Fly Fishers' Republic

Muddler Minnow

April 4, 2012

by Raif Killips

Muddler Minnow



This is a long established pattern with a history preceding the famous Woolly Bugger. Designed by Don Gapen, as a sculpin imitation for trout, the Muddler works for any species that respond to streamer patterns, especially in circumstances where fish are feeding on similar coloured baitfish. It has accounted for trout, grayling, bass, panfish, pike, and saltwater species including bonefish, snook, bonita, and jacks.

How to fish:

An effective streamer for bank shooting, and a traditional cross-stream swing. Fished with a strip retrieve on a floating, intermediate, sink tip, or full sinking line, the Muddler is effective in rivers and lakes, estuarine and saltwater marks. The Muddler can also be fished as a dry fly, especially during sedge hatches and when hoppers are about. It can be fished as a wake fly for steelhead, and for species in stillwater. And according to its originator the Muddler can be fished as a nymph in suitable sizes. Try using a non-slip loop knot to allow the fly to develop its best action.

Tying instructions:

Toggle sequence Left/Right Handed ↔

Stage 1

1. Start the thread about one quarter of the shank length behind the eye, and wrap the thread in touching turns back to where the tail will go, just before the bend. I catch in a rib at this point – some people prefer to catch in the rib after tailing the fly.

Stage 2

2. Offer up a matched pair of feather-slips and adjust for length.

Stage 3

3. Tie in the slips using the method in this tying article.

Stage 4

4. Wrap the thread forward in close touching turns over the feather butts to the start of the body.

Stage 5

5. Catch in a prepared length of tinsel for the body.


6. Wrap the tinsel down to the tail in close touching turns, avoiding overlaps. Wrap the tinsel in a similar fashion back to the start of the body.

Stage 7

7. Now rib the body making sure the rib finishes under the body. See this article on ribbing for details.

Stage 8

8. Tie in a sparse hair wing reaching the rear of the bend.

Stage 9

9. Next, tie in a wing so as to continue the outer contour of the tail. Make a small whip finish or a couple of half hitches.

Stage 10

10. Now start a heavier gauge thread – I use Size A rod whipping thread. This allows you to tie a good secure head and collar.

Stage 11

11. Tie in a small bunch of de-fuzzed deer hair at both sides of the wing, and directly over the thread wraps that secured the wing. Keep the collar short and hold the deer hair as you tighten the thread to stop it spinning.

Stage 12

12. If you’ve done it right the collar will not mask the body or wing but will emulate the pectoral fins of a baitfish.

Stage 13

13. Wind the thread forward to make locking wraps in front of the collar. Pull the deer hair butts back ready to spin more hair on the bare shank.

Stage 14

14. Spin two or three small bundles of deer hair to form the head leaving room for a proper whip finish.

Stage 15

15. After the whip finish and a drop of head cement, trim the deer hair with a razor blade and/or pair of scissors.

Stage 13

13. After trimming you should end up with a small cone shaped head.


Don Gapen's original tying, 1936, omits the rib but the materials are otherwise as set out here. Mr Gapen's version was tied with an almost shaggy appearance, having a longer collar and less compact head. It was dressed on a 3X longshank hook. Tied his way the muddler sinks most easily but can be kept on top with a little floatant. If you want consistently to fish the Muddler as a traditional streamer be careful that you dress the pattern with a head that is either small like the one illustrated, or loosely packed like Gapen's original.

Further reading:

Streamer Flytying & Fishing, Joseph D. Bates, Jr., 1995, Stackpole Books. 'The Trail from Gateway Lodge', The Gapen Company.