Mar 25, 2024


A Pimped Up Mack's Canyon with Jungle Cock eyes...that'll hunt!

Seems early to be addressing dry line flies for summer steelhead, but you know it's going to be here before we know it.  Summer will be in full swing (pun intended) soon.  Here are a few of our favorite summer steelhead dry and wet flies, typically used on dry lines, however I will mention a few that I have used while using a sink tip that work extreamly well.

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If there ever was an "all star" line up for summer steelhead wet flies, these below would without question be on the team.  We know that there are so many variatons to wet flies and the possiblitites are endless.  If you look at the profile of a typical wet fly they all look pretty similar.  The key obvioustly is different materials and colors that are used to make them unique even though they look similar.

When you think of all the variables that come into play when your swinging a wet or dry fly, it can be overwhelming to say the least.  Was it the color, was it my presentation, was it both.  There are times, most times, that I, and many would agree, that the presentation is most important.  Case in point, I was fishing a run and had a grab, but the fish didn't stick, so I changed my fly, made the same or near the same cast again and had another grab and yet again the fish didn't stick.  So, changed my fly again and repeated the process until I had changed my fly 5 times and the fish never stuck.  We played cat and mouse for nearly 40 minutes as I changed flies and kept trying.  The fish was interested in everyone of the flies, no matter what the color was.  In this instance, this is why I believed that it was the presentation and not the color of the fly.

Admittedly, I believe at times the fly color and size do matter.  I know, because it seems, that later in the season steelhead tend to like flies that are more natural in color and smaller in size.  This has been proven to me over the years to the point I can't ignore it.  Love fishing these flies on a Scandi style lines either with a floating or intermediate Airflo Polyleader, a RIO Versileader or just a plain old tapered mono leader.  When using a polyleader or versileader I wouldnormally put 2 - 4' of tippet at the end and then connect the fly.  I prefer the Polyleaders or Versileaders over straight mono leader and that is because they grip the surface of the water better helping create a nice load or the rod, whereas the mono tapered leaders tend to slide on the surface of the water with less tension.

Aqua Flies:  Mack's Canyon
Mack's Canyon is MONEY!

The Mack's Canyon has always been one of my favorite go to flies.  Have brought a lot of steelhead to the beach with this beautifully tied porportionally perfect fly.  I really like this fly especially later in the season when steelhead have been in the system for awhile and become more "trouty" and like more natural colors.  The Mack's Canyon works great in super clear to off colored water.  Subtle enough in clear water not to spook fish yet dark enough to silhouete well in off colored water.  I highly advice that you have at least two of these in your steelhead dry fly box at all times.  Sizes #6 or #8 work best.  Just remember later in the season the smaller flies tend to work the best.

Aqua Flies:  Green Butt Skunk
Green Butt Skunk

What can we say? The Green Butt Skunk is one of, if not the most famous of all times steelhead dry fly.  I believe that it was created sometime in the early 1950's and has been catching steelhead ever since.  Anyone who has fly fished for steelhead for any length of time has either used one with success or heard of this fly.  Bottom line, steelhead love them.  Sizes #2, #4 or #6.

Aqua Flies:  Fiddle D
Fiddle D

Compared to the Green Butt Skunk, the Fiddle D (above) is much lesser known, dare I say that it gets lost in the mix of all the choices, but it shouldn't.  The Fiddle D is an outstanding, beautifully tied fly with all the right porportions and the colors work well in any type of water conditons from gin clear to somewhat off colored water.  A darker pattern like this silhouettes well against the off colored water.  A steelhead is always looking up and the darker body with sun light behind it, makes it pretty easy for the fish to see it.  Comes in a size #6 which is perfect for most conditions.

Hartwick's Brown Hilton

Look at this beauty, the Hartwick's Brown Hilton!  This is a fly that I typically would use a bit later in the season when more natural flies seem to work better.  This is not to say that it wouldn't work early in the season, just saying that it is a go to late season pattern for sure.  It has that look of an October Caddis.  This is a great pattern and looks super buggy in the water. Fish love it.  It also comes in a Purple pattern.

Solitude:  Lady Carolyn

The Lady Carolyn

Like the Green Butt Skunk, when it comes to famous flies, the Lady Carolyn would have to be on that list.  A deadly natural looking fly that has stood the test of time.  Super buggy and fish love it.  Comes in a size #5 which is perfect.  Always, Always have some of these in your box...Nuff said!

Aqua Flies:  No Name Variant

No Name Variant

One of my personal favorites, the No Name Variant has helped me land some pretty nice fish over the years.  Comes in sizes #6 and #8.  I typically will use the larger one early in the season and the smaller one later in the season.  It's no secret that steelhead love purple and Aqua Flies No Name Variant is an excellent example of this.  To be honest, this is a nice photo of the fly but it still doesn't do this fly justice.  This is one of if not the first fly I start the day with unless, I am using something more natural in color.  It has just proved itself to me over and over.

Aqua flies along with RIO's flies are quality tied and just look down right beautiful!  I know that if I can make a good cast and set up a beautifully tied fly that I have confidence in, odds for success seem to increase.  Nothing like a perfect swing through juicy water with a fly tied on that you are totally confident in.  I know for a fact that it may not neccesarrily be the color of the fly that produces the strike, probably more the presentation, BUT, even so, it just feels good to have that confidence.

Steelhead Coachman

Here is another sweet natural looking fly that steelhead love.  RIO's Steelhead Coachman is a tried and true fly that is always in my fly box.  Comes in sizes #4, #6, and #8 for all you size needs.  I always have at least a couple of these in my box for sure.

