Few words have the impact when spoken that steelhead does. See? You just felt something when you read it. Steelhead. Don’t believe me? Do you remember the scene in Stand by Me, (if you don’t know the movie then stop reading. Just stop. You’re probably too young to have seen it, because everyone else in the world that’s old enough has. Find it, watch it, and then come back to this later) the scene where Ace says to Eyeball and Charlie “You guys are like my grandmother having a conniption fit. I don't see your problem. We brought a whole bunch of fishing gear, and if a cop asks us what we're doing here, we're just here to take a couple steelhead out of the river, and look what we found!” That one line set a tone of extreme maturity and coolness at that moment in the film. Suddenly, a punk, a thug named Ace became a very cool guy for a few seconds. It was a line that would have never worked, never been so powerful had steelhead been replaced by bass, or even trout. Because of the use of steelhead, the line was pure Hollywood gold. I’ve never gone for steelhead, always avoided it because of people, but even I recognize the power in the emotions the name evokes. There’s only one other word in fly fishing that comes close to grabbing the attention of fly anglers by tender regions and making their eyebrows raise, their heads tilt to one side or the other like a dog, listening to the conversation with a feeling of importance. It also happens to be connected to steelhead…Stonefly.
Sure, everything eats stoneflies, from trout to bass to pan fish. A stonefly pattern on your leader will probably catch you whatever swims in the water in front of you to a degree, but come steelhead season I see lots of stonefly patterns popping up. I’m a streamer guy, but I’m fascinated by great stonefly nymph patterns, and I’ve caught some nice smallies on them more than a couple times. But it seems as if this may be the winter that I cave to going steelhead fishing finally so I figured I better try to come up with a quick and easy pattern that still looked great. After trying to tie everyone else’s killer looking patterns and coming up short of perfection, (I really stink at wrapping dubbing) I gave in to the chenille I was trying to avoid using because it seemed like cheating. There’s no rules in fly tying by the way, it’s all in your head. I was happy with the results and was able to repeat them a few times so I figured it was time for my third pattern how-to. (See Tying the Low Sodium Squid, Feb. 11, 2016, and Gluing Crap to Hooks, Aug. 6, 2016 for my first two…get beer first.)
Stick a hook in your vice. The size is up to you, you should know how big or small you want to make it, I’m not gonna hold your hand through this. I use glass beads bought in little tubes at the craft stores for nymph heads all the time. That’s what I used here. Use them, use a brass or tungsten bead, it’s up to you. Put the bead on and then start your thread wrap on the shank, cover it to the start of the bend. Oh yea, one thing. I saw someone once on a tying page criticize someone for using glass beads. They didn’t like them because they shattered on rocks. I’ve fished them for a couple years now and one of the first ones I tied and casted, yep, I shattered the head when I bounced it off a rock. My suggestion would be… Don’t smash them on rocks. They don’t break on rocks underwater in the current, but yes, if you cast them and bounce them off rocks and the sides of buildings before they hit the water they can break. It’s a rock out there, not a basketball backboard. They work great otherwise. I’ve never shattered another since.
Wrap lead wire down the shank. No, I didn’t have a scale so I can’t tell you how much weight I used. It’s a stonefly nymph. They’re on the bottom, so make them sink. If you use a brass or tungsten bead head then you can obviously skip the lead wrap, unless you don’t think the brass or tungsten is enough weight, then wrap it too. But at this point you’re as likely to hit a fish in the head and knock it out with all that weight as you are to actually catch a steelhead from what I understand, so figure out in your head if you really need all that weight. If it’s a fast current then maybe you do. I don’t know where you fish, so don’t ask me. I’ve never even been steelheading. Maybe you shouldn’t put so much faith in others. Maybe you should have just figured this out on your own like I did. But I’m not judging you. I’m trying to help. Geez Louise this is going to take forever. I better get a beer. You might want one too.
Place a small dubbing ball at the tail end, at about the start of the bend where you ended the thread wrap. This dubbing is here to help the tail biots stand up and stay separate, and to be the end of the body.
Select two goose biots. Tie them in front of the dubbing ball, forked out. I make them about the length of the shank, less just a little bit. In other words, you figure it out. You’re grown up enough to be handling scissors and sharp hooks so I think it’s time you start making some of your own decisions. Wow, where’d that beer go?
Grab the black chenille. Tie it in just behind the dubbing and on top of the biot ends. After it’s secured with the thread, make two wraps with the chenille. Yes, that’s right. I actually called out something specific. Two wraps. Tie it down with the thread and let the chenille hang there. Time to play with dead turkey parts and your wife’s clear fingernail polish.
Paint a section of turkey feather with the clear nail polish. Both sides. This will glue the fibers together and make it stronger too. Let it dry. Now would be a great time to go get another beer. And when your wife says the smell is too strong, that it smells like you knocked over the whole bottle of polish in the house, tell her that’s what it smells like when she paints her nails in the living room. Take a swig of beer and belch.
When the polish dries you want to cut out a long strip, not quite a ¼” wide, but wider than an 1/8” (if you did the math and figured out that’s about 3/16” you can have another swig of the swill you’re probably drinking.) Cut a “V” in one end.
Place the “V” over the two wraps of chenille and tie the turkey strip down where you tied the chenille down. Trim the turkey strip just past the thread and wrap it down the rest of the way.
Now repeat that two more times. Two wraps of chenille and another turkey strip, two more wraps of chenille and another turkey strip. This should bring you to just behind the bead head. Wrap a thread collar like you would any other bead headed nymph or bugger.
Add two biots to the head the same way you did to the tail end. Boom. It’s a buggy looking thing! You can call it a stonefly nymph if you want, but it’s actually more goose and turkey then stonefly when you really think about it. I’m not going to debate what it is.
I’m going to finish this beer and say the words steelhead and stonefly over and over in my head because they sound awesome. I’m also going to make it a point to start interjecting the word steelhead into all of my conversations about everything. We were talking about it at work the other day and decided that when you say steelhead people just automatically think you’re cool. Even if they don’t fish and you’ve never caught one. It’s just that powerful.