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Fly Tier's Bench: How to Tie Egan's Poacher

A tutorial for tying this fantastic jigged sculpin imitation.

There’s little new under the sun, let alone something new in the fly-tying world, but I might pose jigged trout streamers as a caveated exception to that statement. While streamers have been tied on jig hooks for a long time by guys like Cliff Watts with his deadly Kilowatt pattern or Dan Blanton and his jigged Whistler series, these patterns have been exclusively limited to steelhead, salmon, and salt water and not directly toward our trouty friends. There could be a lot of reasons for this, the first of which comes to mind being the thought that jigged streamers don’t seem to hook fish that well when they’re being stripped fast. I recall having a conversation with the star of this column, Lance Egan, years ago where he relayed that he didn’t find that streamers tied on jig hooks connected reliably when being retrieved quickly, and that lined right up with my experience. but here we are again today, Lance and I, writing about jigged streamers for trout. What happened?

What happened was, fly-fishing competition guys like Egan and George Daniel (see page 48) figured out that you didn’t always need to strip a streamer to draw a trout’s attention. Sometimes a very slow, swinging and even hopping motion down deep was just what the fish were after. When I recently asked Egan about his statement regarding the hooking capability of stripped jigs, he gracefully backed off that statement. Of late, he has not found jig hooks to be the culprit if an angler isn’t hooking up on stripped flies, which was a polite way of saying he has just gotten a lot better at it.

Egan, a shining if not so young face in the world of competition angling and no slouch behind the vise, has debuted his latest jig-hook streamer offering, and dubbed it the Poacher. It is not only a compelling fly to tie and fish, but the logic and thought process behind it are interesting as well.

I must admit, my first glance at a Poacher made me think of it as a leech pattern, and Egan agrees with that resemblance in regard to the black version. However, the olive version, Egan’s favorite, was purposely built to imitate the small sculpins in his local waters. His tying procedure is straightforward and does indeed seem to allow the pattern to cross over as a leech pattern with the same tying and fishing process, but the beauty of it, I think, is in the actual design.

Sculpins—small, almost flattened baitfish found in many trout rivers—have a disproportionately large and flat head and a rapidly tapering body, along with very prominent pectoral fins. They’ve been imitated by scores of patterns throughout history, but Egan’s pattern has gone about aping them in a whole different way.

Egan started by using an Umpqua XC400 jig hook, a chassis more than stout enough to get the job done, and installed a heavy black tungsten bead up front, followed with a dozen wraps of lead wire to ensure the fly stays near the bottom. He opted for a strip of pine squirrel for the tail/body, a decision I have absolutely no argument with. Squirrel strips have long been regarded as near magical in their “swimminess” and are a clear and perfect choice in this application, especially with a few pearlescent strands of Ripple Ice Dub lashed under the hide to mimic the belly of a natural sculpin.

Where Egan went off the conventional fly design rails was on the head, which could be easily confused with what we tiers would call the body, so you’ll have to stick with me here. Remember when I mentioned that sculpins have a rapidly tapering head and body shape? Egan creates the head of the fly using coarse Arizona Mega Simi Seal Dubbing twisted in a dubbing loop and wrapped over the entire hook shank to build a perfect silhouette of that large, flat head without unnecessary density and weight. He brushes the dubbing out to the sides after a quick haircut to form the blocky flat head shape, and finishes it off with a large, mottled soft hackle collar to replicate those big clown-like pectoral fins. The result is a fly that is far better designed and more accurate than your first look might indicate. The end product is a small, dark, heavy fly that has a slinky, tapered body being led around behind a wide, flat head that plummets right to the bottom and mimics the exact shape of its mentor. It becomes readily apparent when you fish this fly what a dead nuts ringer it is for a real sculpin, and that sort of thing always ups my confidence immensely.

Egan says he fishes the Poacher in a few different ways. In a Euro rig, he uses a leader built from 0.007" monofilament tethered to 4X to 6X tippet. The light tippet helps the fly to sink quickly and allows him to stay in contact with the fly throughout the drift. The light tippet, with its smaller surface area, is also less influenced by the faster surface currents.

