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Fly Recipes Fly Tying Trout

Sculpin Fly Pattern

by Chuck Stranahan   |  February 1st, 2013 1

You can fish Chuck’s Sculpin on a floating or sinking-tip line. Floating lines are best for shallow pocketwater and riffle sections that require quick casts and short drifts; sinking-tip lines are better for fishing deep holes. Give your fly time to sink before beginning your retrieve. Photo: David J. Siegfried

Sculpins are plentiful in rivers. Big fish eat little fish all the time. Fish sculpins long enough and hard enough, and you’re bound to catch big trout using a sculpin fly pattern.

I’ve known these facts about sculpins for a long time. But until recently, my approach to streamer fishing kept reverting to the same old technique of stripping Woolly Buggers, and knowing that something—namely the right sculpin pattern—was missing.

As a fly tier, I admire the artistry in sculpin patterns with multilayered marabou or Matuka-style wings, perfectly positioned pectoral fins made of matched feathers placed concave-side out, and tediously clipped deer-hair heads. As an angler, I’m reluctant to fish them. They are fairly effective, but by the time I’ve put $4.37 in exotic materials and 28 minutes of time into tying one, I’m emotionally involved. I don’t want to lose it.

I tried to develop a simple, effective sculpin of my own—borrowing from the successful patterns I fished and adding to them—but fell short. My yearning, through it all, remained the same: What the world needs, I thought, is a good five-minute sculpin—one that is quick to tie and catches fish.

Those thoughts were simmering on the back burner when Brad Befus gave me a full, beautifully dyed strip of rabbit hair. This strip of rabbit will make my sculpin, I thought. The rabbit strip provided the proper bulk, silhouette, and movement for the sculpin pattern that was brewing in my mind. In an instant I conceived of a fly to be tied around it.

Materials
A sculpin’s belly is usually off-white, so I use dull cream-colored Aunt Lydia’s yarn. Any slightly off-white to almond-shade yarn will do.

Sculpins have prominent blood-red gills that show through their big pulsating gill plates. Trout are predators. They like to hit blood. To accentuate the gills, I dub a shaggy patch of bright red chopped nylon or imitation seal. Angora goat and a host of other fibers are suitable.

A subtle amount of flash is important. A sculpin pattern can work decently, at times, in spite of being too flashy but will work more consistently if it bounces light with about the same intensity as the natural. For my fly, I use a few strands of Krystal Flash, tied in as an underwing to simulate the bounce of light from a sculpin’s side scales as it moves.

You can fish Chuck’s Sculpin on a floating or sinking-tip line. Floating lines are best for shallow pocketwater and riffle sections that require quick casts and short drifts; sinking-tip lines are better for fishing deep holes. Give your fly time to sink before beginning your retrieve. Photo: Larry Javorsky

The sculpin’s body tapers from fat to skinny. A wide-cut, full rabbit strip suggests this taper when wet. (Typical skinny Zonker strips won’t work. Wide strips are often marketed as Magnum Zonker Strips.) It swims in the slightest current and holds its full shape in fast water. The rabbit strip for this fly must have sufficient hair volume to retain its bulk when wet. That’s more important than exact width. You can look for the proper characteristics in 1/4″ to 3/8″ pre-cut strips or tack out a full hide of rabbit, pre-dyed to a suitable sculpin color, and cut out some wide strips with an industrial razor knife. Set the blade

shallow so you don’t cut the hair. Ten minutes of cutting produces a lifetime supply of sculpin strips.

Spun deer hair that is loosely packed suggests the fins and head of the natural without being too buoyant. Deer hair, for whatever reason, catches fish. Spun wool, popular on other sculpin patterns, doesn’t fish like deer hair. Besides, casting a wet woolhead sculpin is a bit like casting a baby muskrat.

The challenge with using deer hair is keeping the pattern quick and simple. On some sculpin patterns, forming and trimming the deer-hair head is a process that seems to combine some obscure form of Oriental miniature art with veterinary surgery.

If your deer hair has fairly even tips while it is on the hide, you can skip stacking for the first stage of the head. This saves time, and the slightly varied hair ends won’t cost you any fish.

Finally, use thick thread. I like Danville Flymaster Plus or Gudebrod Super G. You need strength to handle the hair and to quickly cover the rest of the fly.

Continued after gallery…

 

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