I am getting pretty tired of the Arctic vortex, and the snow, sleet and freezing rain that comes with it. One way I make it through this bad weather is by tying flies and thinking about spending time on my favourite water fishing for trout.
I am often asked about my favourite fly patterns for trout fishing and, if I had to limit my selection to one fly, which one I would choose. With the thousands of fly patterns out there you would think that could be a difficult task but not for me. My choice would be an easy one. The fly would be a muddler minnow.
Take a look in any Pictou County angler’s fly box and there is a good chance that you will find an assortment of muddler minnows, or its modifications, in a variety of sizes. The muddler minnow, some would say, is the best trout fly ever invented and there are few who would argue with this statement.
Famed angling writer the late Joe Brooks was a great fan of the muddler and its greatest promoter. In a 1963 story he wrote for Outdoor Life magazine Brooks gave the history of the fly and its development. Don Gapen tied the first muddler minnow when fishing the Nipigon River in Ontario. He tied the fly in an attempt to imitate a freshwater sculpin. The minnow had a broad, flat head and a tapered body that he was able to imitate using deer hair combined with a grey squirrel tail and a turkey-wing tail.
Gapen tied the fly in several sizes and fished them in a variety of methods. Smaller sizes he fished like dry flies while larger sizes were fished as streamers, casting out into the current and fishing the fly back with short strips to imitate a wounded minnow. In eddies he would let the fly drift until the water grabbed the fly and dragged it into the current.
The muddler minnow imitates wide variety of trout food and that is the key to its effectiveness. Besides the minnow, when tied in large sizes, it is a fair representation of a mouse, in a smaller size it can imitate a caddis or stonefly.
Joe Brooks called the muddler minnow as the best all-around fly of its kind that he had ever used and he always carried an assortment in his vest from No. 10 all the way up to 1/0. He suggested that it was most effective in later in the season when big fish were on a feeding spree as they prepared for winter.
The Original Muddler Minnow
Tail: Small section of mottled turkey quill
Body: Gold tinsel wrapped over 2/3 of hook shank
Wing: Underwing of grey squirrel covered with paired strips of mottled turkey quill
Head: Deer hair spun and trimmed. Clip front to shape and leave a collar of hair at the back
When tying up some muddlers this winter try using caribou hair instead of deer hair in the head. I find it easier to work with and it also floats better. Whether you fish the original or its modifications, make sure you have an assortment of muddlers, in a variety of sizes, in your fly box. Day in and day out it will bring fish to the net.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.