He also occasionally fishes the Poacher like a “normal” streamer, on a floating, sinking-tip, or full-sinking line on 0X to 2X tippet, and says it is especially deadly when fished three to four feet behind a larger, more visible streamer like a Sparkle Minnow. He’d probably really like it behind my Swim Coach, but that’s undoubtedly too complicated for him to tie on his own. Finally, Egan is also a big fan of the Poacher under an indicator in lakes and stillwaters with a leech or chironomid above it. Egan makes this fly sound pretty darn versatile and knowing how many fish this guy catches, I tend to believe him.


Egan's Poacher Recipe

  • HOOK: #8-12 Umpqua XC400.
  • BEAD: Black slotted tungsten, 4mm for #10 and #12 hooks, 4.5mm for #8.
  • WEIGHT: 0.020" lead wire.
  • THREAD: Olive 8/0 Veevus.
  • BODY: Sculpin olive pine squirrel strip.
  • BELLY: Mother of Pearl Ripple Ice Dub.
  • HEAD: Dirty olive Arizona Mega Simi Seal dubbing.
  • LEGS: Whiting coq de León  hen saddle dyed olive.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Egan's Poacher

A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 1.
  1. Begin by mounting the bead onto the hook and wrapping a dozen turns of lead wire. Place a drop of Super Glue on the front of the lead wraps, then shove them into the back of the bead to lock everything in place. Start the thread behind the lead wraps and build a smooth transition from the bare shank up to the diameter of the lead. Dress the hook with a smooth layer of thread from behind the bead to slightly down the bend of the hook.
A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 2.
  1. Tie in a squirrel strip that is two to two and a half times as long as the shank. Start wrapping at the back of the lead and to slightly around the bend. The squirrel should be tied in with the leather side facing up as this jigged fly rides hook point up in the water.
A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 3.
  1. Tie in a small clump of Mother of Pearl Ripple Ice at the center of its length just behind the lead wraps. Fold it back and wrap over it to the base of the squirrel strip. Form a 6-inch-long dubbing loop with the tying thread, and place your dubbing spinner in the loop to hold it open.
A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 4.
  1. Cut a clump of Arizona Mega Simi Seal in half to shorten the fibers. Slide them into the loop from the top to the bottom, taking care to not overdo it. Spin the whirl to create a shaggy dubbing rope.
A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 5.
  1. Wrap the dubbing rope in concentric turns up to the back of the bead and tie it off. Clip the excess. Use a stainless-steel ripper brush to shag out the dubbing and free any trapped fibers. Brush all of the dubbing up from the sides of the fly on each side so it is swept up above the hook.
A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 6.
  1. Use a sharp pair of scissors to make an angled cut, leaving the fibers longer at the front of the hook and shortest at the bend.
A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 7.
  1. Use the brush to splay the fibers back out along the sides of the hook, forming this tapered head shape when viewed from underneath.
A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 8.
  1. Select a coq de León hen saddle feather and create a separation point at the tip. Tie the feather in by the tip just behind the bead, then fold the hackle fibers rearward. Make two turns with the feather, tie it off, then clip the excess. Lift the hackle fibers on the top of the shank and trim them flush with the dubbing to create a flat-bottomed fly.
A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 9.
  1. Apply a tiny bit of the body dubbing and build a narrow collar behind the bead to cover the thread work. Whip-finish by letting the wraps slide off the back of the bead into the tiny space between it and the dubbing. Clip the thread and add a little head cement.
A step in a fly-tying tutorial; a fly in a vise.
Step 10.
  1. Use a black Sharpie marker to make bands on the leather side of the squirrel strip. This is the finished fly, top view. Note the wide head, the hackle fiber pectoral fins, and the quickly tapering body.

Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado. He is the author of four books, most recently Tying Streamers: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books, 2020).

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