Best Winter Steelhead Fly Colors, And Some Biased Logic Behind It

First, let me start off this blog post by saying that this is 100% an OPINION piece and like all fishermen I have certain biases towards one color over another. I would also like to state that I am writing about steelhead from the area in which I live and the waters I frequent in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.


I have a serious passion for tying swing flies for steelhead. The wall in my tying dungeon is littered with prototypes of flies, or ones that didn’t make the cut. However, the one thing that stays consistent throughout my flies are the color schemes I use. I have broken down the colors I like to use into a tiered system of colors I am most likely to use, and colors I am least likely to use.


Tier 1 colors: Black, Blue, Pink, Purple


Tier 2 colors: Orange, Red, Chartreuse


Tier 3 colors: Olive, White, Yellow


No matter what steelhead fly I tie, I always combine a tier 1 color element into the fly. Often I combine 2 tier 1 colors, or a tier 1 and a tier 2 color. I very rarely ever tie steelhead flies with elements from tier 3 colors. In addition, I almost never tie monochromatic winter steelhead flies. I have no doubts that an all black, or all blue fly will catch steelhead, but why limit yourself to just one color?


So by now I’m sure you have all heard that old saying “bright day bright flies, dark day dark flies”. However, I can say that I do not normally abide by this rule and I don’t think you should abide by this rule either. In fact I know many successful steelheaders who do the opposite of this rule. I think the most important element when deciding your winter steelhead fly color is water conditions. Specifically water clarity.


If the water is clear to steelhead green: I will grab for any fly that is predominantly a tier 1 color in any combination. Such as Black/Blue, Black/Purple, Blue/Purple, or Blue/Pink.


Drug Money Intruder in Black/Blue (Tier 1 color scheme)

(Example of a Drug Money Intruder in a Tier 1 color scheme)


If the water is off colored: I will grab from any fly that is predominantly pink, or purple. In these situations I prefer to fish flies that are Pink/Shrimp Pink, Pink/Orange, or Purple/Black.

(Example of a great color scheme for off colored water. Drug Money Intruder -Tangerine Dream.)


For some reason I never tie Red/Black or Pink/Purple color combinations. I am 100% positive you will catch fish on a fly that is predominately Red/Black or Pink/Purple. However, I never use these colors together, perhaps it’s because I already have enough flies and I don’t want to have another fly element to think about. It’s always important to remember you’ll never catch a fish if your line isn’t on the water so make your fly decision and get on with it. It’s also crucial to remember that confidence is a HUGE factor in winter steelheading. Lets face it, winter steelhead fishing is as much or more of a mental game as it is physical one. It’s important to second-guess your fly selection as little as possible, but it’s inevitable and when you feel those thoughts creeping their way into your conscious, reel in, clip it off, tie one on, and get back to fishing.


I personally cannot wait for this season and I wish you all good luck and hopefully will see you out there.


-Lukas Ferrenburg



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