How to Tie Yarn Balls for Steelhead

Lately, my wife’s been saying maybe I should have married yarn instead of her

I the January 2011 issue of Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine, I wrote an article called the “Ultimate Steelhead Bait,” which highlights why yarn eggs are a wonderful tool for those of us addicted to chasing anadramous rainbows. I also talked about how to fish them. Well, here’s kind of the companion piece… how to tie the little buggers!

Yarn Selection

For steelhead fishing, I like pinks and oranges, sometimes mixed with white and/or a little chartreuse. It’s going to be different everywhere you fish, so go ahead and experiment on your local creeks. Half the fun of making Yarnies is trying out new color combinations.

There are several yarn manufacturers out there and I mostly use the UV stuff put out by Steelhead Stalkers and Glo Bug Yarn by the Bug Shop in Anderson, CA. Overall, I think Steelhead Stalkers makes the better product, but I do like some of the colors the Bug Shop has, so I often mix and match. Anyway, I’ll show you the way I do it with each brand.

Tying a Yarnie

First off, you’ll need some bad-ass scissors for making yarnies. Most folks say to buy the fancy fly tying variety, but I really prefer this style. They’re sharp as hell, spring loaded and you don’t have to mash your fingers into the rings, which is a lot more comfortable in the long run. This pair is made by Fiskars and my wife buys them at the fabric store.

Save yourself a lot of trouble and drop $20 for a really good pair of scissors!

Okay, starting with a Yarnie made from Steelhead Stalkers’ yarn, cut two or three 1- to 2-inch strands (it’s super thick and “fluffy,” so you don’t need a lot).

It doesn’t take much Steelhead Stalkers yarn to make a yarnie

Next, stack it like a furry ice cream sandwich…

A little pinch between your cheek and gums…kidding of course!

Next take some thread…either Miracle Thread, or better yet, Ghost Cocoon, and make 10 very tight wraps in the middle of the yarn and break the tag end off…

Make sure the wraps are tight!!

What you end up with is a little butterfly looking critter. Ah, isn’t he cute?

While this would probably catch a fish, there’s some trimming yet to be done!

Now, squeeze one of the “wings” tight and trim it in a half-circle…

Making the half circle…here’s where the sharp scisssors come in handy!

Flip it over and do the same thing to the other side. When you’re done, the yarnie starts taking shape. Fluff it out at this point…

Almost there…

Okay, now take the “fluffed-out” Yarnie and trim any mohawks and wild hairs and you’re done…

A few last clips…

Glo Bug Yarn version

Before we get into rigging, here’s a quick version of how to tie a yarnie with Glo Bug or similar yarn…

Use at least 4 strands of Glo Bug Yarn because of its skinnier diameter

Wrap 10 tight ones with the thread in the middle

Now, fold all 8 strands together, pinching the “elbow” tight with your thumb and finger

Same deal, cut the loose ends in a half-circle. But don’t cut the other side!

Fluff all the loose ends out…

Use your thumb as a guide and trim, trim, trim until you get a nice round(ish) ball…

The only bummer is how much material is wasted with this method…


Rigging a yarn ball is simple…you can add it to your bait loop if you’d like, but for drift fishing, I prefer to run the hook right through the center of the “bait,” and push it up tight against the hook’s eye. Next, add a small Fish Pill to the back end and you’re in business!

Where legal, add some scent and you’re really got an effective steelie weapon! Shy away from the sticky and gel-based ones and stick to oils or straight liquids. The night before I fish, I’ll throw my yarnies in a small Zip-Loc with a couple squirts of Mike’s Salmon Egg or Shrimp Glo Scent or Pro Cure’s Sand Shrimp oil. The yarn will absorb some of the scent and then, as it washes out, you can add a dab or two when needed throughout the day. You can also mush up some roe or loose eggs and dip your yarn in the juice… they milk just like the “real” thing.

Mmmm…steelhead food!

Hopefully, this is the end result of all that cuttin’ & fluffin!


  1. Joe says

    I use a 2/0 hook most of the time in Riggins idaho while fishing for metalheads, what size do you use and am I fishing too large.

    • Max says

      Depends on the river clarity, depth etc.
      I like to run size 2 in gin clear water, but if it is that clear I usually wouldn’t be using this method.
      For 4 feet vis or over 8 or so feet I use a 1 to 1/0 size hook.
      Anything deeper 2/0 is ok.
      if you find trout in the area and your using eggs your gunna find your self baiting up way to often so lots of scent is a good approach.

  2. Jestin says

    What I like to do is use a threader, like the the ones that come with the pink worm set ups, and slide it onto my line just like you would a corky. You will never have to worry about it falling off and you have the whole egg loop to utilize.

  3. Michael Kukowski says

    Max did not have a chance to try them on the Cascade river. The river never came down enough to fly fish. Get back to me in November and I will tell you how I did on Chum salmon.

  4. Max says

    hey jd, have you ever thought about instead of running the yarnie on the hook, bait threading it on top of the hook so you have the whole hook for eggs

  5. max w says

    i found that using a bait threader or a needle and running the yarnie onto the line just above the hook works pretty good, you also have more room for eggs.

  6. Michael Kukowski says

    I make yarnies bigger and I slide one on a 2/0 after I tie some tinsel and some white maribou . I secure the yarnie with a small drop of fly tying cement. I plan on using them as large flies for spring kings on the Cascade river and for summer king on the Cowlitz. I look forward to seeing how they work. And I will tell you how they work.

  7. Michael Kukowski says

    I cannot find miracle thread or ghost cocoon up here in Bellingham. Where can I find it? Look forward to trying yarnies on spring kings on the Cascade river in June.

