Egg Fly Fishing Secrets by Dave Kilhefner


Every fall millions of salmon lay billions of eggs, creating a feeding frenzy trout can’t resist. 

Using egg flies and beads under an indicator is nothing new, nor is it complicated. But there is always room to do it better by improving your presentation, detecting more strikes from light biters and cracking the code on selective fish that seem to have gone off the bite.

Here’s how to take your egg fly fishing to the next level and beyond.  

trout fly fishing eggs nymphs flies

Gearing Up

A five- or six-weight outfit will throw most indicator nymph rigs.  This rod size is also light enough to let smaller fish show their stuff and land larger trout and the occasional steelhead. 

At the terminal end are three, quarter-inch sized Thingamabobber strike indicators, eight- to ten- pound fluorocarbon tippet, and 3.8 mm tungsten beads for weights.

For this kind of fishing, presentation trumps fly choice nearly every time. Given this, my workhorse flies are smaller egg patterns in the #10 to # 14 size range in bright orange or pale pink shades. Size #14’s tied on heavy wire hooks are a personal favorite.

Egg flies also work very well with the Euro Nymphing outfits that are rapidly gaining in popularity. Since small egg flies don’t pack any weight, using a heavier than usual anchor fly helps maintain the perfect drift. 

Better Indicator Rigging

The standard indicator rig calls for a 9’ tapered leader with the indicator set about 1.5 times the depth of the water. Add a couple split shot 18” above the fly and you are all set. This setup works, but it casts like hell.

You can vastly improve the castability, sink rate and strike detection by using a right-angle nymphing setup. This takes advantage of a few physical properties; shorter leaders carry weight far better than longer leaders, thin line cuts the current better than thick line, tungsten sinks faster than lead and shorter tippets transmit strikes faster than long tippets.

The reason I like a shorter tippet is because when you are nymph fishing, the weight ticks the bottom with the fly trailing downstream, thus the weight must travel 2 times the tippet length before you can detect the strike. In other words, using an 18 inch leader your weight must drift 36 inches after a trout picks up your fly before the strike is detected. In heavily fished waters where the trout have been caught several times Mr. Trout will strike and reject your fly without you even knowing it. Shorter tippets solve this problem. 

Roll Casting

When you’re nymph fishing the roll cast is the best cast to use. Overhand casting with an indicator rig is difficult and usually results in a bunch of leader knots. 

A well-executed roll cast lays out your indicator rig perfectly every time and works well in tight quarters.

Another advantage of the roll cast is that it is a very efficient cast; your flies are back in the water with very little fanfare. After all, no one ever caught a fish on a false cast.

Tungsten Beads make superior weights

Admittedly, tungsten beads are expensive.

At my local fly shop a package of 4 mm tungsten beads costs almost $7. How can I afford to use them for weights? The answer is I almost never lose them. Tungsten skips along the bottom whereas led split shot tends to grab the rocks.

Another advantage tungsten is that it is one and a half times denser than lead. I know, it’s hard to believe and I had always assumed lead was the densest commercially available metal, but it’s not. 

Being denser than lead you can get away with using less tungsten while still maintaining the same sink rate. Put another way, two tungsten beads sink the same as three lead split shot, so you can cast a lighter weight and still get your flies to the bottom. 

Less weight is easier to cast and in the end sink rate is what we’re really after. Tungsten weights give you the best sink rate.

Stack Mend for Long Drag Free Drifts

The longer you can keep your egg fly drifting along the bottom the more fish you will catch. It’s that simple.

Stack mending is really nothing more than throwing a pile of line out by your indicator, using an underpowered roll cast motion. This extra line will straighten out as your indicator drifts downstream, but in the meantime it will allow your indicator to continue drifting drag free and this is a big key to improving your egg fly fishing success.

Line Control

After you’ve executed a few long drifts and stripped in the running line you’ll notice it’s either in a big mess lying at your feet or the current is dragging it downstream in a big loop. Holding a bunch of coils of line in your stripping hand and doesn’t seem to help either as they tangle easily.

The trick is to hold progressively smaller size coils of line in your hand; for example strip in four strips of line, then three strips, then two strips. This simple trick eliminates tangles of line and makes it much easier to execute long drag free drifts. It’s also a good way to hold your running line when you are spey fishing. 

Small Eggs Rule

I first became aware of the effectiveness of micro eggs while fishing over a large school of Dolly Varden on Kodiak Island. We had put a beating on them earlier with our standard number eight Glo-bugs and now they would not touch them. I had some small number 14 micro eggs in my fly box that I had used for whitefish back home. Since nothing else was working, I tied one on and hooked a fish on the first cast. The fly continued to work the rest of the day, they just couldn’t seem to leave alone. 

dolly varden bull trout fly fishing spey casting

Since that experience I’ve had great success with small egg patterns on size 14 heavy wire hooks, my favorites being heavy wire scud hooks or Teeny Nymph Hooks. These strong hooks can take the pressure of a charging fish on an 8lb or 10lb leader without straightening out.

Stalk more, cast less

If possible, always keep moving. I’m always looking for that perfect juicy current seam to cast at and the telltale flashes of feeding fish. 

Also, be on the lookout for the big shapes of spawning salmon and the light colored depressions of their redds—and then stay away from them. They are the future of our sport.

See you on the water!

- Written by Dave Kilhefner

1 comment


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