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The Fishing Report

7 Fall & Winter Steelhead Flies for the Grande Ronde & Wallowa Rivers


Are you planning a fall or winter trip to the Grande Ronde or Wallowa River to fly fish for steelhead? Not sure what patterns they might be hitting? In today’s posts, the steelhead guides at Winding Waters River Expeditions will share a few of their favorite patterns– telling you what they’ve learned in the 25+ years they’ve been guiding for steelhead.

Let’s get started!

1. Magneto Stonefly

The Magneto Stonefly is a pattern made by our friend Devin Olsen, one of the most experienced fly fishermen around. It’s a great fly for Euro-nymphing and it’s the best of both worlds– both an attractor and an imitator.

That means it both imitates the silhouette, shape, and size of a stonefly nymph but it also attracts steelhead with its shiny bead head and reflective mylar tinsel body. Devin and our guides fish the Magento Stonefly in a size 8 or so and use a tungsten beadhead to help it get down (and stay down) in the cold, fast waters of the Grand Ronde and Wallowa rivers. Learn how to tie the Magneto Stonefly here.

2. Hoh Bo Spey Fly

Hoh Bo Spey Fly

If you enjoy spey fishing for fall and winter steelhead in the Grande Ronde or Wallowa River, you’ll love the Hoh Bo spey fly. It’s been a longtime favorite of steelhead fishermen in the Pacific Northwest and it’s a go-to fly for our guides at Winding Waters River Expeditions.

The Hoh Bo has great motion in the water thanks to the marabou and guinea fowl collar and the trailing hook turns short strikers into hookups! Definitely keep a few of these in your fly box if you’re headed out for steelhead this season.

3. Other Stonefly Nymph Patterns

A photo posted by Steven Fort (@utahflyguy) on

In addition to the Magneto Stonefly we love just about any weighted stonefly nymph pattern for steelhead. There’s no magic recipe, but a combination of a heavy beadhead, rubber legs, biot tail and antenna, a pheasant tail and mylar shellcase, copper wire abdomen and fuzzy dubbed thorax make for a can’t miss steelhead fly.

You’ll sometimes hear steelhead fisherman say that a fly can be any color as long as it’s black, but in our experience steelhead will hit a wide variety of colors, including black, olive, brown, tan, and even dark purple.  You just have to give it the right presentation in the right place at the right time.

If you tie your own steelhead flies, try stonefly nymphs:

  • In sizes 6-10
  • With varying size (and weight) beadheads and thicknesses of copper wire to adjust to different flow conditions
  • Experiment with different length and number of legs (and don’t be afraid to clip them off while you’re fishing if needed)

4. Beadhead Copper Johns

Beadhead Copper Johns are simple, effective steelhead flies. Just like other nymphs you can experiment with different weights and hook sizes but the formula remains the same:

  • Feather or biot tail
  • Copper abdomen (try green, red, or natural colored wire)
  • Dubbed thorax
  • Beadhead (tungsten is more expensive but heavy, good for getting closer to the bottom when the rivers are running fast)

5. Egg Patterns

A photo posted by Symmone Anderson (@symmelaine) on

We can’t talk about simple but effective steelhead flies without mentioning egg patterns. They’re so simple to tie, but they catch steelhead when other flies miss. Lime green, neon yellow, red, and hot pink are all great color choices. But when the steelhead are keyed in on eggs, they’ll hit any bright color that comes in front of their face. Just make sure to use split shot on your leader to keep the buoyant eggs down in the water column.  You will definitely want to try these on the Wallowa River late February thru mid April!

6. Black Marabou Leeches & Wooly Buggers

A black wooly bugger will catch just about any fish that swims and that includes steelhead! No steelhead fly box is complete without a few black buggers or other leech imitating patterns. The classic pattern features a marabou tail, chenille body, and soft black saddle or hen hackle. However, in our experience, a bit of flash from mylar chenille, and bright chenille or a beadhead are great variations on a classic pattern.

If you’re new to flytying, the black wooly bugger is a great pattern for beginners. Watch this video to learn how to tie a beadhead bugger.

7. Skaters

A photo posted by Rob Parkins (@rpoutside) on

You haven’t lived until you’ve caught a steelhead on a skating dry fy! There’s really nothing like it. Just like other flies on this list, you don’t need a specific pattern, just one that has the right look and style.

Skating steelhead flies often feature:

  • Elk or deer hair tails and wings for buoyancy
  • A head made from closed cell foam that pushes a big wake and keeps the fly high in the water
  • Clipped hackle wrapped over a peacock herl abdomen for extra floatation

Watch this steelhead hammer a skating dry. That’ll get your blood pumping!

Choosing & Presenting Your Fly

Oftentimes, the pattern itself isn’t as important as the presentation. When you’re able to put a fly right in front of a steelhead, you’ll probably get a strike– unless they’re being extra picky. Then you’ll have to experiment with different sizes and patterns.

But unless you’re working water that’s holding steelhead you’re going to go home skunked. And that includes the right depth. If the steelhead are sitting at the bottom and your flies are swinging near the surface even the best fly won’t help.

That’s where a great guide can help.

Book a Steelhead Fly Fishing Trip With Winding Waters River Expeditions

Our steelhead guides have been fishing for steelhead and guiding anglers for over 25 years. They know what flies work and where to find steelhead no matter what time of the season or what the weather conditions are like. There’s just no better way to maximize your chances of catching a wild steelhead than hiring one of our experienced guides.

Best of all, we provide all the gear you need (flies included), as well as transportation to and from the river, and much more. Read all about our guided steelhead flyfishing trips and book your adventure today!