Winter Steelhead Flies: 11 Best Must Have Guide Flies

Best Winter steelhead flies

I guide and catch steelhead all winter with these 11 proven and effective winter steelhead flies. These flies continue to produce the most steelhead for my clients in the winter.

Winter steelhead flies need to be smaller than fall or spring steelhead flies, and they need to represent the natural forage that the steelhead is feeding on. The best flies for winter steelhead are variations of stoneflies, mayflies, caddis larvae, egg patterns, and worm patterns.

I also provide a consolidated list of over 30 winter flies that are being recommended on other websites and forums, so that you can stop searching and start fishing.

The Best Winter Steelhead Flies

Winter steelhead flies
My most consistent flies are small dark nymphs, eggs, worms, and Woolly Bugger type patterns.

Ask ten guys what their favorite fly is, or check ten websites about the best flies for steelhead, and you will get a lot of different flies.

Chances are, they all work. But, after testing hundreds of flies for the last 37 years and seeing what flies are in the boxes of other guides, I bet five fly patterns catch 90% of the steelhead every year.

These are the flies that have been tested and proven over and over again and seem to produce steelhead consistently in rivers all over the world.

1. Egg Patterns #1 Best Of All

Egg Flies For steelhead
Egg Patterns are a must for every steelhead fly angler. Click Picture to watch the video.

Egg patterns are often the best steelhead fly pattern at any time of the year, but during the winter, it’s hard to beat a good yarn egg pattern.

If you are looking for the best flies for winter steelhead, be sure you have a basic yarn or glo-bug egg pattern in sizes 6mm, 8mm, 10mm (salmon egg size), and 12 mm sizes.

During the winter, I like white, peach, light yellow, light orange, and light pink colors.

2. Worm Patterns

Worm flies are one of the best winter steelhead flies.
Worm flies are one of the best flies for winter steelhead.

Worm flies are one of the best flies for winter steelhead. My favorite colors are pink, red, and worm brown.

Most of the year I like to use 3 to 4.5-inch worms, but in the winter my secrete flies that have been excellent for me are the 1 and 2-inch micro worm flies.

I like to use the squirmy wormy pattern or the Saun Juan Worm pattern.

3. Stonefly Nymphs

Black stoneflies are excellent winter steelhead flies
Black stoneflies are excellent winter patterns.

Black Stoneflies are an excellent winter steelhead pattern that has put thousands of steelheads in the net for my clients and me.

This is one of those must-have steelhead flies that every angler should have in their box, and they should give them an honest try when fishing for steelhead at any time of the year.

Sometimes, adding a gold or silver bead to this fly can make it even better. I use it with and without the bead, and I really like sizes 10, 12, and 14.

4. Pheasant Tail Nymph

The pheasant tail nymph is a great winter steelhead fly
The pheasant tail nymph is a great winter steelhead fly and I use it with and without the bead head.

The pheasant tail nymph could be one of the best steelhead, trout, and even salmon flies that I have ever used.

It’s an old pattern, but it’s one of the best flies for winter steelhead and is one that I always use.

I use it with and without the bead and I really like size ten and size 12.

4. Caddis Larva Patterns

Steelhead Caddis Pattern
The Steelhead Caddis Pattern is very effective because many rivers around the Great Lakes have abundant caddis populations.

I’m always on the lookout for what the predominant insect is in the river that I fish all around the Great Lakes region.

This makes this fly pattern a great winter steelhead fly even if it’s not exactly the same as the one I above.

I like this fly tied on a size 10 or 12 scud hook.

5. Woolly Buggers

Steelhead Wooly Bugger with flash
The Wooly Bugger with added flash like this one is one of my best winter flies. Click the picture to see the video.

The Wooly bugger is a fly that has been fantastic when nymphed, stripped in, or swung on my Spey rod. This fly has been great for winter steelhead.

Often, my most productive Wooly Bugger patterns have a gold or silver bead head and flash in the body and tail.

I like my Wooly buggers to be about two inches long on a size ten hook for winter fishing. My most productive colors for winter steelhead fly fishing are black, olive, white, brown, and sometimes yellow.

6. Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph

Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph For Steelhead
The Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph has been one of my most productive winter flies.

This is a fly that many anglers would not have heard of yet, but it’s been a fantastic winter steelhead fly and a fantastic fly all year for steelhead, trout, and salmon.

In the winter, I like this fly in a size 10 or 12, but there are times when a size 8 works well.

I have done well with the orange butt and color but have also done well with pink, chartreuse, and black.

This fly has also been my most productive fly for large brown trout during the summer and for migratory brown trout during the fall and winter.

7. Bead Head Hares Ear Nymph

Bead Head Hares Ear Nymph
Bead Head Hares Ear Nymph in size 10 and 10 is a great winter steelhead fly.

This fly has been around for many years, but it still works and it works well for winter steelhead.

It works with or without the gold bead head. I’ve also done well with a silver bead head.

Sizes 10 and 12 are best for winter steelhead fishing. There are some great variations of this fly that I will discuss below.

8. Hot Tag Hares Ear Nymph

Hot Tag Hares Ear Nymph
Hot Tag Hares Ear Nymph with a pink or orange tag is a very effective winter steelhead fly.

