As a nearly universal food item of stream trout, & larger trout, I can think of no more important form than the freshwater sculpin, or muddler. Don Gapen tied the original Muddler Minnow in 1937, to simulate the sculpin big
brook trout were feeding on. Gapen’s muddler patterns were entirely innovative,
tied with a heavy squirrel tail topping extended well beyond the hook bend, &
a turkey quill over-wing nearly as long. It looked like something the cat
dropped on the porch & was not the neat, trimmed, bullet-headed rendition popularized
by Dan Bailey, the version common in catalogs today, short winged & nearly
or altogether devoid of the trailing squirrel tail. Bailey wanted to give the
fly more floatation so that it would fish as a grasshopper, the story goes.
Gapen did not pack or trim the deer hair head, which no doubt aided in sinking
the fly. The original Muddler Minnow,
in form, more closely resembles the
creations of Kelly Galloup than it does the neat, sparse, Dan Bailey version. Ontario
A few of the things I think contribute to the effectiveness of Don Gapen’s original Muddler Minnow:
It is not overly large, generally tied in #4 & smaller. Using traditional wetfly standards of proportion, more or less, a #4 3xlong hook produces a one & three quarter/two inch long fly, the size of many species of freshwater sculpin at maturity. That & smaller are the sizes most often eaten by foraging trout. O sure. You’ll catch a big brown on that four inch long doll-eyed bunny version, put in the time, or you live in Big Trout Paradise. But in the places most of us fish, most of the time, a less invasive muddler will catch everything, while still possessing enough ju-ju to entice the big boys – & is a lot more pleasant to cast.
The simple gold tinsel body of Gapen’s design is genius, the designer understood that, in this case, the sum of the components, altogether, comprise the actual ‘body’ of the muddler. The tinsel wound hook shank adds flash, & also becomes the lower flank lateral coloration, which is often pale gold through shades of yellow/bronze in natural sculpin – & less bulk to buoy the fly, helping it sink & stay down.
Excellent material choices & coloration withstanding, probably the most effective feature of the Muddler Minnow is its profile. The squirrel tail hairwing of the original provides action & mass, as well as the barred pattern displayed on naturals. The broad pinto pattern on the turkey quill overwing (which used to puzzle me, for want of something to better match the sculpin of my home water), perfectly matches the girdled patterns found on many sculpin species, & probably the one Gapen meant it to fish for. But the prime element is the flared deer hair head, which, when wet, serves to give the Muddler Minnow the characteristic sculpin profile, which I believe, is the key to the success of the muddler-style patterns.
I love tying, looking at, & fishing muddlers. The style is effective in a number of variations, & in colorations ranging from realistic to fanciful. I would elect Don Gapen’s Muddler Minnow as one of the most out-of-the-box, influential fly patterns of all time. Though the Squirrel & Brahma Muddler featured here is a departure from the original, it remains true to the original design values. I’ve had very good results with this one – UC redband, steelhead & smallmouth bass too.
Squirrel & Brahma Muddler
Hook: #4-#6 3xlong or up-eye salmon/steelhead style (I like TMC 200R as well)
Thread: Tan UNI 8/0
Tail: Two coq de
Body: Copper tinsel with a short thorax of dubbed squirrel – then add a turn of dubbing after the toppings are tied in, which is essential to flare the hackle collar for the muddler profile
Topping: Olive bucktail topped with squirrel tail, a bit shorter than the bucktail – then two coq de
tied in as a cheek, one on both sides of the wing leon
Head: One brown pheasant rump hackle, then four brahma hen hackles, then a nose of dubbing taken from the base of a squirrel tail, dubbed in a loop of the tying thread ~ & finish.
Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird: http://ucflyfishing.blogspot.com