Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jack Mitchell's Natural Sculpin Muddler

Jack Mitchell Photo - click to enlarge

As it is in politics, so it is in fly design: ‘obfuscation’ is a useful art. However, unlike in political designs, in wetfly designs it does serve us well as a prime element. 

I recently received a letter from writer Barry Craig, who makes the most artful stab I’ve heard yet at defining the end result of what I consider a good wetfly design. Barry describes it thus:

The flies you tie are a conundrum to me.  They combine elements of the redneck slime dripping Turtle Man holding a catfish in one hand, with the sophistication of James Bond checking his Omega clad in bespoke tuxedo.  They are rough shod, but not slip shod, part mongrel junkyard dog and part poodle with full AKC pedigree. Dry, they don't look like nothin' anything would want to eat, man or fish.  More akin to something badly in need of a shave. Wet, they resemble something the cat would dump on the doorstep after drowning it in the swamp.  No shave or a car wash could clean it up. Compare the classic Atlantic Salmon flies:  Some of Harry Lemire's or Haig-Brown's sold for $1,000 apiece, each in exotic case - they were too beautiful, too artsy to fish - and if you were to dangle one of them it would probably come back looking like Bond's car in Skyfall after it got shot up by Javier Bardem's helicopter.  Total loss.  Or just imagine Tammy Fay Baker washed up on the beach having been pounded by a tsunami.  There ain't enough therapy in a boatload of weed to make that image go away.

Say AMEN!”     ~Barry Craig

I couldn’t resist putting Barry Craig & Jack Mitchell together here, as they are both artists who share the knack for humor, & both are keen observers who possess a non-jaded childlike enthusiasm for our sport, which makes them pleasant to be around. That, & the fact I consider Jack’s Muddler a prime example of the utilitarian beauty of a well-considered, obfuscating, soft-hackle design meant to function as good bait, & appropriate to Barry’s description.   

As chief guide & owner of The Evening Hatch, Jack Mitchell spends more time on the water than most commercial fishermen I know, and there is no substitute for time on the water as inspiration to the creative fly-tying mind. As a fly designer, Jack is workmanlike in his approach, as his business/reputation depends on his ability to put his clients into fish. (This is a dude who clips the point off his dryfly hooks when he’s prospecting.) Jack designed his Sculpin pattern to fish steelhead, & fishes it swung, skated on top, or wet. I tried a version tied on #4-#6 TMC 200R hooks, without the stinger, & caught UC trout & Pend Oreille smallmouth with them.

I asked Jack Mitchell what he thinks makes a good wetfly pattern, & he graciously provides us with a succinct answer worth considering, & these elements are aptly reflected in the pattern he shares with us.

Elements of a good wet fly for trout:

-Realistic in size/coloration and at the same time impressionistic


-Combinations of natural and synthetic materials, of course with a bit of flash

-The ability to make sound/vibration utilizing spun hair; specifically on bigger flies

-Utilizing materials that trap air  - CDC, Antron etc...

~Jack Mitchell

Mitchell, we see, lines up with Leisenring on his first two points, which to my mind are the two most important elements of design. Jack Mitchell’s Sculpin Muddler illustrates his penchant for natural materials, yet he does not hesitate to expand on that, enhancing with synthetics. What Jack has to say about using spun hair to create sound & vibration gives rise to thought. I have long been convinced that the spun deer hair head of the Muddler Minnow is the key feature of that venerable pattern. And the Bow River Bugger is another great trout pattern incorporating a spun hair head…

Thanks for sharing those thoughts & the Sculpin recipe, Jack. And thanks for your thoughts on style, Barry. You are both saints standing in the same stream.

If you plan to fish steelhead or trout in Washington State & need a guide, Jack Mitchell will get you to the heart of the matter: www.theeveninghatch.comAnd if you are in the Seattle-Everett area finding it hard to stay in the game all day without downing a handful of ibuprophen, contact Barry Craig: optimalbodywork.net.   


  1. "I don't care who ya are, that's funny right there"

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Think that's funny you should have seen the stuff I edited out of it.