  8. Michael Kukowski says

    I live up in Bellingham and I have looked in crafts stores and the local sporting goods store and I have not been able to find miracle thread or ghost cacoon. Where can I find those materials so I can make the yarnies? I look forward to trying the yarnies out on the rivers for steelhead.

  9. John Lacy says

    After wrapping the yarn with the thread it says to break the tag end off. Do you half-hitch it or tie it before breaking it off or is the tension of the thread enough to hold it.

  10. pauliewalnuts says

    I also like to tie mine using the double egg loop, just cinch up the yarn in the second loop and trim…it is a little more of a pain to get trimmed up nice and “round” but I like the advantage of having “perma-yarnballs” on my eggloop leaders so if your eggs or other bait get pecked or cast off, you’re always still fishing. Plus the ball sucks up all the delicious juice from your eggs.

    • says

      That sounds like a great way to do it…and really, don’t worry about having perfect yarn balls…I think we are more worried about that kind of stuff than the fish are. Thanks for sharing…

    • Jestin says

      Try running longer lengths of yarn through a straw or a pen tube. Pull out lengths just long enough to tie in the middle, then pull out the other half and trim. You will have absolutely no waste when doing it this way. Sorry, but that is the best way I can describe it.

      • says

        Great idea…you know, I think I once bought an egg-tying tool many moons ago at the sportsmen’s show. If I recall, it was kinda like you described…like a glorified pen cap or something.

        Thanks for the tip!

    • says

      When you have the yarn bunched up and pinched between your fingers…you make a rounded cut, rather than straight across…you’re trying to make the end of the yarn that you’re cutting the shape of a half a ball. Kinda hard to explain…you getting my drift at all?

  11. says

    I have a funny story about yarn, I have this redneck hillbilly friend name matt thats been chewing tobacco since he was out of diapers anyways he decided to quit the day he was going steelhead fishing with me and his son( WOW ) it went like this within 1 hour I notice he was very moody, I asked him what is your problem ?his son ricky answered, he is quiting chewing today, I was like HECK KNOW!!!! THAT AINT HAPPENING, so he starts going through my tackle bag and was looking for my yawn i told him stay out of my bag I just organized it! and this guy will make a mess of things believe me well his MOODY butt got all sore and wasnt speaking to me which was cool with me , (this guy is the kind of guy that spits juice in his dogs mouth to de worm the dog). I was begging people in other boats for a chew, even worm dirt will do so because i didnt give him any yawn he held a grudge for over a year . His son ricky out fished him with the yarnball and puff ball and bait i withheld the yawn from matt cause i didnt like his tude k jim he didnt get no chew or yawn that day ha ha ha

  12. tom timko says

    I check out your website daily, and always read your column in Salmon, Trout and Steelheader…..Yarnies are a great lure. I almost always use multiple colors of yarn….. with Spin-n-Glo’s, Corkies, Okie Drifters, Jensen / Mad River Eggs, Fish Pills, cured roe….I tie my yarnies a little different though. I use a version of the “Pimped Out Egg Loop” that I saw in Salmon and Steelhead Journal Magazine a couple of years ago. Tied in this fashion, the yarn is a little further back of the hook eye allowing me to slide a Mad River Egg or Gooey Bob down the leader, onto the top of the hook shank, covering the eye. When I use a Corky or other drift bobber, I simply peg it in place with a round toothpick ( Spin-n-Glo’s require an added bead at the top in order to peg them ). Another thing I like about tying them this way is that I can pre-tie my leaders, with multiple or single colors of yarn, different hook and leader sizes, and roll ’em up into Pip’s Leader Dispensers…Fishing the Russian River the majority of the time, the additional drift bobbers make a difference in the often discolored water we have to deal with. Tight Lines………..

  13. Joe says

    JD, what is the advantage to yarn over eggs and a fish pill, does it move more
    while drifting, or is it more visable? Thanks, Joe
    PS, I’d still like to fish with you, my buddies went with me a few weeks ago in my boat, and they just don’t have it!, the fever for steelhead fishing.

    • says

      Joe, yarn, due to the fact that it is virtually weightless, drifts much more naturally than a cluster of eggs which is more dense.

      And because you don’t have to rebait every cast or two, you spend a lot more time with your gear in the water. Plus, it’s really nice when you have a lot of smolt or squawfish around…the little buggers can’t peck it off…and they don’t swallow yarn as often.

      With these advantages, combined with the fact that you can tie yarnies up to look just like an egg cluster…and scent them up, make ’em a pretty attractive steelie offering. Plus, no more slimy, pink or boraxed hands!

      Initially, I was skeptical of yarn’s effectivness but over the years, I have seen it go fish to fish with eggs…and often out-fish bait.

      That all being said, if I had one cast to catch a steelhead to save my life, I’d probably still want some eggs on the end of my line… :)

      • Jestin says

        Also, it has been said that the yarn gets stuck in their teeth, therefore they can’t spit it out as fast, giving you more time to set the hook.

  14. Denis G. says

    I always wanted to ask you how to do them, thanks.
    I love using corckies, yarn and lures instead of roe, I feel it is more sport and flies of course!

  15. Bobby B says

    Just recieved my yarn from Steelhead Stalkers and I’m tying some yarnies up right now. Sharp sissors sure help

  16. eric says

    do you think adding some type of scent would be effective?
    ive tried smelly jelly on jigs but it tends to be a little greasy, and the feathers gum up.
    how do you feel about it on yarnies?

  17. says

    GREAT POST! There has to be a way to use up the scrap. I take whats left over with me in a zip-lock bag. Then just apply it to the egg loop with a Jens-Egg above it every once in awhile. This gives it that single loose egg effect. Works for me! (just my two cents on this issue)

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