With the muddler minnow gaining its world-famous reputation on the Nipigon River in Canada. Don Gapen was the fly fisher who first tied the muddler on his boat bench. Gapen’s muddler became very well known throughout the fly fishing world, and he was soon tying up orders for his friends and fellow fly fishers.
This isn’t the easiest fly in fly tying pattern, so give it some practice. The original muddler minnow pattern used mottled turkey wing quills and squirrel tail for the wing and tail. Over the years, there have been many hybrid versions of the muddler, and the below step by step is a version that has worked very well for me. In the below version, the tail and wing are replaced with zonker fibres and marabou feathers as the wing.
- Hook: Grip long shank size #6 -#14
- Thread: Griffiths Sheer 14/0, 10 thread denier
- Tail: Red zonker fibres
- Body: Crystal Chennile in black, body gold or silver
- Wing: Orange marabou feathers or braid underwing gray squirrel tail
- Flash: Peacock herl, gold tinsel flash
- Head: Cookshill coastal deer hair, brown
Check out our recommendations for the best fly tying kit here.
How To Tie a Muddler Minnow Fly Step-by-Step
Lock your hook in the vice, making sure it is secure and not too close to the tip of the jaws, as the hook may slip when you apply tension to it. I advocate using barbless hooks where possible to ease the removal and minimise the damage done to the fish.
Start by tying a good thread base on your long shank hook. Finish with your fly tying thread at the rear of the hook just before the bend.
Tie in a good bunch of red zonker strip hair. Make sure you tie it in securely, trim off the excess hair, and neaten up the shank with your thread.
Tie in your crystal flash; in this example, I’m using the cactus chenille black. Wrap the chenille forward, palming any fibres backwards, finishing off about 2/3rds up the hook shank.
For the underwing, many muddlers vary here, the quill wing is traditionally used, but I like to use the marabou as the wing with some gold tinsel and peacock herl as attractors. Measure the marabou, so it just passes the tail length; this will ensure a realistic profile. Secure the flash again using the tail to measure the length.
For the spinning of the deer hair step, cut a clump of hair off your patch about the thickness of the gape. This is always a good guideline. Put the hair through the hair stacker to get the tips all aligned. This is important for the first spinning stage as we are creating a collar and won’t be trimming all the tips. Once stacked, lay the hair on the top of the hook shank and apply two loosish wraps around the deer hair. Gently tension the thread around and allow the hair to spin around the hook. Palmer the hair back and bring your thread through the hair, and secure this process with three tight wraps around the hook.
Repeat this process moving forward. Try and get a dense stack of hairs; I usually get three rounds of spinning on this size fly.
Once the hair is spun and you have reached the hook eye, secure the thread and whip finish to complete.
For the trimming stage, it’s completely up to you have you like to cut your deer hair. I found a double-edge razor blade the best as I can get a great profile. This method does take some practice, but once you have it dialled in, your profiling will be amazing. Curve the blade and slowly trim the hair to create the collar and head. Make sure you leave the collar of tips out, as this gives the fly its water pushing ability. It also ensures the profile of the baitfish flows and looks real.
Once you have your basic profile, you can use your scissors to neaten up the head and any loose hairs that you missed with the blade.
Summarized step by step
- Secure hook in the vice. Start with a solid thread base.
- Tie in red zonker tail.
- Wrap crystal flash body forward, stopping 2/3rd up the shank.
- Tie in the underwing of marabou and tinsel.
- Spin the deer hair towards the hook eye.
- Whip finish.
- Trim hairs down to the correct muddler profile.
About The Muddler Minnow
The Muddler Minnow is one of the most popular streamer patterns for fly fishing throughout the US and further afield. Let’s explore where the history of the Muddler, plus why it’s so popular!
Origins of The Muddler Design
First created by Don Gapen while camping out in the wilderness of the Nipigon River, it was designed to lure in the big brook trout in the area. One of the main sources of forage in this area is the sculpin, which Gapen tried to recreate using deer hair, mottled turkey feathers, and a gold or silver body.
Since this time, the Muddler’s popularity has shot through the roof. It’s rare to find a fly fisher who doesn’t know, use, and love this handy little fly.
Don Gapen grew up in an outdoorsy family who ran a fishing resort on Hungry Jack Lake in the Boundary Area Canoe Waters Wilderness. It’s safe to say that fly fishing was second nature for him, as he spent most of his time on and around the water as a child and teen. When his family opened a second resort on Nipigon River, Don Gapen managed it for them, and it was here that he was inspired to create the Muddler Minnow.
After watching First Nations guides demonstrate the importance of the sculpin as local forage for the brookies in the area, Gapen wanted to fish a fly that would imitate these baitfish. While camping out on the river, he set to work with the materials in his tackle box to create a convincing fly.
(Interesting fact: the Gapen family continues to run a tackle company selling spinning lures and the iconic Minnow to this day. Gapen’s son, Dan D. Gapen, is currently CEO.)
Why The Muddler is So Popular
The Muddler has gone on to become a popular streamer pattern for many fly fishermen. Its enduring fame of the Muddler is mainly down to Dan Bailey, a famous fly angler and fly tier. He brought the Muddler to the attention of many anglers in the 1950s, causing its popularity to boom.
One of the key reasons for the Muddler’s popularity is the versatility of this classic pattern. You can use it to fish for all types of trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, steelhead, large grayling, Arctic char, and salmon.
See also our post on Trout Species to know more about the different types of trout.
It’s effective in both freshwater and saltwater, and you’ll get excellent results, no matter where you are or what kind of water you’re fishing.
How to fish the Muddler Minnow Fly
The muddler minnow is best fished as a single fly. The attractor or search pattern style by casting and retrieving with a varied action usually does the job.
In the shallows, the muddler can be very deadly over the spring, especially if fished with a floating line and retrieved quite quickly.
Whichever way you choose to fish it, always be ready for the eat as they are usually fast and ferocious.
The Wrap Up
The Muddler Minnow is an essential fly pattern that every enthusiastic fly fisher should know about. Trusted and favored due to its versatility and effectiveness, the Muddler will catch you a lot of fish on any of your fly fishing trips.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this detailed guide to the Muddler pattern. If you found it helpful, why not share it on social? As always, feel free to drop a question or comment below, or get in contact by sending us an email. Don’t forget to read the other articles and reviews in our in-depth series on different fly patterns too!