Intruders for Steel
Tying creativity for its own sake.
jThe first time I fly-fished FOR STEELHEAD WAS on a warm February day on a small stream just outside Vancouver, British Columbia. Although I was happy just to have a cast turn over and to shoot some line, my fishing buddy landed two hot, chrome, wild winter fish. Thus began my obsession with steelhead.
I started tying trout flies shortly after, wanting to catch fish on my own creations, but I realized trout weren’t where my heart was. So I put my focus into Intruder-style patterns, combining materials to get the silhouette and shape I was looking for.
My inspiration initially came from Aaron Goodis, who introduced me to fly-fishing and, at that point, was my sole teacher in terms of all things fly. He’d created patterns, Intruder-style, based on ideas that originated from Ed Ward and Jerry French with some traditional twists added in, thanks to inspiration from people like Art Lingren and others. Today my steelhead fly-tying inspiration comes from all over, ranging from local British Columbia tiers to friends in Washington and Oregon, and now even as far away as the United Kingdom.
One of the things I love most about tying Intruder-style flies is that I can experiment all I want. When tying personally, I rarely tie the same pattern twice. Not to give away a big secret, but if a steelhead is going to eat, it’ll eat just about anything. Two marabou feathers lashed on a hook. Yarn tied in a ball, like an egg. A handful of rubber legs. Tying more elaborate flies is about art and creativity, and also trying to find something to entice those fish during tough times when they may not be inclined to bite.
Every steelheader has their favorite color combo and theories on pattern selection, based on their experiences. I’ve been through them all, had my confidence at one time or another boosted by success with black and blue, then hot pink, pink and blue, purple and black, straight black, orange, shrimp pink, pink and orange, etc. I’ve tied big flies with heavy eyes and small flies with no eyes, flies with narrow, snaky profiles and flies with huge, pulsating profiles. And caught fish on them all. What is my conclusion from this? Having a good variety of flies while on the water means you can match conditions—both water and weather—and that having confidence in the fly is just as important as anything else.
I’ve played with all types of materials, and love working with rhea, ostrich, Amherst, polar bear, raccoon Zonker, seal fur, grizzly hackle, large dot guinea, mallard, teal, schlappen and pheasant rump. I also have a pattern that uses long moose hair, an off-the-cuff experiment that resulted in a lot of success. Most of these materials allow me to create flies that have great profile and movement. I can use these in minimum amounts so the flies are light and easy to cast. I generally use small eyes; when I need weight I go with a denser material like tungsten instead of using larger eyes.
Almost as good as catching a fish on one of my own patterns is having someone else catch fish on my flies. I give flies to friends, and sell flies in a couple of shops in British Columbia and Alberta, as well as to anglers and guides throughout North America. I’ve guided for salmon and sturgeon in British Columbia and trout in Alberta, and though I have yet to guide for steelhead I have an ongoing obsession with fishing for them. It’s comforting to know that my flies are fished for steelhead regularly, whether I’m the one casting or not. w
Adrienne Comeau carries full respect in Northwest steelhead circles, where she casts farther than the “boys” and seems to catch more fish. She currently lives in Calgary, Alberta, on the banks of the Bow River.