The state of Alaska’s steelhead record was caught in 1970 and weighed a whopping 42 pounds! This goes to show that preparing a fly box dedicated with Alaska steelhead flies can pay off. Some of the most productive flies include intruder-style patterns, egg sucking leeches, dolly llama’s, and tube flies. Luckily, we’ve provided a more comprehensive list below!
Alaska remains as one of the last strongholds for wild steelhead. Many of the rivers are hard to access, which has greatly helped keep the state’s steelhead secrets. For those willing to do the research, steelheading in Alaska can be extremely rewarding!
Selecting Alaska Steelhead Flies 101
Generally speaking, an untouched steelhead will eat any fly that comes by, but some patterns elicit better responses than others. Factors that help in fly selection for steelhead are water conditions, weather conditions, fly weight, and when you are targeting steelhead.
It matters when it comes to steelhead! Now, how much it matters is greatly debated between guides. Things to keep in mind regarding fly color; water visibility, sunlight, and local conditions. For example, avoid yellow flies if there are a bunch of yellow leaves in the water.
Black & blue is probably the go-to combination for most steelheaders. It works excellent in almost all conditions. Particularly, clear water and bright days (as does sizing down your fly in these conditions).
Flies that include colors like chartreuse and white are very UV reflective – great for murky water or dark days.
Warm colors like pink, orange or red are always great options and seem to be especially effective for fish that have recently entered the river.
Purple and violet are underrated. These colors work in clearwater and on bright days. Not to mention, violet has the longest UV wavelengths of the color spectrum.
Weather & Water Conditions
We touched on this above, but we believe in bright day dark fly, dark day light colored fly. Why? Because of how UV light visibility is seen by fish. In dark water/weather conditions a reflective UV pattern is much more visible. On a bright day, the silhouette of a dark fly stands out.
Some streams are glacial colored or stained with tannins – some fly colors standout better in these conditions.
The use of weighted flies is very situational. If the fish are sitting in deep troughs weighted flies are great. Often though, steelhead hold in shallow riffles and weight is unneeded or can be better compensated for by other variables, like sink tips. Remember, steelhead look for food at eye level or above, they rarely eat things below them.
While steelhead have been caught on flies of all sizes, the majority of Alaskan steelhead seem to be caught on flies in the 3-3.5” size. Don’t be afraid to try smaller classic flies as they can be just as effective!
Alaska see’s two distinct runs of steelhead, fall steelhead and spring steelhead. There is plenty of information about steelhead’s life histories but the “quick and dirty” is the simplest.
Fall steelhead enter Alaska rivers from late August through November and are sexually immature when the enter the river and wait until spring to spawn. Spring steelhead show up from March to May and are sexually mature and are ready to spawn.