Drifting egg patterns is a popular way to fish for steelhead. These simple yarn flies are easy and inexpensive to tie, in addition to being very effective. With increased angling pressure, changing water conditions and other factors only known by the steelhead themselves, they become selective when it comes to egg size and color.
In the depths of winter, a well-fished egg fly, drifted right past the nose of a dour steelhead may elicit the strike needed to put a bend in your rod and set your heart to thumping. This is not a guaranteed method, but the advice and experience of others may give you some action, and maybe a hard-sought steelhead in your net.
Matching the hatch
"Matching the hatch" applies to fishing eggs as it does to dry flies. While matching the hatch is synonymous with trout fishing, it's not often associated with steelhead. Imitating the specific natural insects fish key in on is important to the success of the trout angler however this same approach should be used by steelhead anglers looking to imitate their prey’s favorite food source.
Regardless of when you fish steelhead and what egg you are trying to imitate, remember that eggs change during their time in the river. Whether drifting free or trapped in a redd, eggs become less colorful, translucent and eventually opaque. Color and appearance plays a large role here, and there are two ways to determine what to use:
1. Keep track of your successes on the water. This can help you determine colors that work on specific rivers at certain times. Concise notes in a journal can help keep track of details easily forgotten between seasons, or after a few campfire beers.
2. When fishing rivers with respectable trout populations, use their selectiveness as an indication of the right color and size. If your egg flies are taking trout, you are using the right pattern. Not catching trout? Change your egg size or color.
Winter fishing for steelhead means using an egg pattern that is as much an attractor as an egg imitation. The clown egg, with its multiple bright colors and larger than usual profile, fits the attractor bill perfectly.
I like indicator fishing for steelhead with two egg flies; one larger, brighter pattern as an attractor and a second, smaller, more realistic pattern imitating what might be coming down the river (a smaller egg fly or beadhead nymph like the Tug Bug). I first saw a clown egg while fishing steelhead on the Muskegon River in the early 2000s.
I thought it looked too large for steelhead, and the multiple colors looked too gaudy for the clear water However, we took four out of five steelhead that first trip on clown eggs. I realized that this multi-color configuration and two-fly approach was tailor-made for success on winter-run steelhead in Michigan.
The clown egg, tied rag-style, is a pattern tied loosely which is quite a departure from the very solid Glo Bug. It is translucent and shows multiple colors in a very organic way which is in part why it is so effective at representing eggs in various stages. This rag style also tends to sink when wet as opposed to floating or staying suspended like some of the solid egg patterns tied tightly with egg yarn.
Two of my favorite combinations are: Oregon Cheese, Steelhead Orange, Egg and Sockeye, or Oregon Cheese, Chartreuse, Pink Lady, Steelhead Orange and Egg. The availability of yarn in hundreds of colors make the potential combinations nearly endless.
Play around and see what works best for you.
Clown egg Recipe
Hook: TMC 105 # 6-10 or Gamakatsu C14S
Thread: Uni 6/0 – Color of Choice
Egg Yarn: Chartreuse, Steelhead Orange, Cerise, Flame, Shrimp Pink
Tying Instructions are shown in the attached slide show.