Steelhead fly fishers know a valuable piece of trout lore more easterners are learning. I am one of those easterners, located in western Pennsylvania, far from any salt water and sea-run fish. I have, however, found good use of the westerns’ knowledge.

Fly fishermen everywhere do their best to imitate the natural food of the trout they pursue. The mayfly, stonefly, caddisfly, terrestrials, bait fish and other aquatic creatures all are imitated in fur and feather.

But most fly fishermen have overlooked a very valuable group of imitative fly patterns: eggs. Trout are spawn eaters. Ask a west coast angler or a Great Lakes’ steelheader and he’ll flat-out state that the best bait for sea-run or lake-run trout is eggs, either alone or in spawn sacks. Many eastern bait fishermen realize this and use salmon eggs as productive bait.

Steelheaders have taken advantage of the egg-eating habits of their quarry by developing egg-imitating flies. Inland fly fishers pursuing native stream fish also can capitalize on this same family of flies in many situations.

If you’re looking to fill a fly box for steelhead, read my article: 17 Best Flies for Steelhead Fishing

There are three egg-imitating fly patterns that I use in my own fishing. In order of my preference they are the Bead, Pink Nuke Egg and Sucker Spawn. There are other patterns to choose from, but these serve me well and I see no need for others in my own fishing.  A little later

They all are easy to tie with a small selection of material. They are also easy to fish. The thing to remember is to dead-drift them right on bottom

The sucker spawn, imitating its name-sake, should be used in the early spring when the suckers are doing their thing. This is a good fly for browns.

Tie a selection of those flies and use them in the spring and fall. The results are very satisfying. These flies take big fish, not just eleven inchers, so be prepared!

Best Egg Patterns for Fly Fishing (What to use)

1. Pink Nuke Egg

Tying egg patterns are easy and fun.  Once you get in the rhythm, filling your fly box with a couple dozen in various colors is easy.  As an added bonus in the Great Lakes steelhead mark the beginning of the fly fishing season.    The colors are endless but most folks concentrate on orange, pink and red, mixed with cream to white “veils”.   

nuke egg fly for steelhead
nuke egg fly for steelhead

The Pink Nuke is a variation to the Glo Bug, it has solid look versus a softer look on the Glo Bug.

  • Hook: Gamakatsu C14S in size 8 to 12
  • Thread: Uni 6/0 Matching Veil Cream and Light Cahill
  • Egg Body: Egg yarn
  • Veil: Egg yarn in cream or Cahill

2. Sucker Spawn

On a couple home waters the suckers will fill runs and gavel like stacks of cord wood.  Brown trout haunt the darker waters just behind these spawning suckers.  When the suckers are running strong, you actually get a good lesson in quiet wading.  If you spook one, hundreds will dart off. 

Sucker Eggs Fly for Steelhead
Sucker Eggs Fly for Steelhead

Target the heads of bend pools for brown trout, and then later steelhead.  Steelhead seem to actively swim upstream and then “rest” when resting you can watch them mill around deep.  If you really tune into them, you’ll see the whites of their mouths opening and eating.

Sucker spawn in rivers that have suckers is a MUST.  These are fast to tie, so you fly box should have some.

  • Hook: Mustad 3906 (turned-down eye sproat) #10.
  • Thread: 2/0 nylon.
  • BODY: Red thread with four loops made from two lengths of white wool and two lengths of yellow wool (Use four-strand yarn.

3. Egg Beads – Seriously Effective

Beads are awesome!  Okay they might be a bit controversial, but nobody can say that they don’t work.  If you’re fishing an egg correctly it should be tumbling along the bottom.  This means snagging and loosing plenty of terminal tackle.  When drifting eggs, it doesn’t seem as disheartening to quickly slip an egg bead on and peg it a couple inches above the hook.

bead egg steelhead fly
bead egg steelhead fly

I’ve listed this “pattern last” but truth be told it’s the first egg pattern I fish with when chasing steelhead and big browns.

  • Beads: A favorite is 10mm pink with red dots (use a mark to add the dot)
  • HOOK: Mustad 3906 #8.

How to Setup a Fly Rod to Use Egg Patterns

Chuck and Duck Setup for Fly Fishing- I mentioned it before, eggs need to drift deep.  Bouncing off the bottom is best.  This means weight in many cases to get the fly down.  This also means snags so heavy leaders and tippet are preferred to get a chance to pull the hook off logs and rocks.

