“Skyhomish Sunrise”


Steelhead season is here, and for veteran steelheaders it brings memories—some fond, and some nightmarish. The latter type generally conjure up nasty, cold, wet weather, swollen rivers, and days with maybe one take and if luck abounds, one fish. The former type recall halcyon days swinging flies through fishy water, eager, strong takes, and leaping, struggling, tackle-testing wild metalheads.


A lot of hoary legend and tradition surround steelheading and the sometimes-half-crazy fly casters who fall prey to its lure, similar to that found among Atlantic Salmon fly fishers. Endless debates occur in lodges, in drift boats, around campfires, and in long phone calls over the merits of rods, reels, lines, leaders, technique, spey-vs-single handed casting and, pertinent to this column, fly patterns.


As in virtually all categories of fly patterns, individual designs and styles come and go. But there is always a stable of known fish-catchers that have stood the test of time. Pick up any good steelhead fly fishing book and you will see them. One of those is the Skyhomish Sunrise—a truly beautiful, sleek, productive pattern. I have used it on rivers such as the North Umpqua and the Rogue, to name a few. I don’t know why the fish like it—I just know they do. I suggest that you tie some of these in various sizes and tuck them into your steelhead box for those days when nothing seems to work. You may be pleasantly surprised. They also look good as Christmas decorations.





Tiemco 7999, Mustad 36890, or similar hook, #2/0 to 8


Red 6/0 pre-waxed


Flat silver tinsel


Red and yellow hackle fibers, mixed


Medium red chenille or goat fur dubbing


Fine oval silver tinsel


Red and yellow hackle wound together


White polar bear or calf tail


(Optional) Jungle cock eyed feathers


Tying Instructions

  1. As I have emphasized in the past, the normal tail tie-in point is directly above the back of the barb. Traditional steelhead flies are tied with a short body, and the tail tie in point just above the point. Cover the hook with thread back to that point.

  2. Tie in a strip of flat silver tinsel and take three wraps rearward and over-wrap it back to the same point. Tie it off. This is called a tag; it is common among traditional steelhead patterns. The thread should be back to a point just above the point of the hook.



  1. Build up a very small thread lump and tie on a mixture of yellow and red hackle fibers for the tail, right in front of the lump. Wrap back to the lump, forcing the hackle fibers to cock upward slightly. Hold the fibers tightly while performing this step, to keep the hackle from splaying out. The tail should extend rearward to a point just a bit longer than the bend of the hook.

  2. Tie in a piece of fine oval tinsel and let it hang. This will be used as ribbing. At the same point tie in a piece of red medium chenille. Alternatively, if you are using red goat dubbing, build your dubbing rope. Wrap the chenille or rope forward to a point about 3/16” behind the eye. Leave this area free of thread for now.

  3. Wrap the rib forward, using no more than 4 wraps. Tie it off.

  4. Tie in a yellow and a red hackle of matching size and shape. Wrap these 3 or 4 times wet-fly style, moving forward slightly as you do. Tie them off and wrap rearward a few times to sweep the hackle back.

  5. Tie in a small bunch of white calf tail or polar bear directly on top of the hook, to form the wing. The wing should extend rearward to about the middle of the tail. Remember, traditional steelhead flies are tied sparsely, so keep the size of the bundle of hair small.

  6.  If you have jungle cock eyed feathers and want to spare a couple, tie one on each side of the hook as eyes. This step is optional.

  7. Form a nicely tapered thread head and whip finish. Coat the head with a thick, shiny head cement such as Loon Hard Head.

Swing this jewel through steelie water,

and hang on.

Copyright 2005 by Granite Bay Flycasters unless otherwise noted