Swinging Steelhead Flies for Trout

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Photo by Dan Flynn

Photo by Dan Flynn

Want to go steelheading but there are no steelhead where you live?

Think about scaling down. The same flies and techniques that we use for steelhead will catch plenty of trout. And why not? Steelhead are just big sea-run trout and they have the same common instinct as their land-locked cousins.

I find myself fishing light switch rods for trout a lot these days. They are great versatile rods and I use them, not just because they’re effective, but because I enjoy it. One day, when I was swinging a small streamer with my 11′ 3″ three weight it struck me that was doing all the same things I did when steelheading. I went home and tied some of Hickman’s fish tacos in olive, size eight.

_DSC6030I caught a lot of fish on those flies but I thought I could take it further. I was tying flies for an upcoming trip to the Deschutes and I threw a couple of them in my trout box. My buddy Dan and I went fishing and devoted the whole afternoon to swinging steelhead flies. The results were awesome!

We caught a bunch of really nice fish but that’s not all. It was a blast. The fish didn’t just eat the steelie flies, they destroyed them. The takes were vicious. The acrobatics were instant and the whole thing had the same feeling of contact and anticipation that I love about swinging flies for steelhead. It was totally cool.

On a three weight rod, a chunky eighteen inch rainbow almost feels like a steelhead. It’s a great fight anyway. When the evening hatch came off I had to make Dan pick up the dry fly rod. He wanted to keep swinging.

_DSC6297We fished tube flies and caught most of the fish on tube versions of a Hobo Spey. Darker colors worked best. Purple and black was a good producer as were the more natural colors I always tie for late season summer steelhead. We fished them all on ten feet of T-11.




You may be asking yourself, “trout fishing’s not broke, why are you trying to fix it?” I’m not. I’m just looking for fun ways to go after trout. With that in mind, here’s a short list of reasons I think this approach is worth a try.

-It’s fun

-The takes are vicious

-It’s a good way to target big fish

-It lets me practice my Spey casting and swinging skills

-It lets me fish flies the fish don’t see every day

-It works

If you love swinging flies for steelhead, but can’t get out and do it, show those flies to your local trout. I’m willing to bet you’ll like the results.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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10 thoughts on “Swinging Steelhead Flies for Trout

  1. I love doing this! I started experimenting with the same idea of swinging steelhead patterns for trout while on a trip out in Colorado, and it really worked. I was having a tough day getting the trout to bite on a pressured piece of water. So I figured I’d give it a shot. It got to the point where I was swinging everything and it’s been very successful so far. Depending on the day, I’ll swing two flies as well, combining an attractor fly as the lead fly and a more natural offering as a trailer. If you haven’t done something like this you should give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. Great stuff!

  2. Did I read this right, are you really using a 10 foot T-11 on your 3- weight? Have you tried T-8 or perhaps just 10 ft. of extra-fast sink?

  3. Awesome! i have been doing this for a couple years on the Green in Utah, and love it. I love fishing more “trouty” colored intruder style patterns (without all the weight), sized down a tad. lots of fun to tie and fish!


  4. I’ve been swinging Atlantic Salmon flies for trout for a couple of years now, the same holds true there. I’m mostly fishing smaller hairwing flies, so the trout I’m catching are smaller too, but trout sized versions of spey flies work great as well. It feels good to answer the question “what did catch them on?” with “A blue charm” or “a Lady Caroline.”

  5. I have been fishing for trout with two handlers for about five years now. Started with switch rods and now use some short Spey (Swey) rods using integrated scandi and skagit lines with various poly-leaders and T tips. I have fished small rivers and large rivers using flies as a small as #16 and as large as #6, sculpin patterns, soft hackles and wet flies swinging. Occasionally, I will even add an indicator and nymph. High wind in your face, no problem. No back cast room, no problem. You can cover much more water and minimize wading. I only use a single hander with small dries and spooky fish. I will even use a short two hander fishing from a drift boat, banging the banks with hoppers. It is great with wooley buggers and various other streamers. No reason why it cannot be used for still water fishing too.

  6. I swing flies a lot bigger then size 6. Most of my flies are 2 1/2- 3″. Trout in the 22′ range have no problem giving em a go. And I’ve caught trout up to 6lbs on them. I know it isn’t the biggest fish, but the eats are really good. I’ll try any fly a time or two just to see how it goes. I use a meiser 3 wt spey rod and rio t8 t tips. Works just fine for me.
    Fish what you like….it’s all about having a good time.

  7. Pingback: Swinging Steelhead Flies for Trout | MidCurrent

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