Yarnies made easy: how to make one of the most productive steelhead baits

By Larry Ellis

Glo Bug yarn – check. Miracle Thread – check. Mustache scissors – check. PEX tubing – check.

That’s all the materials an angler needs to make a yarn ball, one of the most effective lures for drift-fishing and side-drifting. And with January being a prime steelhead month, you’re definitely going to want to carry a couple dozen of these killer attractants with you.

With new no-bait restrictions cropping across the West Coast up these days, people never know when/if their home river is going to be the next stream to be listed in the no-bait zone. But that shouldn’t deter steelheaders from fishing. Yarn balls, or “yarnies” as they are commonly called, are nothing less than fish magnets.

Many guides I know in Oregon and California tell me that if push came to shove, they could actually leave their roe at home and become Mr. Yarn Ball if they so desired.

Why not join them?

One Oregon and California guide, Troy Whittaker of Troy’s Guide Service (541-761-0015), originally got me hooked into making yarnies. We were fishing the Chetco River in southern Oregon one winter, using small yarn balls, about the size of a nickel. In the front of his drift boat were places for people to put their coffee cups. Troy put plastic cups filled with Pautzke Nectar in these spots, where we would dip our yarn balls before making our casts. We caught steelhead pretty much all day on these things.

Throughout the day, I did notice one yarn ball in particular that was larger than the rest – much larger. It was almost the size of a 50-cent piece. I almost laughed at the prospect of a yarnie this size hooking a steelhead. On the last drift of the day, Troy asked me to slip that bad boy in my egg loop.

The river was leaf-stained, so there was debris occasionally floating down the river. At one point during the drift, I thought I snagged a tree. It turned out to be a huge steelhead, and although I never got this one in the net, it looked like it was definitely pushing the upper teens. I’ve been a yarn ball addict ever since.

Why yarnies: It only takes about a minute to make one of these things once you get the knack of it, and you can make them any size you wish.

You can also try various color combinations. I like to use five strands of the cheese-colored yarn and place an orange strand in the middle. I’ve named this one “fried egg” because that’s exactly what it looks like, a yellow ball with an orange center.

One thing that I will do is to save the juice from my Pautzke Borx O’ Fire-cured roe and dip the yarn ball in this concoction before making a cast, but you don’t need any scent at all in order to hook up with a scrappy steelhead.

Once they’ve committed themselves to biting this very soft offering, the yarn usually gets caught in their teeth, making it very difficult for them to spit the yarnies out.

And don’t worry if you don’t get these things perfectly concentric. Even the worst yarn ball will catch steelhead – scented or nonscented.


STEP 1: Step 1: Troy uses a short piece of PEX 3?8-inch tubing to make quick-and-easy yarnies. Just lay out five strands of Glo Bug yarn in your favorite color. Insert a doubled-over piece of 40-pound monofilament through the tubing to grab your yarn. Insert the ganglion of yarn strands inside the loop and then pull the strands through the end of the tubing. Laying out yarn in this manner allows you to pull the strands out evenly, and there is very little waste after you’re finished.














STEP 2: Trim the ends of the yarn evenly with a pair of scissors and pull the yarn clusters about 1?4 inch through the end of the tubing. STEP 3: Now take a piece of Miracle Thread and wrap four times around the yarn strands, making sure that you wrap as close to the PEX as possible. STEP 4: Now pull the strands out another 1?4 inch and while stretching the thread at its maximum, throw an additional 10 wraps around the previous four wraps. Pull the thread until it breaks. You don’t have to make any fancy knots – the thread adheres to itself. Maybe that’s why they call this stuff Miracle Thread?
















STEP 5: Now pull the strands out a little more and then make a cut on the opposite side of the wraps to sever the strands, making sure that both sides are of equal length. Your yarn ball is nearing its completion.














STEP 6: You’ll now have a 1?2-inch piece of material to work with. Double over the strands and pinch them between your thumb and middle finger.













STEP 7: Trim the exposed sections into a half-moon shape.













STEP 8: When you’re done doing this, roll the piece of yarn around in the palms of your hands and your yarn ball will take its spherical shape. If you’re fussy, like most steelheaders, you can now trim the yarn ball even more, and fluff the yarn ball by pulling on the individual strands.