The Muddler

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By Jason Tucker

It was a beautiful, bright day, the river running high and clean.

I was fishing near the mountainous junction of the Carolinas and Georgia on a beautiful trout stream and not having much luck. I caught a couple of small stockers on a nymph rig, but the bright sun and high water seemed to be keeping the bugs at bay, and the fish weren’t very active, either.

Halfway through the morning I missed a hook-set which sent my rig high into the rhododendrons lining the bank. I’m not as good of a climber as I used to be, thanks to evolution, so I snapped it off and considered my options. As I dug out my nymph box to re-tie, I spied a lone muddler minnow lying in the bottom of the pocket. I cut my leader shorter and tied it on rather than going through the rigamarole of tying up another two-fly dropper rig.

I wasn’t in what I would call classic streamer water, but rather, in a fast, broken cascade of the type that regularly punctuates these mountain streams. Never one to waste water, I started fishing the pockets before moving to the big hole above me. On the third cast a shadow moved, and then materialized into a good brown trout. I gave the fly a twitch and the take was explosive. It was as beautiful of a wild brown as I’ve seen anywhere.

DSC_5681I caught a couple more small fish after that, and screwed up the retrieve or hook-set on two more big fish, including one over twenty inches long, before it was time to go. I moved fish in every spot I fished with that muddler, and it saved what had been a slow morning.

I’m still getting to know the fishing in the South, but a couple observations I have are: these streams are chock full of sculpins, hardly anyone fishes sculpin patterns, and the fish here eat sculpins with wild abandon. I find that I have fallen into the habit of tying on a two-nymph rig automatically when I trout fish here, but every time I have tied on a muddler minnow the results have been similar.

There are as many sculpin patterns out there as there are tyers, but I would argue that a muddler minnow is still your best bet.

Nothing beats it for color, movement and profile. In sizes 2–6 it imitates the sculpins that trout eat like popcorn, even if bigger specimens are found in the river.

You can fish them in classic streamer fashion with a sink-tip line, but in fast, shallow mountain streams I find they are just as effective fished on a floating line and retrieved skating near the surface. You get the added benefit of getting surface action on a wet fly.

There are two styles of retrieve that seem to work best. Simply letting it swing across the current downstream is shockingly effective. When it hits the end of the swing, let it dangle for far longer than you might think. Even big fish can’t seem to let a muddler just hang there in the current.

The other retrieve is to toss it upstream and let it tumble through fast current, especially around boulders and through small cascades. Retrieve just fast enough to stay in contact with the fly and throw in small twitches. Throw in small appropriate mends to keep the fly sideways to the current. This is far more effective than stripping it straight back downstream. You will be shocked at the size and number of fish hanging out in fast, shallow water.

It’s too easy to fall into the mindset of just tying on a nymph rig every time you hit the water. Next time you are trout fishing the Southeast and the bite is slow, tie on a muddler and see what happens. Better yet, skip the nymph rig altogether and have an exciting day.

Here’s a great tying video!

Jason writes the fine blog Fontinalis Rising

Jason Tucker

Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “The Muddler

  1. Gary Lafontaine spent an entire fishing season using only the Muddler Minnow in all its sizes and variations. From sculpin to grasshopper to just something good to eat, I believe he caught just about as many trout with it as he did in any other year using his usual variety of flies.

  2. Great video. I ve never tied a muddle or spun deer hair, but I’m ready to give it a shot. Thanks for your time and effort.

  3. If your looking for a good fly to try go to Or is and try the Moto Minnow it’s a cone head streamer that has a lot more action than a muddlerminnow it imitates a sculpin it’s self I use this fly all year long and do great it comes in a light brown and dark.

  4. I had the exact same experience about a month ago on a mountain stream in New England. Same explosive take at the surface with a 15+” FAT beautiful brook trout.

  5. PA and NY trout love muddlers. I have found stripping with short quick jerks or long smooth strips work as well as swinging across the current. Many times when nymphs or other streamers get no results, the old muddler gets the fish striking.

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