Tying the Whitlock Sheep Minnow

Tying the Whitlock Sheep Minnow
Swimmer Sheep Minnows. Photo: Dave Whitlock

Before sitting down to tie Sheep Minnows, get a live minnow or a photo of the minnow you want to imitate. This will help you create a minnow of the correct color, length, width, and proportions. It pays also to learn about the habits of the minnows you plan to imitate.


I use a hook with a shank that is at least 4X-long because it provides consistent hooking efficiency on up-hook swimming streamers. With smaller (shorter shank) hooks, the fly's head and back material can create a dodger-like effect that prevents the hook and point from penetrating the fish's mouth. The farther back the point is from the head and the more up-angle the hook point are, the more effectively this fly hooks fish.

For the best possible hooking when a fish takes your fly, begin your strike with a deliberate, smooth line strip until you feel the fish, then make two or three fast hook sets with the rod.

I tip each body material's butt end with a micro amount of Zap-A-Gap before I tie it to the hook, and I use only three or four wraps of 8/0 tying thread to secure the material. This keeps the nose small and neat.

The tying steps that follow are for the Swimming Sheep Minnow, but you can use them as a starting point for tying the Waker Sheep Minnow and the Deep Sheep Minnow.


The Waker Sheep Minnow has the same design as the Swimming Sheep Minnow except it is tied on a TMC 8089 nickel-plated, wide-gape, down-swimming hook. Up-swimming hooks for surface flies are poor hookers. Tie the floating head on the front 1/3 of the hook using deer hair and hollow plastic doll eyes. Trim the head to the size and shape needed to imitate the surface swimming action of the minnow of choice.

The Deep Sheep Minnow is tied almost identically to the Swimming Sheep except that instead of having a few turns of lead wire, it has a pair of metal barbell eyes on the lower side of the hook shank where you create the bend in Step1. Attach the eyes with figure-eight wraps and coat wraps with Zap-A-Gap. I paint the eyes and proceed with tying the minnow as described for the Swimmer. Choose the size and density of eyes to give you the sink rate you desire. Overcoat the eyes with five-minute Epoxy or Clear Wapsi Epoxy paint.

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Dave Whitlock is a Fly Fisherman Editor-at-Large.

Continued - click on page link below.

Recipe: Swimming Sheep

HOOK: TMC 9394 nickel-plated #2-#8 or TMC 911S stainless-steel, 4X-long, ringed eye, #4 to #4/0.

THREAD: Nylon 8/0-3/0, the color of minnow's body.

BODY WEIGHT: Lead wire or non-corrosion resistant zinc wire.

CEMENTS: Dave's Flexament, Zap-A-Gap, and Goop.

GILLS: Dave Whitlock-plus-SLF Dubbing: color #24 Whitlock's minnow gills.

BODY FLASH: Krystal Flash (color of body).

BODY HAIR: Icelandic Sheep Hair (colors of minnow body).

LATERAL LINE: Two strips of pearl Saltwater Flashabou and two hackles (color of minnow's upper side).

CHEEK: Pair of feathers to form shape and color of right and left sides of minnow's head.

EYES: Pair of Waspi solid plastic doll eyes or Holographic eyes.

[Note: Whitlock Sheep Minnows tied according to Dave's specifications are available from most fly shops that carry Umpqua Feather Merchants flies. For the name of your nearest Umpqua dealer, call (800) 322-3218.

Sheep Swimming Minnow tying instructions are available on video tape from Umpqua or Dave Whitlock Fly Fishing Galleries. Fly tying kits are also available. For an autographed copy or more information about Whitlock's products or Dave & Emily's Fly Fishing Schools (conducted in spring and fall in the Arkansas Ozarks), contact Dave Whitlock, P.O. Box 319, Midway, AR 72651, (888) 962-4576, fax (870) 481-6121, www.davewhitlock.com. The Editor.]

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