For many of us, the dropping temperatures and increasing rainfall are signals that it must be time for the return of winter steelhead to our local waters. Instead of traveling to the Deschutes for our steelhead “fix” we are able to stay closer to home and fish local waters like the Clackamas and Sandy rivers.
Years ago, when asked to give me the name of a go-to winter steelhead fly, two of my reliable sources of information, Josh Linn and Dave Kilhefner, both mentioned the fly with the promising name of “Metal Detector”. When searching for a grab by a fish that has “steel” as part of its name, it makes sense that you can hardly go wrong with a fly called the Metal Detector. Dave didn’t hesitate at all in endorsing this fly for winter steelhead by flat-out stating that the Metal Detector was his personal favorite pattern.
Northwest guide Marty Sheppard is credited with coming up with the local version of the Metal Detector series of flies. Marty and his wife Mia have been the owners since 2003 of Little Creek Outfitters, a guide service based in Maupin. They specialize in swinging flies with both two handed and single handed rods and regularly guide on the Deschutes, Grande Ronde, John Day, and Sandy rivers.
Marty, along with his friend Josh Linn, experimented with a variety of materials in hopes of coming up with a large profile fly that was also easier to cast than some of the flies on the market at the time. The key turned out to be using materials that don’t soak up a lot of water. This makes the Metal Detector flies lighter and thus easier to cast than many flies of equivalent size. And we all know that heavy flies and sink tips can turn a promising day of fishing into an unpleasant chore. Marty Sheppard’s fly was originally tied with bucktail but now is also tied with finn raccoon. Both materials are buoyant, absorb little water, and also don’t clump together when wet. Some tyers use craft fur, a synthetic, for the same reason, and it is fairly inexpensive. Polar chenille, while also absorbing little water, is included in the body to give a translucent glow from the inside out. The flies are finished off with a marabou collar which provides added movement in the water. Trailing stinger hooks are used to help ensure the greater chance of a hookup.
Metal Detectors are usually two-toned flies with favorite color combinations being black and blue, and red and orange. Black and blue is especially good on overcast days, dark conditions, or when the water is off color. The red and orange flies are preferred in bright sunlight or when the water is especially clear. A green version is good in the late winter and summer seasons when sculpins get active plus it’s also a great trout spey pattern.
Thread: 6/0; black or color of choice
Shank: shank of choice ( one-eyed OPST shank, or Waddington shank)
Wire: Senyo’s Intruder Trailer Hook Wire (or Beadalon bead stringing wire from Michael’s)
Stinger Hook: Gamakatsu #2 octopus hook mounted onto wire loop
Weight: cone head, cyclops bead, dazl-eyes, or dumbbell eyes; optional: no weight. The purpose of the weight is not to sink the fly but help it turn over in wind, so don’t overdo it!
Tail: finn raccoon, bucktail, or craft fur; color of choice
Body: polar chenille; color of choice
Flash: EP brush wrapped on shank (or flash of choice anchored onto shank or wrapped in dubbing loop)
Collar: marabou wound on shank; color of choice
1. Tie on, or slide on, the weight (optional) of your choice onto shank.
2. Measure a length of stinger loop wire so that the rear of the stinger hook will reach back the desired distance from the head of the fly. It is important that the loop be big enough to allow the stinger hook to be changed out if it becomes dull. (Don’t use your good scissors to cut the wire!)
The total length of the fly is usually 3 to 3-1/2 inches.
*** Note: You can slide the stinger hook onto the wire now or add it later. If you add the hook now, be very careful because the hooks are very sharp and tend to grab onto such things as fingers or fly tying materials that get too close.
3. Attach the loop of stinger hook wire onto the shank by securing it with tight thread wraps and then coating the thread wraps lightly with super glue. Allow the super glue to soak in and set up.
4. Prepare a clump of tail material, and attach it securely onto the shank with thread wraps. The tail should extend to the rear of the stinger hook.
5. Tie in a length of polar chenille at the base of the tail.
6. Wind the polar chenille forward, stroking the fibers rearward with each wrap. Tie off the polar chenille about a 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch distance behind the weighted head.
7. Add some flash in front of the polar chenille using one of the following options:
Option A. Attach a piece of EP brush at the front of the polar chenille and make 1-2 wraps of the brush. Anchor it with thread wraps and remove the excess. (The EP brush has a core made of wire so don’t use your good scissors to cut it.)
Option B. Create a dubbing loop and insert some flash of choice into the loop and twist it closed. Make some wraps of the dubbing loop flash. Tie it off and remove the excess.
Option C. Add some flash of your choice by tying in some small clumps around the top, bottom and sides of the fly.
8. Attach a marabou feather by the tip in front of the flash. Wind it forward filling in the space behind the weight. Stroke the marabou fibers rearward with each wrap. You may find it helpful to wet the marabou to help you control it. Tie it off. Remove the excess marabou. Whip finish. Add head cement.
Below you will find a link for an an updated version of the Metal Detector from The Royal Treatment fly shop that you should check out:
It is interesting that many of the Metal Detectors found in fly shop bins will be tied on metal shanks, while Dave Kilhefner says that Marty actually ties most of his own on tubes because tubes are faster and easier to tie, which is important when you are a guide providing flies for your clients. Below are some of Marty’s favorites:
In his recent President’s Message, Dave Kilhefner reported that this month’s Fish-Along will focus on winter steelhead fishing and will be held January 22 at OxBow Park on the Sandy River. So now is the time to get ready by checking those fly boxes to make sure you have a full arsenal of winter steelhead patterns. Maybe the Metal Detector will become one of your go-to winter steelhead flies.