The heaviest weight setup is called a “Chuck and Duck” and as the name implies it’s heavy and used in strong currents.  Technically this is still “fly fishing” but most of the technique is akin to a spinning outfit.  

I’ll quickly describe it here but you can read more in this article How to Rig a Chuck and Duck for Fly Fishing

The objective is to use a strong THIN setup to get the fly down fast in strong current.  Fly line is usually a straight level running line.  Onto the running line 10 feet of 12 to 15 lbs. breaking mono is attached.  Onto this a snap swivel is thread to “slide” up and down the line to provide a sense of feel to the fly.  A snap swivel is attached and a tippet runs to a lead fly, followed by an egg.

chuck n duck
chuck and duck setup for fly fishing

Indicator Setup for Eggs -The next egg setup is a bit more standard and involves a strike indicator.  Because getting the fly to the right depth is critical the setup needs to have flexibility in placement of the float.  My preferred setup has a weight forward floating line attached to a 6-8 foot section of 10 lbs mono.  This provides a place for an indicator to be adjusted.

The knot onat the 3x to 4x connection is perfect for adding a bit of weight to get the fly deep, yet still allowing the flies to drift more naturally.

Fly Fishing Indicator Setup for Eggs
Fly Fishing Indicator Setup for Eggs

Onto the heavy mono I’ll setup down to 3 feet of 3x fluorocarbon tippet and then 3 feet of 4x fluorocarbon tippet.  This section provides a place to add weight just above the knot.  Finally I’ll string a couple eggs together with 12 inches or so between.

Where to Set the Indicator When Fly Fishing with Eggs

As I’ve stated on the bottom is where your egg should be. The current and water depth affect the indicator placement, but as a general rule place the indicator 1 1/2 times the water depth. As an example if the river is 3 feet deep, set the indicator 4 1/2 feet above the lead fly. If the fly is snagging, reduce this amount. If the current is strong and the fly isn’t ticking the bottom occasionally add length.

Where to Place indicator Fly Fishing with Eggs
Where to Place indicator Fly Fishing with Eggs

When to Use Eggs Fly Fishing

Prime time is in the spring just after the sucker run and just as the winter run-off is dying down.  Brown trout will be heading up rivers to gorge themselves and put on some weight.  Steelhead will be answering the call to spawn, but are still actively feeding.  For the Great Lakes region Later March into early May is a great time.

On the West coast the major “egg hatches” will follow salmon season.   Follow the trends of the river you love to find the right time to drift an egg. 

During the day, I’ve found when a sunny warm-up occurs this seems to activate the fish.  Now this might be because I like fishing in the sun, or it might be true.  Either way my little book of notes has a lot of “SUN” shine icons in it over the years.

Where to Use Egg Patterns Fly Fishing

In a sentence, deep holes behind actively spawning gravel beds.  The important thing to remember is that fish don’t need to be on the gravel to catch trout behind them.  The eggs will tumble out and drift down of a couple days. 

Eggs washed up on the river bank
Eggs washed up on the river bank

If you think about a typical river eco-system the gravel, pool, run patterns are dependent on a perfect gradient.  The current flow acts as a “sift” to group gravel according to the strength of the current.  Boulders in strong current, with a flattening of the river (slowing the current) which deposits the finer gravel. 

Then channeled into a run/pool to gather boulders at the tail – and another cycle begins.

Where to fish eggs? I’ll restate it again – the dark deep water (pools and runs) downstream from spawning gravel.

How to Fly Fish with Eggs

The best way to fly fish with eggs is something I call “Hit and Go”.  Look for the right convergence of the gravel followed by deep water, HIT IT HARD – by quickly fishing through and then Go.  If the fish are eating, they’ll let you know.   Think – Cast, drift and then step. Cast, drift and step. 

You won’t need much line out and you’ll need to place yourself at the side of the run to get the best drift. 

I love this kind of fishing with a drift boat or if you’re in skinny water a flat bottom canoe.  What’s important is to cover water quickly.  One run might have fish, but many others may not.


Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:


David Humphries at Guide Recommended

Hey David here the maker of Guide Recommended. I’m super passionate about everything fly fishing fishing; writing, teaching and even video.