Tying the Muddler Minnow Trout Streamer
By Allan Burgess
The muddler minnow is tied primarily as an imitation of a small fish. However, the muddler is considered by many to be a very versatile pattern that can represent almost any creature, from a freshwater crayfish at the bottom of the water to a grasshopper riding on the surface. The muddler makes a reasonable imitation of almost everything in between.
The muddler is frequently shied away from by many tiers because it is considered too difficult to tie. Its fancy clipped head, fashioned from deer hair, is an intimidating prospect to the uninitiated. However, once you’ve successfully tied a couple, you’ll discover, as I did, that the muddler is quite simple to create.
Let me assure any fly-tying novices out there that so long as your finished fly is of roughly the right proportions it will catch fish. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Trout will never know the difference! Putting your fly where fish can see it, along with the way it is worked on or through the water, is always more important than its exact shape or size. Indeed, some attractor fly patterns don’t actually represent any individual insect, but trout still go for them all the same.
I fish the muddler as a lure. In other words, I use it to imitate a bully or even a smelt. I have always tied mine on a Mustad 3666 in size 4. The new chemically sharpened hooks available today are so much better than the old 3666s. It’s a good idea to carry a couple of muddlers in the smaller sizes though. These can fill in for a variety of different insects.
Readers will have gathered by now that I’m not one to adhere rigidly to a particular pattern. Sometimes I make changes to speed up the tying process, and other times it just depends on which materials I have on hand.
The muddler can be tied from a wide range of materials and in many different colours.
Tackle stores regularly sell muddlers tied with soft Marabou feather tails and wings. These frizzy feathers impart the look of an old-fashioned feather duster to the fly, however once wet, the “wing” becomes alive with every movement through the water.
Green or yellow appears to be the favoured colours for these Marabou Muddlers, though I have seen them with red, orange and black wings. Just recently I was shown some that were tied in Australia that incorporated brown Marabou feathers. These bronze/brown ones definitely look like a real cock-a-bully!
Start by binding in the tail of a mottled brown turkey feather. You can also use pheasant tail feathers. Then wrap the hook two-thirds of the way back towards the eye with flat gold tinsel.
Bind on a wing above the hook shank with calf hair. I also use reddish-brown squirrel tail hairs for the streamer. Using a variety of toning really sets the muddler off and creates a first-class bully imitation. As you tie on the hair, try to keep the sides of the hook, with its gold tinsel showing.
Then tie, to the top of the hook, a wing formed from a folded slip of turkey or pheasant tail feather. It doesn’t matter too much how neat a job you do of this. The important thing is to try and get the proportions right.
Next, comes the fun part, the deer hair head and collar. It is this part that can seem the most daunting; though most difficulty is experienced in the trimming. It seems strange to tie on so much deer hair only to then cut most of it off. But when trimming the head to shape you tend to get a better result the more you cut off.
Deer hair is hollow. When you bind it to the hook, the hairs flare out in all directions. You can see from the photo that you need to bind heaps on to get a good result. It is important to keep the hair packed tightly. Only tie on a little at a time. I usually do the job with about six little bundles tied in one after the other.
A few turns made around the flared-out hair give added security, as does a good soaking of clear head cement applied close to the hook after each bundle of hair is tied in. The latter isn’t really necessary; it just depends on how fastidious you are. Finish the head with plenty of turns in front of the deer hair to lock it all in place.
Finally, pinch the hair down with your thumb and forefinger around the head. Then trim with scissors. Your thumb and finger prevent you from getting too carried away. A little practice soon makes perfect. Leave a few strands of deer hair behind the head as a collar. It will flare back along the hook. This covering of the wing adds a layering effect of different colours and is very effective.
It is better to cut off only a little hair at a time, to begin with. You can always pinch the sides again with your thumb and forefinger and cut off a bit more – which is easier than re-tying the head. If you do cut too much hair off don’t worry. Fish the fly anyway. I bet it will still catch a trout!
