Afield with Friends: The incredible muddler minnow

“If I had only one fly to fish with the rest of my life, I would chose the remarkable muddler minnow,” I said while presenting an annual fly fishing program in western Pennsylvania.

At the conclusion of the program, an elderly gentleman, who had all the hallmarks of a well-seasoned fly fisherman, took me to task on my statement.

“It has to be the famous spent-wing adams,” he said.

That’s the advantage to indulge in a sport that has more experts than Capitol Hill.

To place a fly at the top of the chart, you have to consider the facts – do you want to fish dry flies, or do you want to catch fish?

We may want to catch fish, but choosing a fly that has all the ear-marks of consistently attracting the attention of many species of fish – in this case trout, bass and saltwater species – then it is safe to make judgements.

And, placement at the top of the list should not be a choice based on our love of how we prefer to cast a fly, selecting our favorite hatch or spending your years fishing several streams.

The top choices should attract fish during the most extreme water temperatures conditions so common in limestone, freestone and saltwater and have stood the test of time in all parts of the world that have many variations of habitat.

The muddler minnow, fished properly, will clean out a stream. It is one of many well designed imitations that represents small sculpins, stone cats and small minnows whose tissue is high in protein content. It is the choice food of aquatic vertebrates.

The choice of materials chosen to represent the muddler was well thought out. The secondary feathers of a mature gobbler, placed down-wing along the hook shank, represent the mottled dorsal pattern bar configuration of a true native sculpin’s dorsal area, and the tail matches these colors.

I like to tie the body with embossed gold tinsel. The patterns first wrap in front of the abdomen to represent gills, and the clipped, rounded or flat deerhead head completes the fly.

It serves the serious muddler angler well to study the characteristics of a muddler, particularly the swimming actions that mimic the motion of a sculpin.

Drop a specimen on the surface of the water and their immediate reaction is to swim downward – tail up – as it tries desperately to find a safe haven beneath a rock in the bottom of the stream.

To duplicate that reaction, you must attach two or more BB-size shot tied against the hook eye. That will force the head of your imitation to swim downward toward the stream’s bottom, imitating the true motion of a sculpin.

As the imitation nears the rocky bottom, a soft-tipped rod will allow the fly to be retrieved in an undulating (rolling) cripple motion toward the water’s surface. You are imitating the animal behavior that predators (fish) find difficult to resist.

That’s the secret to becoming an outstand muddler fisherman. Repeat the process as you work up and down through the pool.

A 3/4 cast to the head of the pool or fast water will give the fly time to get to the bottom where the trout are located.

The muddler is so adaptable that, fished tightly against a protective grassy bank, it will imitate a grasshopper as it flops in the water. Even better, tie a beetle, ant or San Juan worm imitation as a dropper to the bend of your hook.

Try fishing the muddler in your favorite stream in eastern or western waters and you will discover the muddler is the best fly with which you’ve ever fished.