, 210-denier.
Eye: Hot-orange dumbbell, size medium-XL.
Rear Body: Tan dubbing ball.
Front Body: jungle cock feathers.
Flash: Long copper Ice Dub fibers.
Collar: Pink or orange dyed hackle tips.
Head: Tan dubbing.

Notes: I’ve seen a ton of different recipes for this fly. I basically build a Two Station Intruder as described above, but add the large jungle cock eyes to the rear station (instead of ostrich/rhea) and two pink or orange hackle tips at the front before finishing the head with some dubbing. I don’t put Krystal Flash into this fly, as it tends to minimize the movement of the feathers. Instead, I use some long, copper-colored dub fibers when finishing the fly.

5. Marabou Tubes

Great fly to fish in walking-speed water or slower, and not too deep. This fly rarely hangs up, which makes it a great guide pattern. I like to stack them as well, using different color combos to create a lot of action in slow to moderate speed water.

Notes: I generally buy these because they are so inexpensive I can’t tie them that cheap. Weighted versions with the turbo cone are available too. Creating a fly from them is simple: make a dubbing ball, add marabou in two colors, layer flash after each marabou color and add a little hackle or guinea. Any time I’m using a tube mandrel, I put a half-hitch after every fly component is laid down so the fly can’t unravel from wear and tear, or more importantly, can’t spin on the mandrel. If you do want to try to tie tube flies, check out the video series “Tube Fly Basics” from Tightline Productions: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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