In the last few years, this fly has been catching more fish than the standard Bead Head Hares Ear Nymph.

I really like this pattern tied in pink, but have done very well with orange.

9. Blowtorch Tag Nymph

Blowtorch tag nymph
The Blowtorch tag nymph has been a great winter steelhead fly for me over the last few years and is worth trying on any river.

The Blowtorch tag nymph has been a great winter steelhead fly for me over the last few years and is worth trying on any river. It’s also been very effective for trout and salmon.

I use this in the winter in sizes 10 and 12. In the fall and spring, a size 8 is also good.

This fly had also been good with a yellow, or pink tail and collar.

10. Woolly Worms

Wooly Worm fly is a great winter steelhead fly
The Wooly Worm fly is a great winter steelhead fly. Click the picture to watch the video.

Woolly Worms are another great pattern that I have done well with. Through the warmer months, I will use sizes 6 to 10, but in the winter I have done better with sizes 10, 12, and 14 hooks.

I like this pattern in black, but I have done well with a white body, a pink body, a red body, and a yellow body.

11. Egg Sucking Leach

Egg Sucking Leech
The egg-sucking leech is a great all-year steelhead pattern.

The egg-sucking leach is a great winter steelhead pattern. I will use this pattern in sizes 2 to 3 inches long, sizes 8 and 10 hooks.

I have also done well with micro egg-sucking leeches. These are 1 inch long.

Black bodies with pink, yellow, and chartreuse egg heads are best.

Other Great Flies For Winter Steelhead

So I watched a good YouTube video (see at 6:55 here) the other day and had a laugh when the guy Jerry French explained that a well-known fly angler and guru, Ed Ward, simply used a stip of rabbit threaded onto the tippet and bare hook.

I love this because it shows what I’ve been saying for many years, which is, “Most guys overthink their flies, and often the fish don’t care as long as they fly is presented well”.

There are a lot of flies anglers will recommend for winter steelhead, I can’t say I agree with all of them, but I did say I would provide a consolidated list of flies from other sites and forums. Here it is :

  • Flashback Scud
  • SOS Fly
  • Red Dart
  • Beadhead Prince Nymph
  1. Flashback Scud
  2. SOS Fly,
  3. Red Dart,
  4. Beadhead Prince nymph
  5. Hobo Spey
  6. String leeches like Silvey’s Tube Snake
  7. Dirty Hoh
  8. MOAL (Mother of All Leeches)
  9. Meatwhistle
  10. Squidro
  11. Prom Dress
  12. Sparse winter spey flies
  13. Intruders (in various colors)
  14. A fly similar to “***** crick” (red-brown body, brown/black legs)
  15. Wooly Bugger (with bright dubbing ball)
  16. Bunny leeches (bright/dark colors)
  17. Clouser Minnows (various color combinations)
  18. Matuka style flies (bright and dark colors)
  19. Classic flies like Winter’s Hope, Green Butt Skunk, Purple Peril, Street Walker
  20. Egg patterns
  21. Hot Pink Intruder
  22. Blue tinsel flies
  23. Black and blue Hoh’bo Spey
  24. Sparingly tied intruder (with a tungsten bead head)
  25. Stonefly nymph (as an anchor with an egg pattern dropper)
  26. Egg sucking leech (with a chartreuse egg head)
  27. Tube Flies
  28. Leech Patterns
  29. Egg Imitations
  30. Stonefly Nymphs
  31. Alevin Patterns
  32. Smolt Patterns
  33. Worm Flies
  34. Jig Flies
  35. Ostrich Intruder

Tying your own flies saves you money and lets you tie custom flies that will probably work better. With steelhead, you really need to be sure you use good strong fly hooks, if not, your bad hooks will bend or break.

If you are thinking about starting to tie your own flies, check out 5 Best Fly Tying Kits From Beginner to Advanced.

Fishing Steelhead In The Winter

If you have ever wondered how river guides can be standing in ice cold water or on a boat in freezing temperatures day after day and not get cold, my article Winter Fishing: Guide Tips For Staying Warm And Comfortable.

Tight Lines


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Thank You Graham for sharing your long and hard earned steelhead knowledge with us average steelhead fishermen! I thought your statements on water temperatures made a huge amount of sense, and when I look back at my steelhead catches ( with flies ) I see that a lot of the fish have come at the times you are talking about being most productive- when water temps are warming up a bit from very cold to less cold.
    I will try some of your best flies too. One of the main points I am taking away from this great article is to not be afraid to use smaller flies in winter, and to focus on it. Thanks again Graham, and tight lines!

  2. Hello Graham.
    based on weather and water temperature, where would you find steelhead in late fall and winter more consistently in Ontario. Is it more in the deep pools, or faster waters and pockets? Would euro nymph be more productive in the winter than using an indicator? i have been actually very productive with ruro nymphing as i find presentation is lot easier than using the indicator but I think in deep pockets, distance, speed and depth would be a challenge with this method
    thanks again..

    1. Hey David,

      Good to hear Euro nymphing is working for you.

      If there is a run of steelhead pushing up the river, you may find fish everywhere in which case euro nymphing is effective. If the fish are holding, as they do a lot in winter, they will be in deeper, slower pools, which are often fished more effectively with an indicator using suspension nymphing methods.

      Good Luck