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Great Lakes Steelhead Flies with Alex Kolivras

Great Lakes Steelhead Flies with Alex Kolivras

As temperatures start to become brisk and the fall weather sets in here in Pennsylvania, you can be sure to see an influx of anglers come to the shop preparing to make their annual pilgrimage to the tributaries of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario for Salmon and Steelhead. As part of this process, the fly tying room becomes a popular place for many of our customers. This is no surprise, as many of the most effective steelhead and salmon flies are simple and cost effective to tie yourself. One of the most prolific collector and tier of steelhead flies that I’ve ever seen is TCO Boiling Springs’ own Alex Kolivras. Alex guides for trout in Pennsylvania for Relentless Fly Fishing, but is now running steelhead guide trips in the Lake Erie tribs. I sat down with Alex to pick his brain about steelhead flies in our Northeastern Great Lakes.

Before we get into the flies, here’s what Alex had to say about the fisheries:  

The Lake Erie and Lake Ontario tributaries are two classic destinations in Northeastern fly fishing. They provide opportunities to catch Steelhead, King Salmon, Coho Salmon, Atlantic Salmon and Lake Run Brown Trout.



Lake Erie produces great numbers of steelhead and moderate numbers of brown trout. It lacks the salmon that Lake Ontario has, which influences the behavior of the steelhead. They will only have two main runs that take place in the fall and spring. Throughout the winter months, you can get smaller runs of steelhead based on flows. The bulk of the steelhead run in Erie is driven by their spawn cycle. Most Erie tributaries have shale based creek beds with tall cliffs on the banks. Many of the Erie tribs are smaller creeks, though there are a few exceptions.  Lake Erie has tributaries in PA, OH, and NY. I like fishing and guiding in Erie because of the fantastic numbers of steelhead that run. In addition, it has great accessibility and provides a relatively easy steelhead experience for the average angler. ”                                                      

Lake Ontario has steelhead, king salmon, coho salmon, Atlantic salmon and lake run browns. Though the catch ratio of steelhead in the Ontario tribs in New York is lesser than Erie, you can expect to catch larger fish on average. Ontario also gives you the opportunity to catch Atlantic salmon and trophy lake run browns that take advantage of the opportunity to feed on the eggs and flesh of the spawning salmon. Expect some of these rivers to be a bit larger and in some cases a little more challenging to wade and access for an angler new to steelhead fishing. I enjoy the variety of species that can be caught in one outing on an Ontario trib. Though you may be targeting steelhead, it can improve an otherwise slow day to be able to get into the browns and the salmon species. Also, the chance of landing a trophy in the Lake Ontario tribs is much larger.”



Alex's Top 5 Great Lakes Steelhead Flies.

1. Angora Sucker Spawn

“This fly is the clouser minnow or parachute adams of steelhead flies. This fly can be used anywhere and anytime while consistently producing fish. It imitates a cluster of eggs which is a staple for steelhead as their runs coincide with their own spawn as well as the spawn of other salmon species. This fly can be tied with a variety of colors and can all be effective based on water clarity, temps and flows. Use natural egg colors during low clear conditions, and experiment with brighter colors during high off color water conditions."


 Angora Sucker Spawn Recipe:

  • Hook: Tiemco 245710-16
  • Thread: 210 Flat Wax Danville Various Colors
  • Body: Angora Rabbit Yarn Champagne, Pink, Chartreuse, Salmon, Cream
  • Tail: Crystal Flash- Pearl

2. Blood Dot Egg

“Another sucker spawn variation, this fly is more translucent and is another effective pattern for all conditions. The cool thing about the blood dot is that it can give the impression of a single egg encased in a veil, or a cluster of eggs. A staple pattern for all great lakes fisheries.”

Blood Dot Recipe:

  • Hook: Tiemco 2457 10-16
  • Thread: 210 Flat Wax Danville Various Colors
  • Body: Glo Bug Yarn Egg in Apricot Supreme, Niagra Gold, Steelhead Orange. Use a contrasting color for the dot. 

3. Crystal Meth

“The crystal meth has the basic look of a  sucker spawn, but with a flashier spin to it. This is more of an attractor egg pattern and it’s materials sink a little faster than traditional yarn egg flies. Though this fly works well in both regions, I love using this fly on the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY. It’s a great pattern if you’re looking to target a few Kings mixed in with your steelhead.” 

Crystal Meth Recipe:

  • Hook: Mustad C67 10-16
  • Thread: 210 Flat Wax Danville
  • Bead: Optional Jaw Breaker or Plummeting Tungsten Bead
  • Body: Hareline Diamond Braid
  • Tail: Crystal Flash Pearl

4. White Death

"The White Death is a great pattern for both Erie and Ontario, but you will mostly see it used in Erie. It imitates Emerald Shiners and Alewifes which are staple food sources for brown trout and steelhead in the lake systems. It can be fished in a similar way to a woolly bugger in the sense that it can be swung, stripped or dead drifted effectively. "

White Death Recipe:

  • Hook:Tiemco 5263
  • Thread: Uni Thread 6/0 Black, Fire Orange
  • Body: 10 Wraps .020 Lead Wire, Grey Pearl Braid, 
  • Wing: White Thin Zonker Straight Cut
  • Tail: White Marabou

5. Egg Sucking Leech

"The egg sucking leech combines an egg pattern and streamer on a single hook for another versatile steelhead fly. Though it can work well in a variety of conditions, I've had a lot of success with this pattern on the Ontario tribs during dark and cloudy conditions. It can also be dead drifted, swung or slowly stripped."

Egg Sucking Leech Recipe:

  • Hook: Partridge Salmon #2-#8
  • Thread: 6/0 Uni Purple/Black
  • Body: Medium Chenille Purple/Black
  • Tail: Marabou Purple/Black
  • Ribbing: Schlappen Purple/Black
  • Thorax: Pink/Orange Dubbing or Chenille 
  • Optional: Lead Eyes or Bead


Here is Alex with a nice Erie steelhead. This fish was caught on a sucker spawn, one of the staples in any Great Lakes box.

Before your next Great Lakes trip, come to a TCO location for all your fly tying needs!

-Frank Landis with Alex Kolivras, TCO Boiling Springs

IG: thatsoflyguy

IG: frankflyfishes

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John - November 4, 2019

Alex, do you guide for steelhead. If so how can I get all pertinent information?

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