Southwest Fly Fishing

By Nick Granato

Over my 20 years of fly tying, I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told, “Great tie, but I think it should be sparser,” or “Maybe tie it a little less bulky.”
   I mulled over many such suggestions, but “sparser” doesn’t describe the critters I’m trying to imitate with many of my flies. Without question, thin and sparse patterns are great for certain types of flies: leeches and annelids and some dry flies. Many invertebrates we try to mimic with our flies are indeed quite slender. But fish also eat many comparatively rotund critters, such as cicadas, beetles, crawdads, mice, and, of course, my personal favorites, sculpins. Often fish seem to prefer these bigger, fatter foods, which obviously make for a bigger meal and more calories than daintier fare. 
   One evening, while sitting at my tying desk, studying pages and pages of online reference material about sculpins, one word kept coming to mind: chubby. Sculpins are chubby. Their widely recognized shape derives from a massive head and very large, pronounced pectoral fins. Bigger fish recognize sculpins and key on them as food; at times, in fact, big trout and smallmouth bass hunt the shallows in low light looking for sculpins. So a fly pattern that truly matches a sculpin’s shape can be highly effective. In fact, to my way of thinking, any so-called sculpin pattern that doesn’t have the teardrop shape of the real fish is not truly a sculpin pattern, but just a generic baitfish pattern.
   In addition to proper shape, I think a sculpin pattern needs other important attributes, and in designing the Chubby Muffin Sculpin I tried to account for all of these factors. First, it must be dressed in a way that allows you to cast it on a 4- or 5-weight rod suitable to many trout streams; if I need to break out the 8-weight just to cast a sculpin pattern to trout, I’m divesting myself of some of the fun in trout fishing. Moreover, an effective sculpin fly must sink to the bottom, but not drop like a rock—real sculpins don’t sink like lead weights—and also have lots of built-in movement, especially in the tail section, so the fly looks like a swimming fish. Last but not least, a sculpin fly should ride hook-point up, because sculpins live on the bottom and that’s where you usually fish them, and the inverted hook means far fewer snags.
   It’s not that easy to create a fly that holds its shape in the water without sacrificing movement and castability, or to create a fly that sinks properly without sacrificing action. 
   So each material in the Chubby Muffin Sculpin has a purpose; no cosmetics on this fly. The rabbit-strip tail is durable and, of course, very mobile in the water. The tail flash and dubbing clump serves to seat the rabbit strip and stabilize the throat and fins. The underbody of palmered schlappen and the pectoral fins made of partridge help create and maintain the sculpin shape. But the most important feature of the Chubby Muffin Sculpin is the spun craft-fur head. Unlike two of the oft-used sculpin pattern head materials—deer hair that floats and wool that sinks—craft fur is naturally buoyant, and flies dressed with this material are easy to cast. The head wicks water, shedding it quickly when you cast and soaking it up quickly when in the water. That means easy casting, but also makes the fly sink effectively without the need for much additional weight. The Chubby Muffin Sculpin has proven to be the complete package in a sculpin imitation.
   Since its inaugural real-world trials, this fly has been a great producer, and a day-saver when fishing is tough. I’ve made few modifications to my original design, but I do tie variations, with some interesting results. I’ve applied the tying materials and concepts of the Chubby Muffin to create patterns to mimic gobies, large tadpoles, and—surprisingly—even crawfish. Let your own creativity run wild with this concept, and no doubt you’ll come up with even more variations that will prove their value on the water. 

 

Step 1: Over a base of thread, tie the eyes onto the top of the hook. In this position, the eyes will invert the fly when you fish it.

 

Step 2: Secure strands of Flashabou extending back from the hook bend, then create a clump of SLF dubbing over the tie-down point for the Flashabou.

 

Step 3: Tie in the schlappen feather and wrap it forward to midshank, tie off, and clip away excess. Secure a partridge (or hen) feather on each side, cupped forward, to form the pectoral fins.

 

Step 4: Pierce the rabbit strip with a bodkin and slide it over the hook point and down to the dubbing clump at the rear of the fly. Seat it firmly, then tie down the front end of the strip just behind the eyes.

 

Step 5: Separate out several clumps of craft fur, then cut each clump to about 2 inches in length. Wax a dubbing loop, then spin the craft fur into the loop. Wrap the loop forward, winding it through the eyes in a figure-eight pattern, and progressing forward to just behind the hook eye. Tie off the loop and cut away the excess. Brush out the craft fur, trim the bottom flat, and trim the head to shape.

 

Step 6: Use permanent markers to color the head

 

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