Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Squirrel & Brahma Muddler

     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 Ontario 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.

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 leon hackle tips

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 leon hackle tips tied in as a cheek, one on both sides of the wing             
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


  1. Thanks for the history and muddler variant. It spurred me to do further research on Gapen's original.
    Found a good article on Global FLy Fisherman. If I can gather all the materials, I'll give it a go. Hope to see you in CA this winter.


  2. Hey Keith. Yes, that is a good article. Gapen's original looks like somebody's first effort at tying.

    And good idea. I'm about ready to check in with Uncle Ron & see what's cookin.

  3. Happily stumbled onto the SHJ a few months ago. The flies and prose are soul nourishing, and I look forward to every new entry. I am a two handed, swinging fly junkie who lives too far from the closest steelhead, can't afford to fish for Atlantics, and must settle for getting most of my pulls from smallmouths and the odd brown and rainbow. The Squirrel and Brahma Muddler led me to tie a (slight) variant I call the Highland Hammer, a nod to the old Scottish styles that heavily influence the ugly bits of fur and feather that come out of my vise. Fun to tie, a delight to cast, and so far, murderously effective on my local trout. If I can locate your address, I'll drop one in the mail. Many thanks for the ongoing inspiration!

    Alan Yuodsnukis
    Brunswick, Maine

  4. Alan, thanks for reading & commenting. Glad to hear the S&B Muddler is working for you. Sure, would love to see your version.
    5152 Northport-Waneta Rd.
    Colville, WA 99114