The Best Steelhead Flies Used By Top Guides

A picture of my fly box with some of the best flies for steelhead

There are hundreds of good flies for steelhead, but the best steelhead flies are found inside the fly boxes of experienced fishing guides, and I’m going to let you know what they are.

I’ve been a steelhead guide for over 20 years so I know that guides test out many flies to determine the MOST effective flies. Plus, they network with other guides, lodges, and local fly shops, which is why they always know what flies are hot.

The best flies for steelhead are the ones that consistently work day after day in almost any river where steelhead exist. The most effective steelhead flies include flies like the stonefly nymph, the worm, the yarn egg, and the woolly bugger, or variations of these.

Stick with me to the end because I’ll reveal over 20 great flies used by me and many other guides, and I’ll provide some guide tips to make them even more effective.

Top 5 Quick Pick

  • Egg Patterns: Best used when salmon or steelhead are spawning but egg patterns can be good all the time. There are many variations which I’ll discuss below.
  • Stonefly / Mayfly Nymphs: Nymphs like stoneflies and mayflies are great steelhead flies when the steelhead are not gorging on eggs. For summer run steelhead before the salmon spawn, nymphs are the most productive flies. Late spring is another time when steelhead love nymphs. The Easy Stonefly and Hare’s Ear are two of the best.
  • Worm Flies: Worm patterns are one of my best steelhead flies, and at certain times of the year, a pink or red worm will work better than all other flies.
  • Woolly Buggers: Micro Buggers and full-size Woolly Buggers are great for steelhead fishing. They come in many sizes, colors, and a few great variations.
  • Hoh Bo Spey: An easy-to-tie but very effective fly for spey fishing and for swinging flies.
  • Steelhead Streamer: Streamer flies like the Zonker that imitates sculpins, minnows, and other baitfish can be great for steelhead.

I’m going to let you in on a secret, although there are hundreds of steelhead flies being recommended, most are just MEH, some are just crap, and only a few are worth using.

I know this for a fact because on top of being a guide, training other guides, and fishing with many guides, I’ve also tied and sold flies commercially, and I have probably tested just about every steelhead fly ever published in books, magazines, and online.

If you are not using the same flies the guides are using, you’re missing fish!!

Are Guides Flies Different From Other Steelhead Flies?

When you look into the fly boxes of top steelhead guides, their most effective steelhead flies are often pretty basic, and they use a lot fewer fly patterns than you might think.

In fact, I and most guides I know catch 90% of our steelhead on the same five or six steelhead fly patterns consistantly, and so can you.

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The Five Essential Steelhead Flies For All Rivers

There are also streamers and spey flies if that’s your preferred method of fishing for steelhead, and I’ll discuss some of those here too.

When choosing steelhead flies, just keep these four simple guide tips in mind.

  • Choose your flies wisely: Choose flies based on the conditions, and then rotate colors, sizes, and patterns to determine the best fly.
  • Fish your fly well: A good fly fished poorly won’t catch many fish, so spend less time on fly selection and more time mastering the presentation.
  • Ensure your setup is good: it doesn’t matter how good your fly is if the steelhead are seeing your tippet and weights.
  • Don’t Be Fooled By All Those Fancy Flies
Best Steelhead flies are salmon egg imitations like these ones.
Basic egg patterns on the left are often better than the flashy fancy egg pattern on the right.

Fancy flies that you see online and in books do catch steelhead, but I have found it’s often best to stick to proven flies and not waste too much time looking for that “magic fly” that’s going to catch all the fish for you, because it doesn’t exist.

If fancy flies worked so well you would see them in the fly boxes of guides, but that’s not what I see when I look in the boxes of guides. The flies inside the boxes of guides are as close to the “magic fly” as you’re going to get.

Best Steelhead Flies Table

5 Essential Steelhead Flies For Nymphing

Fly Pattern Description Best Colors Size Range Key Features
Yarn Egg Highly productive egg pattern Peach, Salmon, White, etc. Varies Great for imitating salmon eggs
Worm Pattern Effective steelhead fly Pink, Brown, Red, Purple 3-5 inches Tied with hook at the end
Stonefly Effective nymph pattern Black, Brown 6-14 Good for nymphing rivers
Woolly Bugger Classic steelhead fly with marabou tail Black, Olive, White, etc. 1-3.5 inches Versatile and effective
Hoh Bo Spey Spey-style steelhead fly Assorted Varies Great for swinging in currents

Pro Tip: If you can imitate their natural food sources more precisely, or find flies that trigger a strike response, you will increase your chances of getting them to bite more consistently.

So let’s find out which flies the guides use.

