As you may know, I am currently occupied with getting ready for my oldest son’s wedding. In lieu of new material, I’m recycling some of my favorite posts from years past. Let’s continue on the steelhead kick (man, I really want to tie into some fresh chrome!). Six years after its publish date, Soft Hackles for Winter Steelhead remains relevant; I still use these flies, and whether swung or dead drifted along the bottom, they still catch fish.
Every once is a while, the steelhead gods remind you that they really aren’t out to get you. Planets align, good karma rules, and all is right with the chrome world. This year’s birthday steelhead trip was such moment. Sure, one day of skunk, but bookended by a great day on the creeks and an even better one — my birthday — on the Salmon. Not a bad thing to wish for when you’re blowing out the candles.
Skunk’s off early on day one. Brilliant even in the pale light of a cloudy dawn.
The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades. Whoops! Then it rained, and the next day was a cold, wet blank. Not worry. Good times coming.
Every dog has his day. I’d rather be lucky than good. Whatever the bromide, it’s some kind of wonderful when you’re the guy in the pool who’s making everyone else wonder what he did to deserve hooking steelhead after steelhead. One of my best days ever on the Salmon, and thanks again to everyone who lent a landing net hand and so kindly shared water.
The Salmon River Rajah is based on an old steelhead pattern called the Rajah. I discovered the Rajah many years ago when I was researching patterns online. The accompanying text referenced the book Fly Patterns of Alaska, a slim but potent volume. Turns out it was previously listed in Trey Combs’ book Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies. (Combs credits the pattern to one Arthur Solomon.)
I tied up a few Rajahs, but I wasn’t thrilled with the materials: bucktail, chenille (which I consider a lifeless material), polar bear, black thread. So I made some changes: bucktail to hackle fibers, chenille to Estaz, polar bear to Arctic fox, black thread to red. I even ramped up the tinsel factor from flat silver to holographic braid.
The result is the Salmon River Rajah, a flashier fly with far more seductive movement than the original. I named it for the river where I have seen ambivalent steelhead go out of their way to eat it. I first published the pattern in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of American Angler, where I wrote: The coldest day I ever went steelheading began with the mercury just a few degrees above zero. By mid-afternoon, it had barely made it into double digits. I was fishing a Salmon River Rajah under an indicator. As the fly completed its drift along the bottom, it began to swing up and downstream. I saw the wake before I ever felt the strike. It was a steelhead that had been in the river a while, its chrome flanks long since transitioned to deep winter hues. Any fly that can urge a dark horse to chase it down in thirty-three degree water on a day that would keep many skiers at home has a permanent spot in my steelhead box.
More recently, I was fishing the Salmon River Rajah when it snagged on the bottom. After freeing the fly, I was stripping it in to check the hook point…WHACK! That’s pretty good stuff.
The Salmon River Rajah