RIO's:  Undertaker
RIO's Undertaker

Just the name!  It's gotta be a good one right?  Well, the answer to that is YES.  The RIO's Undertaker is a very popular summer steelhead fly, especially on the Deschutes River.  I know a guy that rarely fishes anything other than this fly and he brings a lot of fish to the beach.  All the right colors for any water condition and it come in sizes #6 and #8.

Duddle's Low Water Green Butt

Created by Gorge Fly Shop owner, Travis Duddles, this fly has served many anglers well for many years!  You can confidently tie this on your tippet and go hunt.  All the right colors with a green butt hot spot.  Perfectly tied for low water conditions but equally comfortable when the water is at prime stage.  That's it...Don't be afraid to fish it.


RIO's:  Last Call
RIO's Last Call Black
RIO's Last Call Purple

These two flies are fun!  These are pretty small, at a size #4 when it comes to steelhead flies.  And they work great for later in the season when the fish like smaller flies.  Even so, its a fly that when I show folks, they look at it, then look at me and they just don't believe what I tell them.  Becasue it's so small they think it's too small.

I typically have to work pretty hard to convince customers to give one a try.  I can remember a customer who was on his way to the Deschutes and I told him that this would be the fly that I would start with today.  At first he didn't believe me, almost rejected me.  But I did convince him and he bought one.  A few hours later, I get a call from him and he is in his first run fishing and sure enough, he admitted that he hooked a nice steelhead on this fly.  Thanked me for recommending it and for taking the time to convince he is convinced!

Solitude:  Steelhead Brassie

Steelhead Brassie - Comes in #6 Orange or Purple.

Although the Steelhead Brassie was designed to be used as a steelhead nymph pattern, this little gem can be swung just under the surface of the water with solid results.  Looking like an October Caddis nymph, it's sure to catch the always in focus steelhead eye.  I am amazed at how small of a swung fly will catch a steelhead.  They're trouty.  Think of swinging soft hackles for trout only better.  The great thing about this fly is that it is tied on a sturdy #6 hool.  The hook is plenty strong enough for a steelhead.


I need to be upfront and honest with all ya'all.  I have yet to land a steelhead on a skated or chugged/popped fly!  Oh how I long for it.  I have tried it, had fish boil on it.  Had them grab and take a click or two off my reel, but never have I ever hooked and landed one on a skated fly.  It has been a dream of mine for a long time.  I just need to fish them more often and fish them when the odds are in my favor.  I know that there are optimal times and places to utilize this technique and I just have to make it a priority and not be so quick to tie on a wet fly.  Maybe this will be the summer that my skating dreams come true?!

Since, I am not an expert at this, the flies listed below are favorites of friends who have had a great amount of success with.  

Notice the resemblance? Skate it reel good!
Pompadour Skater

One of the most popular with customers and friends has been the Pompadour Skater in size #6.  This pattern also comes in a black version and both work well according to sources I am close with.  Word on the river is that Deschutes steelhead like smaller skaters in general.  However they also will take larger ones as well.  I think the larger skaters which will be listed here shortly are often more successful in the choppier water where you can also chugg them with more action.

Larimer's Steelhead Muddler - Natural

Who hasn't heard of the Muddler Minnow, please stand up.  Couldn't tell you how many steelhead that I have heard of being caught over the years with a Skated Muddler Minnow.  Now, I know first hand how effective this fly can be when used on a sink tip, I have had enough success with it that I can't deny it.  I just haven't had the pleasure of the surface eat yet.

This is a super buggy pattern that comes in Natural, Olive, Purple, and Black.  Tied in a size #4.  You would do well to have a few of these in the box along with the others that I told you to add to your box.  A lot of folks fish this with a "riffle hitch" tied at the head of the fly and eye of the hook.  This knot can be tied on either side of the fly to make it skate really well.

Solitude:  Ska-opper

Ska-opper in Natural

The Ska-opper has become pretty famous, especially to anglers who like chugging or popping the fly during the swing.  Invented by well know Skagit Master Scott Howell, this fly is a cross between a bass popper and a gurgler and works well for aggressive steelhead, although I wouldn't know...yet.  I enjoy fishing this fly and have done so a fair amount, but just haven't been successful with it yet.  Emphasis on yet.  It will happen I am sure of it.  When it does, whoever is within a mile radius of me will know something special is up! Designed to ride high in the water and make a big camotion.  Surely to attract that steelhead that can't stand it.  
Top View of the SkaOpper

Aqua Flies:  After Dinner Mint
Who doesn't like an After Dinner Mint?

The After Dinner Mint is an excellent fly pattern that fishes equally well as a skater or fishing it wet.  I love both the Purple/Black or the  Green/Black colors.  Super effective.  Give it a try.

Brett's Kalamath Skater October Caddis

Talk about buggy.  If you look at this patter from the underside (bottom) upward, it seriously looks like a real bug.  If I were a steelhead...I wouldn't be able to contain myself if I saw this skate across the surface.  I'd have to attack for sure.  Tied on a #7 hook with a long shake to help with those fish that just want to come up and kiss it.  This is a perfect sized late season skater.  Think late September - October.  Does'nt mean you couldn't use it in August.  Notice the imitation Jungle Cock near the belly of the fly which helps make it "skate".

I could go on and on with other effective wet and skating fly patterns, but this is a stellar start for you.  Also, by no means are these in order or all there is.  We are looking very much forward to summer steelhead season soon.  As always, we are happy to talk fishing and answer any questions that you may have.  Give us a call at 541-386-6977. 


My son Calvin, with his first dry line steelhead caught on a "Freight Train" not mentioned in the above list but easily could have.  The Aqua Fies "Freight Train is a very effective pattern. (see photo below)

Thanks for reading.

GFS Team
John G

"The Gorge"

Gorge Fly Shop Team - 541.386.6977

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

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