The Kinky Muddler

The Kinky Muddler
Jonny King photo 

The Muddler Minnow is one of those archetypal fly patterns that reinvents itself each generation. While it began life as Don Gapen's sculpin imitation in the 1930s, the pattern evolved quickly to embrace countless variations sporting rabbit fur and marabou wings, and even spun wool heads for sinkability.


Modern streamers, such as Kelly Galloup's Zoo Cougar, similarly feature the signature fat spun deerhair head, first introduced by the Muddler. Saltwater tiers followed suit. Bill Catherwood's Giant Killer, Armand Courchaine's Mud Deceiver, Eric Leiser's Angus, and Lou Tabory's Snake Fly all exploit that same spun head with different wing and tail materials. There is obviously something to that head/body type that commands loyalty among tiers.

I stumbled onto my own Muddler variation by accident. I was tying a synthetic baitfish in the style of New Jersey's Steve Farrar, with blended Kinky Fiber high-tied on the top and bottom of the hook shank. I had been a little sloppy in inadvertently distributing much of the hair to the sides of the shank, and then got a little overly aggressive in trimming the fly. Oddly, what remained was a bushy head of synthetic fibers radiating 360 degrees around the hook shank like spun deer hair. Knowing I'd seen a similar effect elsewhere, I flipped through Bob Popovics's saltwater tying bible Pop Fleyes for a reference. On page 97 I found ita little squid 3D Fleye with Super Hair producing the same rounded, fuzzy effect. The light bulb went off.

My tying error opened up many possibilities for three-dimensional baitfish patterns. With Bob's 3D concept as a template, the Kinky Muddler evolved into a series of adaptable flies that can be customized to imitate many different kinds of prey. The key benefit to its construction is the action provided by its bulky, synthetic head, and supple, natural tail. Kinky Muddler variations have proven successful for Northeastern stripers, British pike, Baja roosterfish, and Florida snook and tarpon. And there are no doubt countless variations still on the horizon.


Tinkering With Success

The Muddler Minnow, of course, needs no "improvement," but there are benefits to creating a "spun" head with synthetic hair. Unlike hollow deer hair, synthetic hairs like Kinky Fiber (variously sold as Slinky Fiber or Synthetic Yak Hair) are solid and non-buoyant, so you can create a fly that sinks without adding weight. And unlike opaque deer hair, Kinky Fiber is translucent. The colors typically sold as "white" or "off white" visually wash out in the water, effectively mimicking the see-through characteristic of so many prey species.


A mixture of different colors of Kinky Fiber blends beautifully to create all kinds of highly imitative hues, and also mixes well with fine-fibered flash, such as Angel Hair, allowing you to create just the right level of shine in your flies. You just can't get this natural-looking effect from mixing dyed deer hair.

Synthetic hair also provides key mechanical advantages. Because the hair isn't really "spun" perpendicular to the hook shank, but rather layered back on itself at a 45-degree angle, it blends seamlessly with the tail and wing materials to create an uninterrupted baitfish profile.

Whereas a spun deerhair head is usually separated from the rest of the body by a dramatic change in materials or a protruding collaras in the traditional Muddler or a bass bugthe Kinky Fiber is left trailing back over and around the tail materials, creating a smooth transition from head to tail. That veil of Kinky Fiber skirting around the hackle, bucktail, or fur tail also helps ensure that those soft materials do not foul around the hook bend.

Kinky Fiber tied and trimmed this way is also inherently fuzzy and irregular, unlike the smooth surface of tightly spun deer hair. While aesthetically more "messy," that unevenness enhances the action of the fly. Water washing over the 3D head as it swims through current is diverted into all kinds of mini-currents and turbulence that make the tail materials wiggle and kick just like a real baitfish. The fat head/skinny tail swimming effecta classic fly-tying trick exploited by lots of patternsis exaggerated by the rough texture of the head.

//imomags.com/flyfisherman/files/2011/06/img1-FFMP-110300-KINKY-02rev1.jpg
Instead of the hi-tie technique which builds tall but narrow baitfish profiles, the author's V-tie style allows you to build Muddler-style heads using synthetic materials.photo Jonny King

Heads or Tails

Having demonstrated the Kinky Muddler for a number of years at various tying events, I'm always amused how even commercial tiers seem mystified by the fly's construction and shaping until they see how simple the head is to make. The typical synthetic hi-tie is constructed by attaching clumps of hair to the top or bottom of the hook shank, and then folding the material back over itself. The limitation of that technique is that it creates a tall, top-to-bottom head with little width.

