The Incredible Artificial Egg for Great Lakes Steelhead
By Mike Bleech
Collecting an endless assortment of flies is integral to the fly-fishing lifestyle.
None of what I am about to tell you however has limited the number of steelhead flies in my vests, boxes, drawers and shelves. It is true nonetheless.
It occurred to me one day that a large majority of the steelhead I have hooked over my career hit some sort of egg pattern, with the most popular being a soft egg pattern sparsely dressed with yarn.
I randomly surveyed some friends and acquaintances who are serious about steelhead fishing about this matter. In the end, every one of them came to the conclusion that their experience has been similar to mine. Most had their own favorite fly patterns which were not egg patterns, but upon reflection it was the various egg patterns that actually caught the most steelhead for them. More specifically, it came down to Glo Bugs, Sucker Spawn, soft egg patterns and other egg imitations.
This hardly narrows a fly collection down. If you have done a lot of steelhead fishing then you have caught steelhead on countless different combinations of sizes and colors and now you feel you must carry all of these whenever you fish for steelhead, which of course is impossible.
My good friend Jim Simonelli prefers Glo Bugs. Those he ties do not look much like Glo Bugs in tackle shops. Everyone who has tied flies for long understands that the flies most fly-fishers would choose to purchase are not the ones that are most effective on the stream. Shoppers want full, neat, finely detailed flies. Steelhead prefer sparsely tied flies. Real life is not neat and tidy, it is messy and dirty and ragged from living.
There is system to all of this disarray. Indeed, there are reasons for different fly sizes and colors. People like to narrow things down to what, where, when and why. We like to think we understand things. Whether this system for choosing egg patterns is true to the degree I believe is not important. All that is important is that the egg pattern works.
Usually systems start at an end and finish at another end. This steelhead system starts in the middle with eggs of natural color and size: A shade of orange and a size based on the type of egg, usually either salmon or steelhead, but sometimes sucker. These egg patterns probably could be used exclusively with a high degree of success.
Regarding steelhead eggs, they are almost always fished in the form of skein. There is not much in the way of variables, except for size. The rule of thumb with steelhead skein is to use a small piece of skein in clear water, then increase the size with darkening water color.
Salmon eggs can be fished as skein, as single eggs, or as a group of single eggs in egg sacks. This provides for much more variability. The rule of thumb with salmon eggs is to use single eggs in very clear water. With darkening water color use egg sacks or skein in increasingly larger sizes.
Also as the weather darkens use brighter colors on the material used for egg sacks, and add floaters, which are essentially imitation eggs, in brighter colors.
Steelhead are likely to be skittish in clear water, and mild colors including white, light pink, or orange are choices that will be effective. Small eggs most likely will be the ones that steelhead take, or the Sucker Spawn pattern.
Natural colors and sizes can be effective under what most anglers would consider perfect steelhead fishing conditions, that being when the creeks have a little heavier flow and some color such as you might see during the morning of an all-day rain.
Now, by natural color I mean the tint of a natural salmon egg, a medium orange. My fly boxes will hold at least three shades of medium orange, and they are there for good reason. An exception might be after the steelhead have seen too many of these patterns, when fishing pressure is heavy. Chartreuse can be effective at times like this.
As the water gets more and more color however switch to more brightly colored flies. Try deeper oranges, then reds. Use larger sizes. Some expert steelhead anglers will use Glow Bugs that are an inch in diameter.
Of course like most steelhead anglers I carry a large assortment of steelhead patterns. However, if I had to stick with just one pattern it would undoubtedly be an artificial egg. That still leaves a lot of room for wiggle.
Have you fished for Great Lakes steelhead? What works best for you? Share a tip right here.
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