Our Man In Canada
September 6th, 1999

Fishing Lake Superior Streams
The Flies

By Scott E. Smith

giant salmon fly
The majority of popular flies for Superior streams are either egg patterns or bright attractor patterns; although somber-colored nymphs will also produce fish. Stoneflies are natural to most streams because of their requirement for freestone habitate. Some very large Pteronarcys dorsata (giant salmon fly) nymphs up to three inches in length have been collected in several streams along the shore. Golden stoneflies, early brown stoneflies, and March stones are common throughout; subsequently stonefly nymph patterns should be fished in a variety of sizes, as they are well represented in north-shore streams. Numerious caddis and mayfly species are also widespread, and imitations of the nymphal stage of these insects should also be fished. At one time virtually all flies fished for steelhead in the area were bright egg pattersn, the ubiquitous Glow Bug being the standby of every fly box. However, several anglers have transported flies and technology from Michigan streams and have come to the pleasing realization that Superior's steelhead do take nymphs. Due to the prevailing fast water and rocky bottoms of these streams, simply constructed nymph patterns are the most practical ties for these streams. A pattern that I developed to imitate several species of stonefly nymphs - and a quick and easy tie - is the Spring Stone. This is somewhat of an adaptation of the Spring Wiggler, which is also a good fly to fish in these streams. Other patterns such as Mike's Stone, Montana Stone and the Caddis Larvae Nymph also fall into this same simple-but-effectieve catalory. The logic behind these simple flies is that firstly, intricately tied flies are too easily lost - as are all flies - and take too long to tie at the bench, and secondly that in the fast-flowing waters of spring and fall, steelhead do not have much time to either take or reject the pattern.

Attractor patterns for steelhead are best tied in brighter colours such as fluorescent orange and chartreuse. Even though more and more anglers are warming up to nymph fishing, the egg/attractor category of steelhead flies remain the meat-and-potato fly for the steelhead angler. One of the most popular patterns is the Cactus Fly, which is simple to tie (consisting of only Cactus Chenille and filoplume or marabou.) and very effective. I fish this fly religiously both when prospecting a holding lie or when working visable fish. A number of patterns utilizing the light-reflective and undulating Cactus Chenille (also sold as Ice Chenille) are equally effective. Patterns constructed with this material can be tied full without being too bulky: Bulkiness being undesirable in fishing fast water as it inhibits sink rate. In bright fluorescent colours they are extremely visible in turbid water.

The size of steelhead patterns in Superior's north-shore streams is not as critical as in other Great Lakes fisheries, such as Michigan for example. I have tried my flashy attractor patterns in Michigan streams and watched steelhead scoot under the bank at the sight of these psychedelic flies. Superior steelhead can be taken readily on larger flies (likly due to stained waters), allowing the angler to fish hooks up to size 6 or 4, which will ultimately result in fewer lost fish. As a rule I fish larger, brighter flies in high water or when working a deep holding lie, and conversely fish smaller, more somber patterns, in low water or when working visible fish.

These same flies will produce fish in the fall, however streamers - particularly large rabbit strip or marabou patterns - are very effective, especially when swung through pools and runs on a sink-tip line. Borger's Strip Leeches, Zonkers, Mickey Finns, Muddler Minnows and Egg Sucking Leeches in large sizes are all productive patterns. Most visitors to the shore come poorly equipped with small flies; fish streamers on long-shank hooks anywhere from size 8 to 2 depending again on water clarity and depth. One of my favourite patterns for fall steelhead, trout and salmon is a fly that Bob Linseman and I developed known as the Green-Butt Monkey. This pattern is as outlandish as its name, but produces particularly well in the prevailing dark, tannic waters of these tributaries. It incorporates all the required elements of a successful fall fly for this area: size, action and colour. A tan-colored ram's wool head contrasts nicely with the water and gives the fly some bulk. I advocate that a fly that moves water attracts fish, the same principle that makes a spin-fishing plug so effective. I favour the use of rabbit-strip flies over all other patterns in the fall because of the way they come alive in the current, especially when swung or retrieved with some added action imparted by twitching the rod tip.

Next time, recommended rivers! ~ Scott E. Smith

Excerpt from: Ontario
Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide

Published by: Frank Amato Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 82112, Portland Oregon 97282 Phone: 503-653-8108,
email Frank Amato Publications

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