The Kinky Muddler, on the other hand, is a deliberately wide-headed pattern. The purpose of the width is not only to create the currents and action described above, but also to push some water and imitate round or cylindrical baits such as mullet, mackerel, and chubs.

In order to achieve that width, it is more efficient to "V-tie" the materialsin other words, trap the hair crosswise on the shank, with the rear half of the fibers laying back toward the bend on the near side of the shank, and the forward half leaning toward the hook eye on the far side of the shank. Fold the forward-facing fibers back on the far side of the shank to create the V of fibers, with each leg of the material angling back on either side of the shank. The V-tie, illustrated in the step-by-step photos, helps distribute materials evenly to both sides of the shank, ensuring not only height but width in the head.

Trimming to a smooth baitfish shape is easy with one simple trick. Once the shank is filled the Kinky Fiber, squeeze the head top and bottom between your thumb and forefinger to force the fibers out to each side evenly. Trim both sides with scissors, cutting a baitfish shape around the edges of your thumb. Then, switch planes, and squeeze the head side-to-side to distribute fibers evenly up and down. Again trim along the edges of your thumb to define the top and bottom surfaces of the head. These four base cuts establish the basic shape of the head. Completing the head is then just a matter of refined snips to taper the boxy head to a conical shape.

The fly performs best with complementary tail materials and construction. Using straight synthetic materials for the tail has yielded mediocre results for me, resulting in a fly that rides too high and has inadequate wiggle.

Natural tail materials provide better taper and mobility. While lots of materials work, nothing has proven as effective as simple bucktail topped by saddle hackles. And while I've tried every possible orientation for the saddlesfrom Deceiver style, to flatwing, to splayedby far the most effective tail has tented saddles, with the feathers tied on each side of the bucktail at a 45-degree angle, with their top edges touching like the top of a pup tent. Not only does this assembly transition smoothly from the head to create the dorsal profile of a baitfish, but it leaves a hollow cavity beneath the feathers. Water forced over the head fills that cavity and makes the feathers wiggle just like the tail of a real baitfish.

With the exception of bendback variations, I use only short-shank hooks for this pattern, because the synthetic head represents, by design, only a small percentage of the body length; it's there for the mass up front but should not define the whole baitfish body.

If you will use the fly for fish requiring fast strips, such as roosterfish, a heavy-wire hook like an Owner Aki ensures that the fly tracks and keels properly, and won't ride up unnaturally. For slow backcountry presentations to largemouth bass or snook in heavy, shallow cover, a lighter-wire hook keeps the fly higher in the water column. An Owner Mosquito, for example, is not only light and strong, but has an offset that causes Kinky Muddlers to bob left and right on the retrieve.

Continued after gallery...

  

//imomags.com/flyfisherman/files/2011/06/img2-FFMP-110300-KINKY-132.jpg
Using the V-tie technique, you can create (clockwise from upper right) squid, bendback baitfish, bunker, and floater/divers. photo Jonny King

Variations

In addition to the basic pattern outlined in the accompanying step-by-step photos, the Kinky Muddler can be easily customized for different applications. For less cylindrical baitfish, such as shad, alewives, bunker, and sardines, use less aggressive V-ties to distribute more hair top and bottom. Since you lose width this way, and some of the corresponding currents created by a fat head, use the softest tail material possible. I prefer Arctic fox tail, which twitches with the tiniest movement, just like the little rubbery tail of a peanut bunker.

At the other end of the spectrum, an all-black version with extra-long saddles makes a good, undulating eel imitation. An olive-over-white pattern can be dotted with black marker to mimic a rainbow trout, or striped vertically to copy a baby yellow perchdeadly on pike.

For a relatively weedless fly to throw in floating grass, downed timber, or mangroves, tie the pattern bendback style, with bucktail trailing over the hook eye and the head spun on the bent portion of the shank. Unlike other versions, the bendback requires a longer-shank hook. This style is not only relatively snagproof, but also works well for surf casting, because the inverted hook doesn't get dulled by repeated dragging through the sand. For a floating/diving version, install a triangle of doubled-up foam at the beginning of the head. The foam functions like the stiff collar on a Dahlberg Diver, keeps the fly in the surface film, and causes the fly to dive with a sharp strip.

Finally, returning to my original inspiration for the fly brought me back to squid patterns, which require a long cylindrical body. With saddles or ostrich herls for tentacles, the technique of V-ties top and bottom, combined with varying bands of colors, creates the perfect imitation of a translucent squid body. Other creative tiers have shown me shrimp and various warmwater variations I'd never even considered. Try using the techniques in this article to come up with your own Kinky Muddler variations best suited to your home fishery.

Jonny King is a fly fisher, jazz pianist, and attorney. He lives in New York City.

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