1. The Egg Fly – All-Time Best Fly For Steelhead

Basic Egg flies in all sizes
Basic Egg flies in all sizes are often the best egg patterns and the ones I use the most. Change size and color based on conditions.

Egg flies probably catch more steelhead than any other fly patterns, and they work everywhere. For this reason, you will see egg patterns in almost every steelhead guides box.

But there are dozens of different egg fly patterns, some are good, and some not-so-good.

If you take a lesson from the Centerpin and float fishing guys that crush steelhead on beads, and based on my experience, the number one egg fly pattern is the basic Glo Bug Egg Fly. It’s round, it looks like a single egg that steelhead feed on readily, and it’s easy to tie or buy.

This is a pattern you will find in most guide fly boxes.

You may hear it called the Yarn Egg, McFly Egg, or the Blood Dot Egg. Whatever it”s called, it” i”s a go-to fly anywhere in the world for any fly fishing guide who nymphs for steelhead.

My best colors are:

Steelhead Egg Fly Colors And Sizes Table

Steelhead Egg Fly Colors And Sizes

Bait Color Water Condition West Coast Hook Size Great Lakes Hook Size
Peach Clear water 6 to 8 8 to 10
Salmon Clear water 6 to 8 8 to 10
White Clear water, Winter 6 to 8 8 to 10
Light Pink Clear water 6 to 8 8 to 10
Chartreuse Dirty water 2 to 4 4 to 6
Hot Pink Off-colored water 2 to 8 4 to 10
Orange All water conditions 6 to 8 8 to 10
Yellow/Cheese All water conditions 2 to 8 4 to 10

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  1. Hi Graham,
    I find that the rivers i tend to fish don’t have very deep pools, thus I usually run a leader which is a Max 18-24”. But then I could hit a spot where the pool is a little deeper, and when I pull my float higher , my coloured mainline is now submerged. Could that be spooking fish?
    By the way…..I’m planning on booking a day in the spring for steelhead, and I saw that you don’t offer a 4 hour walking steelhead guided trip/lesson. Why not?
    Best regards,

    1. Hi Lorenzo,

      Yes, your mainline could spook the fish if it’s too close to the fish, but if you use a proper leader setup it should not be an issue. There is an updated float leader setup picture on the Best Leaders For Steelhead page. If you use this leader set up with a clear fluorocarbon shot-line then your mainline will always be far enough away from the fish that they should not see the mainline regardless of how much mainline you submerge into the water. Also, check out my other leader set-ups and the best angles and other tips on the Centerpin For Beginners page. For questions regarding guiding services it’s best to always email me through my guide website A Perfect Drift Guide Company. See you in the spring.

  2. Hi Graham,

    I am wondering what fly you were catching steelhead on with Bill Spicer. At the end of the episode you were fighting a steelhead and when dragging it into the net I could see a large pink egg. Would like to know what material this fly was tied with and a picture of it. Thanks.

    1. Hey Hunter,

      That river is always either green or brown and almost never loses its color, and because of that, I have found that the steelhead in that river often like very large egg patterns.

      I tie most of my smaller eggs with McFly Foam but when tieing my bigger flies a standard egg yarn is all I use. I will provide a link to how to tie a standard egg fly, however, when you watch the video you can see how low he cuts the yarn. If you want a bigger fly leave it double or triple the length. You will need to tease it out with a brush or I use my bodkin. That is how I make my large nickle and quarter size egg flies.

      Also, Bill showed me a great egg pattern that I still use today, it is called the Jeff Blood blood dot fly.

      I hope that helps.

      Good luck,


  3. Hi Graham
    Im interested in a guided float trip on the Saugeen for Rainbows , Steelhead with my brother.
    Is there availability for before the opener in April or is it better after the opener?

    1. Hi Les,

      I won’t be guiding the Saugeen this year, If you want to float fish or spin fish contact Jordan at A Perfect Drift Guide Company or Matt at Smooth River Guide Service. If you want to fly fish, contact Grand River Troutfitters, or Grindstone Angling.

      Good Luck,


  4. Excellent material for the beginners as well as professional anglers! I would like to ask Grant, if you are attaching your float on the main line with swivel underneath on the shot line or at top???? I see by your diagram it looks like you attach the float on main line???? Thank you! When are you coming out with a video or book!!!!! Excellent information.

    1. Thanks Michael,

      I always attach the float to the mainline, above the swivel. Occasionally, if I get into very shallow water, I will remove the float caps slide them over the swivel and reattach the float below the swivel to be able to fish the shallow water. But, that is rare.

      I’m currently filming content for YouTube now and hope to have it live in the spring.

      Tight Lines,