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Fishin’ the Sculpin

What does the Bug of the Month Blog and my hookset have in common?  Occasionally they are very late.  My apologies for the delay in getting this month’s Bug of the Month blog posted. No excuses! 

Our Bug of the Month for March is from the family of baitfish: the sculpin.  While the sculpin has some characteristics of other baitfish, and is often fished like other types of streamers, it has enough differences to make them rather unique.

What Makes the Sculpin Unique

When we consider the characteristics of the sculpin in its natural setting, we want to look at its habitat and its behavior.

Sculpins are bottom-feeding baitfish, so they are going to hug the rocks and river beds. In fact, sculpins lack an air bladder so they do not have the natural buoyancy of other baitfish. Because sculpins are built to hug the bottom, they have a large head tapering to a narrow, flattened body.

They are not built for speed. They are relatively poor swimmers, so when they do move from the bottom, their movement is in relatively quick bursts of short distances. Their large pectoral fins, almost fanlike, allow them to steady themselves even in the fastest waters.

Because they are a predatory feeder, they will dislodge from the rocks to eat insect larva. Their movement is a quick movement up from the rocks, a short drift, and a return to the river bed.

How to Fish It

Because of the natural movement of the sculpin, the more standard method of stripping a streamer is not always productive. What does pay off with aggressive strikes is to have short and very quick bursts with your technique.

Steve Maldonado, a guest presenter at our recent Hootenanny, said that sculpins are most vulnerable when they make that initial upward break from the bottom of the river.  The key is to let your sculpin sink, tick along the bottom, and then give that quick 8”-10” strip to get the sculpin to dart up from the bottom. An angler is likely to get a strike right way.

If not, let the pattern drift a bit, sink to the bottom, and then start the cycle again. Instead of longer presentations and more consistent retrieves of other streamer patterns, the more authentic presentation of the sculpin is short casts with swift strips.

If you are sight fishing, drop your heavily weighted sculpin three feet in front of your target, twitch and strip the pattern somewhat erratically to imitate their poor swimming, until the annoyed trout strikes (usually aggressively and predatorily).

Both of these techniques can work, too, when you run the pattern through faster moving water in the riffles.

Covey Guide, Brian Hilbert, demonstrates some techniques for fishing the sculpin and discusses everything from fly lines, to pattern types, to fly boxes. Check out the video!

Lines and Patterns

Sink-tip fly lines are often the most effective when fishing sculpin patterns (and other streamers). One of our favorite fly lines is the Orvis Pre Depth Charge. This line comes in a variety of grain and sink rates to meet your needs.

Fly lines have different features, of course, so come into the shop and talk with our expert team to help match the right line for your fly fishing goals. 

Patterns are going to vary with color, size, and type. Some of the go-to patterns with our guides and customers are the Muddler Minnow, the Sculpzilla, Rainey’s Barely Legal.  The tried-and-true Wooly Bugger can be fished effectively as a sculpin, too. Some anglers will trim off the bottom of the pattern to more effectively imitate the flat-bodied natural.

Tying the Sculpin

Check out this pattern as tied by Hans Mylant, retail floor manager and Angler’s Covey guide, for a great sculpin imitation (and subscribe to our YouTube channel to see all of our tips, techniques, gear spotlights, and other vids!).

And the Sculpzilla is a heavy pattern. Check out this tying video from In The Riffle.

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