Muddler Redux - Spey Pages
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post #1 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-11-2019, 09:40 PM Thread Starter
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Muddler Redux

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.
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"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.
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post #2 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-11-2019, 10:15 PM
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What a great twist on the original! That top view surprised me with the amount of profile on the head. How well does it hold its shape when wet?
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post #3 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-11-2019, 10:36 PM
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Hi Aldo. I always enjoy your posts. These flies no doubt are deadly. I like both of them very much. The second fly looks very similar the Gartside Sparrow, a fly that’s taken many, many steelhead for me over the years. Thx for the nice write up. Cheers
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post #4 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 01:24 AM
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I'm not sure which is better. Your story or the flies. Thanks for both!
Sensational representatives of a go to deadly pattern.
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post #5 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 07:25 AM
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Thank you for this post Aldo, a very nice read through
Your efforts are extremely fishy and as expected, my eye turns to the second offering since it looks to be from a vintage flavor
A brilliant fly and I will pinch that pattern


Mike
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post #6 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 07:31 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by steeliesncarp View Post
What a great twist on the original! That top view surprised me with the amount of profile on the head. How well does it hold its shape when wet?
It seems to hold up well. One thing that's hard to see in the photo is the "spreader" that's just behind the head. It's a few wraps of rabbit fur spun in a dubbing loop. Props the head hackles pretty nicely.

If anyone is interested, here be the details:

Hook: Mustad 9575
Tail: GP breast under GP tippets dyed brown
Butt: Ostrich
Rib and Counter Rib: French tinsel, gold
Body Hackle: Mallard flank dyed brown, stripped on one side, from the third turn of ribbing
Body: Flat copper tinsel
Wing: One pair chocolate brown hackle tips, flanked by one pair Coq de Leon
Rear Collar: Ring neck pheasant rump
Front Collar: Natural rabbit, spun in dubbing loop
Head: Ring neck pheasant back

"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing"
- Duke Ellington
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post #7 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 08:37 AM
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Great story, good looking Sculpins and I admired your dedication to the craft. Cold snowy day here today so I think I'll spend time at the bench trying to follow your foot steps.
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post #8 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 08:56 AM
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Good story and nice ties! I too struggled with the buoyancy of big deer hair heads. My solution was to sub hen pheasant tail fibers tied in a dubbing loop for spun deer hair. You get the big profiled head you're looking for without the floatation of deer hair. From a human perspective it looks ugly, but to fish it looks like a meal! I found the dubbing loop method makes for a pretty durable fly.
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-Sean
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post #9 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 11:11 AM
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Hello Aldo,

Beautiful patterns. Any chance you would share the recipe for the second one?

Thanks

Emel
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post #10 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 02:08 PM Thread Starter
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[QUOTE=Emel;2479070]

Any chance you would share the recipe for the second one?

/QUOTE]

Per request:

Hook: Mustad 9575
Tail: GP breast under GP tippets dyed brown
Butt: Ostrich
Rib and Counter Rib: French tinsel, gold
Body Hackle: Mallard flank dyed brown, stripped on one side, from the third turn of ribbing
Body: Flat copper tinsel
Wing: One pair chocolate brown hackle tips, flanked by one pair Coq de Leon
Rear Collar: Ring neck pheasant rump
Front Collar: Natural rabbit, spun in dubbing loop
Head: Ring neck pheasant back

"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing"
- Duke Ellington
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post #11 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 04:59 PM
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Thank You Aldo
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post #12 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 05:51 PM
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Both of these look great but that second one has my vote of confidence. Very well done.

Dan
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Which way to the river?
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post #13 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 07:50 PM
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Awesome post Aldo, as always. You've given me some ideas.
The wool-head sculpin in darker tones would make a very close imitation of a "Jumping Jack" goby which I think would be killer in local waters. A bit of variety to the fly-box other than spun-deer hair surface flies.

Thanks,
Vic.
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post #14 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-12-2019, 11:30 PM
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Love it Aldo! Thanks

I might have to add some feathers on the sides of my Muddler leech patterns to imitate pectoral fins....cool idea

If I’m fishing a floating line and no sinktip, I add a 5.5mm tungsten bead on my tube and use that as a prop for the first hackle and bunny strip.

I have fished them without weight as well on full sinking lines or a sinktip. Seems to get down for me just fine
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post #15 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-13-2019, 10:40 AM
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Great post! Sculpin patterns have been my go to fly choice more often than not when trout fishing, as nothing else gives me the same kind of confidence. Yours look a hell of a lot better than mine ever do! I love your “neo-classical” version a lot, and I’d bet that would get a lot of attention from steelhead too.
Thanks for sharing,
JB
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