Not long after I started fly fishing, I caught a smallmouth bass that is still, 30 years later, among a handful of the biggest I've ever landed. As I was unhooking it, it regurgitated a sculpin, and I was hooked. As soon as I got home from the river that night, I tried to crank out a bunch of the only sculpin pattern I knew, the Whitlock's Matuka Sculpin. Try as I might though, I couldn't get the damn wing hackles to sit straight, and before long, most of my paltry stash of strung saddles was in pieces in the wastebasket. The next closest thing I had was marabou, and after a bit of tinkering and a lot of cursing, I created what was essentially a brown Shewey's Spawning Purple with a chenille body and clipped deer hair head. I added some flared grouse feathers at the shoulder to imitate the pectoral fins on the Whitlock pattern, and I was ready to go. I called it the Sebasticook Sculpin after what was then my home river.
It looked nice in the vise, but it fished like crap. All I owned at the time was a floating line, and I didn't know the first thing about mending. The big deer hair head on my fly kept it up just under the surface where it was roundly ignored. So I tied up a few more, but wrapped enough lead wire under the bodies to anchor a drift boat. Problem solved. It was kryptonite on Sebasticook smallmouths that summer and fall. That fly turned out to be so good that I wrote an article about it that got picked up by a national fly fishing magazine.
About 15 years later, I was gearing up for a ten day trip to Montana. My brother's good friend Pete Sykoski lives in Bozeman, and in addition to being an ER doc with mid-week days off, he's a hell of an angler who owns a three man raft, has access to private water, and boasts a nearly limitless tolerance for cheap beer, the only form of payment he will take for rowing out of town guests down the Yellowstone. Everyone should have a fishing buddy like Pete Sykoski. I spent weeks before the trip tying up size 12-18 caddis, mayfly, and stonefly patterns, putting gills and wing cases and legs and antennae in all the right places on nymphs, emergers, adults, cripples, and every other damn thing I thought I might possibly need. As is often my luck, though, it was a record year for runoff, and the Yellowstone was bank full of cappucino colored water a month after it was supposed to be over. The morning of our first float, Pete cut off my 5X tippet, told me to tie on a "hunk of nothin' lighter than 2X" and threw me a box full of Wooly Bugger-ish things called JJ Specials tied on hooks big enough to hang meat. A foot and a half above the fly, he crimped on what looked like 2 pieces of 00 buckshot, and off we went. "Chuck it up against the bank and pulse it once in awhile," were my instructions. And so I did for the better part of a day. Neither of us got a bump. At the top of the last run before the takeout, Pete beached the raft, handed me a streamer, and told me to put it on. He called it a Muddy Buddy. It was a brown rabbit strip behind a clipped muddler style head with a huge brass cone at the nose. It wasn't going to win any beauty contests, but it did hook the only trout that day, a big (from what I could tell) brown that took with a knee buckling thump, headed downstream toward Livingston like a runaway dump truck, and then came unbuttoned. I'd really like to have that fish back. My faith in sculpin patterns, however, became permanent.
I picked up my first two hander later that year and was keen as heck to hang a big smallmouth or trophy trout with it. Armed with all that casting and mending power, I felt pretty invincible. Until I tried to cast one of my weighted sculpins. Total disaster. I did, however, have a wallet full of sinking Skagit heads. And that's when I discovered the pleasure of fishing unweighted flies and leaders without split shot. It was a revelation.
I was till plagued by one problem, though. I wanted a sculpin imitation with a nice wide head made of something other than deer hair. I didn't mind spinning and clipping the stuff, but always got hung up on the idea of putting lots of buoyant material on a fly that I wanted to swing as close as possible to the bottom. Somewhere along the line, I switched to wool, and then changed the marabou wing and tail to a rabbit strip thereby reinventing the wheel that is the generic wool headed/rabbit strip sculpin that was probably first fished about 70 years ago by some guy whose name has been lost to history. Not realizing that I was not the originator of that fly, I felt entitled to name it, so I called it the Montana Hammer. Caught some Maine smallmouths and a few beastly Great Lakes browns with it, and even sent some to Pete in Bozeman. He said his local trout liked it, too.
Over the last four or five years, my tying tastes have made a pronounced turn toward the traditional. I have a real thing for old school Speys like the Lady C, the Reaachs, and the Kings, but I absolutely stink at tying bronze mallard wings. I have settled for trying to incorporate some of the other features of those patterns - thin bodies, multiple ribs, flowing hackles, a bit of flash - into my own patterns. Washington state guide, fly tying genius, and world class nice guy Steve Bird has a term for this kind of tying. He calls it "neo-classical." So last spring, I set out to create a neo-classical, Spey inspired, Muddler-ish sculpin that I could cast on my 5 weight Scandi outfit with even my terrible Scandi casting skills. Initally, I started with a minor variation of Steve's Brahma Hen Muddler (you can see it on his blog, the Soft Hackle Journal). After a few rounds of tweaking at the vise and testing on the river, I came up with this number I'm calling the Highland Hammer. Hopefully, it's not just a re-hash of something some other guy started fishing 70 years ago.
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing"
- Duke Ellington
Last edited by Aldo; 11-12-2019 at 07:27 AM.