fly fishing
Green Butt Muddler

by Scott Sadil

At the bench yesterday preparing for the arrival – knock on wood – of summer steelhead, I was reminded of one of the reasons I like tying my waking muddlers: No two are alike.

Now, it’s axiomatic among professionals that the flies you tie, for any specific pattern, should all look the same, lining up in your box like hand-sorted greenhouse-grown Campari tomatoes, so that any one you grab is just as likely to work as any other fly in the lineup.  

That’s the point of tying any particular fly a dozen at a time — probably the single best piece of advice I’ve ever followed as a tyer.  

Set out your materials; give yourself a solid stretch of time; get into a rhythm.  Next thing you know, you’re cranking them out, neat and tidy and uniform as tires stacked up at the local shop, and it doesn’t matter which one goes on which wheel.

That’s what I’m after — unless I’m prime-time steelheading.

Steelhead muddlers: slight variations can somehow make a difference.

It’s been two decades now since I wandered into the mysterious sorcery of swinging sparsely-dressed surface muddlers for summer steelhead.  The sparser the better, I often found, the fly waking, coming tight at the end of the swinging line, as the muddler scratches the underside of the surface.


God, those takes are good.

Of course, it helps to have a healthy number of fish in the river.

And, let’s face it, fish that aren’t heavily-pressured, getting pestered daily by anglers in drift boats with bobbers and egg patterns, are a lot more willing to move off a lie, ease up to the surface, and inspect and touch a waking fly.

Little, however, will stop me from trying.

And, I like to have a variety in that all-important head and collar, the essence of the surface muddler waking on the end of your line — more important, I believe, than any body color or material configuration, as long as you don’t load up the hook with a lot of extraneous junk.

I don’t know what it is about one fly dressed more sparsely than another, one tied with the softest deer hair I can find, another with thin stiff elk hair.

I don’t know if it even matters.

But whether I change the actual hair for the spun head and collar, selecting it from a different patch of skin or an entirely different species of animal or, instead, varying the amounts of hair that I eventually spin and trim, I like it that every fly turns out differently, with slightly more or less hair, or a head that’s either more or less bulky, more tightly packed or sparser, this side or that of normal.

Some runs are swift, others slow; a fast swing can do the trick where a sluggish swing fails. Less wake is more — or more wake might be just the ticket.

Again, I don’t know if it really matters, and I’m certainly making no claims that the fish care.

But sometimes they seem to, showing themselves to one fly but refusing to eat, then coming back, all the way to the grab, for something different.

And that’s more than enough for me.


Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil likes fishing for summer steelhead because most of the time nobody is quite sure why a fish eats the fly.