So here we are, at the last portion of the Erie Steelhead series. So far we've separated fact from myth in Erie, learned about the proper gear you should outfit yourself with for trib fishing, how to determine the areas of the tribs where fishing is permitted, and finally tactics for catching fish as well as setups for using those tactics. In this final installment, we'll talk about the flies that you should have in your box when you hit PEnnsylvania's Erie watershed in search of steelhead.
While natural steelhead eggs usually are red, orange, or yellow, popular glo bug colors (in addition to these) include white, peach, pink, chartreuse, hot orange, and even blue. Eggs for Erie steelhead fishing are usually tied on heavy wire, short shanked hooks from size 10 to 18, like the nymphs. Also, like the nymphs, color and size selection tends to favor larger, brighter, flashier flies in conditions of reduced visibility.
Another woolly bugger variant is the crystal bugger, which uses estaz in place of chenille, giving the fly a bright, flashy, neon body. Most guys also choose to add an underbody of lead wire, to get some weight incorporated into their flies.
Woolly buggers and other streamers for Erie steelhead are typically tied on long streamer hooks from size 4 down to 12 or 14. For buggers, the mainstay trout colors of black, white, and olive are also the favorites for steelhead. Other, more steelhead-specific varieties are purple, pink, orange, and chartreuse, with all of these colors also making great crystal buggers and egg-sucking leech flies.
My Fly Box
Now I'm sure you can read any of hundreds of web sites explaining what flies you should have with you, with their 'secret hot flies' or some strange looking creation...or, more commonly, the typical list that says you should have a dozen sucker spawn in 10 different colors on 10 different sizes of hook, as well as a dozen glo bugs in 20 colors and 5 sizes and...
...who the hell has time for that? And how many people do you see carrying 2,500 flies around on the water?
The above sizes and colors are meant as suggestions, not a requirement you need to have. Here's what I like to have with me on the stream. This inventory is often little more than a dream, as I run out of some flies and tie up a few of a new pattern, or (more likely) forget a batch of flies at home on my tying bench.
Nymphs: I hate fishing nymphs. A lot. I just have little confidence in the things, so I rarely fish them, and even when I do, I'm usually quick to switch again. That said, I usually only tie about two dozen nymphs a year. When its time for steelhead fishing, I just grab six or eight flies, usually a mix of hare's ear, pheasant tail, and prince nymphs, with a stone or two thrown in, and stick them in with my buggers. Usually, in the spring I still have them all, or all but one or two, and I put them back in with my trout stuff. Not saying they don't produce fish, I just have little confidence in my own ability to fish with them.
For nymphs, we'll say I carry a pair each of the Hares ear, pheasant tail, prince, and stonefly nymphs, all in a size 14, with a bead head, and lead underbody.
Eggs: I carry an entire box devoted to egg flies. It's a cheaper Flambeau box with 8 compartments on one side and ripple foam on the other. I use the compartments for glo bugs and the ripple foam for sucker spawn. I do this because sucker spawn tend to form a tangled mess in compartments, while glo bugs tend to be fairly easy to separate, and putting them in a compartment keeps them form getting messed up from being smashed together. For both types of eggs, I make sure I'm well stocked in a few core colors, then tend to experiment with a random selection of others.
For eggs, I carry sucker spawn, all in a #14, trying to keep a dozen each in cream, pink, hot pink, and chartreuse. I try to have about a half-dozen each in hot orange, pale blue, yellow, and peach as well. I may carry two or three of other colors, including black, dark blue, purple, mint green, or red just for something different to try. I may include flashy tails on some of these, or tie them with brightly colored thread, but for the most part, it's just the standard tie.
I also carry glo bugs and estaz eggs on the compartment side, and with my 8 compartments, I usually keep a few different colors in each compartment. I usually have about twice as many glo bugs as estaz eggs. For these flies, all are tied on 2X heavy 5X short egg hooks in size 10 (much bigger than most suggest, but that's just my preference). For the estaz eggs, I carry hot pink, hot orange, chartreuse, blue, and white, about a half dozen of each. For the glo bugs, I carry a dozen each of pale peach and pale pink, both with red blood dots. I also carry a dozen big blue glo bugs with and without dots. Using McFly foam (for a denser, less translucent egg) I try to keep a stock of a dozen each in hot pink, hot orance, and chartreuse. Other than those key colors, the rest are a hodge-podge of white, yellow, peach, and other random colors, usually only 2 of each.
Streamers: For streamers, I have 3 different types, experimental flies, classic patterns, and buggers. The first two are just things I'm taking up to try out, so I'm only going to cover buggers. My selection here is really simple; I carry about a 4 of each in black, white, and olive, in sizes 8 and 10, for a total of 2 dozen buggers.
That's pretty much the core of what I try to have at all times, though, like I said, I often have a piecemeal approximation of that list. One thing I DO stick to, that I'd suggest you stick to as well is that I always have at least two of every pattern. The reason is because if you end up finding that a random pattern is the hot fly of the day, you dont want to lose that one fly and be out of luck.
This is about all I can think of to help you go catch your first steelhead. If you've got any questions at all, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment on any of these entries, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.
Good luck in Erie!