There you have it; the muddler minnow. Don’t be afraid to experiment. For an extra striking and life-like finished fly, try using two or three different shades of brown deer hair. You can also add a couple of different shades of brown calf tail to the streamer. A few white or yellow hairs also make a big difference. As does the squirrel hair mentioned earlier.
The muddler minnow is also an economical pattern to tie. The shaggy dog effect is a desirable one. The thing to remember is to keep an eye on the proportions. You want to keep the pattern compact, with only a little of the tail, streamer, and wing extending behind the bend of the hook.
It doesn’t hurt to use up odd bits and pieces of tying material in your muddler’s construction. I always do this. It’s part of the fun of tying your own!
Have a go at tying the muddler. A few of these in your fly box and you’ll be covered for just about any fishing situation. Many top angling writers have said that if they had to choose just one fly pattern to fish within every trout water in New Zealand then the Muddler Minnow would be the one they would choose! So versatile is this particular trout fly pattern.
Go for a bigger muddler in milky water, and a smaller version when the water is clear. Fish a very small muddler to smaller flighty trout from the shore, at places like Lake Lyndon, in the Coleridge group, or a brightly coloured version when trolling on one of the bigger lakes. The muddler has something for everyone. The muddler also makes a great summer cicada imitation to be fished on the surface when these insects are buzzing in the trees.
Don Gapen’s original Muddler Minnow
According to George Herter’s excellent, though dated, book Professional Fly Tying, Spinning and Tackle Making the Muddler Minnow was invented in 1955 by Don Gapen who, at that time, lived in Orillia, Ontario, Canada.
Don Gapen would fish the Nipigon River in north-western Ontario for the big double-figure brook trout that could be caught there back in those days. While camping one evening he watched a small party of Ojibway Indian guides catching darter and sculpin minnows after dark.
Their method was to tear off lengths of birch bark from nearby birch trees. These were then lit and set near the river’s edge to act as lanterns. The Indians then lifted rocks in the river and speared the small darting minnows with dinner forks. The minnows were later fished as dead baits for brook trout. They called these little bait fish “Cocatouse minnows.”
Don Gapen took one of the minnows back to camp and tied a dozen streamer flies to represent them. Don’s imitations were pretty rough, but nonetheless the next day he used them to take six brook trout weighing between 5 and 8 pounds.
The name Muddler Minnow comes from the scientific description of the sculpin family. Muddler is also the name used locally in that part of Canada for these small fish.
The original Muddler Minnow pattern from Don Gapen is as follows:
Tail: Brown mottled turkey wing feather tied in to finish even with the wing.
Wing: Gray squirrel tail hair in centre with mottled turkey wing feather segments on each side of it.
Hackle: Gray deer body hair tied on and left to flare out. It is tied on at the same time as the deer hair is tied on to form the head.
Head: Gray deer body hair clipped to form a rather flat head.
The Muddler is one of the most versatile of patterns. Tied on a size 1 or 2 lure hook it can represent a large bully. In this guise, it is cast across the stream allowed to sink and then retrieved in short tugs of a foot or so.
On Canterbury’s high country lakes a muddler also passes as a good cicada imitation over the summer months. A good place to try it is Lake Selfe. In high summer the cicadas make a tremendous noise all “singing” together.
The highly versatile Muddler can also be tied on a small size 10 or 12 hook and fished as a dry fly to imitate a number of insects.
A particularly popular variation of the Muddler Minnow is the Rabbit Muddler. This version features a wing of rabbit pelt which, when wet, has a very sinuous action indeed. Tie the body either from yellow Chenille or, for a very special fly, Mylar tubing.
The Rabbit Muddler is an excellent sea-run trout lure and has also been used very effectively over the years in Lakes Taupo and Rotorua for big rainbows. It has the same rabbit pelt strip as the Yellow Rabbit Lure.
There are now many variants of the muddler minnow sold in New Zealand tackle stores. Just what Don Gapen, or George Herter, would have made of these I’m not sure!
You can purchase Muddler Minnows from FlyShop.co.nz
This is one of the best videos on tying the Muddler Minnow by tightlinevideo.
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