Friday, December 5, 2014

Trigger Flies For Pre-Spawn Rainbows

     Yes, I mean these as trout flies. Sure, they may look like salmon or steelhead flies, & I wouldn’t hesitate to fish them thus, but they are new recruits into my line-up of attractor wets for swinging on winter pre-spawn rainbows. I suspect I might be a born anarchist. Boundaries have sometimes been ambiguous I admit. And I hate trends. I like to work from tried & true core principles, so I am a fairly disciplined anarchist. I respect tradition & endeavor to tweak it lovingly. I figure that’s what it’s for. Are these over the top? O probably. But they were fun to tie & I like looking at them. I’m hoping the trout will too. They are small lures, really, smaller than, say, the doll-eyed, articulated streamers currently trending in trout fishing (when wet they have less mass than a small ¼ ounce spinner or spoon), so fill a niche during those times when trout might be triggered by something fanciful but not too large. These are tied on TMC 200R #4 & #6 hooks, but a fancy approach can be reduced to a #10, smaller than that the fancy flies start to look clunky with too much bulk at the head & the materials (appendages) not draping properly.

As landlocked rainbow trout progress into the pre-spawn mode they become more aggressive, developing a predilection to bite at certain trigger colors, just like steelhead. And, as with steelhead, red, orange, pink, chartreuse & blue serve as effective trigger colors for pre-spawn rainbow & cutthroat trout. It should also be said that all species of trout & salmon will strike certain color combinations when in the pre-spawn (generally beginning a month prior to spawning). Brook & brown trout seem to trigger on more subdued shades of red, olive, orange, yellow, copper & gold. Pink salmon show a remarkable preference for pink. For trout, preference will vary from water to water, & chances are, if you have a home water you fish a lot, you’ve noticed which trigger colors stand out as attractive there. And there are some fairly universal pre-spawn attractor patterns – the Mickey Finn & hairwing Royal Coachman come immediately to mind.   

Though these resemble steelhead flies, they are actually closer to the designs used for fishing sea-run cutthroat in the Pacific Northwest. The patterns presented here are not rote, they work on my home water, yet the style is best informed by your own water. Experiment, alter, refine to suit.          

For fishing.

Blue Ghost (top)

Hook; #4-#10 TMC 200R or steelhead style
Thread: black
Tag: blue tinsel
Tail: dyed blue squirrel tail
Rib: blue tinsel
Body: black rabbit dubbing - apply a short thorax or ball of dubbing, foreward
Topping: blue squirrel tail topped with 2 strands of fine blue tinsel, then a 'flag' of stripped guinea hen feather - strip the barbs from the stem, leaving a spade-shaped tip - tied in flatwing style
Hackle: guinea hen ~ 

Northern Girl                                     
Hook: #4-#10 TMC 200R or salmon/steelhead
Thread: wine
Tag/rib: silver wire
Body: red tinsel - make a short, heavy thorax of red dubbing foreward of the body & pick out
Topping: half-wing of pink calf tail (kip) topped with a pinch of fine red flash
Hackle: red dyed mallard flank/orange dyed guinea hen ~

Curly's Envy

Hook: #4-#10 TMC 200R or salmon/steelhead
Thread: dark olive
Tail: olive partridge
Tag: yellow floss
Body: green tinsel/chartreuse-yellow dubbed thorax
Topping: chartreuse dyed squirrel tail
Hackle: olive partridge ~

Spruce Variant

Hook: #4-#10 TMC 200R
Thread: wine
Body: copper tinsel - red tinsel - peacock herl - coat tinsel with hard dope
Tail: golden pheasant tippet, tied in ahead of the tinsel
Topping: yellow dyed squirrel tail
Hackle: brahma hen ~ I've found this one to be good near every place I've tried it. Good on brookies & browns as well.

Flyfish NE Washington withSteven Bird        


  1. Awesome flies and article!

    I've been tying and fishing some Spey inspired flies with great success lately. I like a gamakatsu t10-6h hook in size 6 or 8 for most of them.

    I've been sticking to more "trinity" subdued colors, but I like your attractor wet approach.


    1. Jorge, thanks for reading & commenting. The art of developing winged wetflies for trout has been lagging in recent years as other types trend. Consider yourself ahead of the curve. I tie some in more subdued colors as well, & these fish well year around. The more garish flies featured in the article are specific to pre-spawn rainbows.