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Upside Down Sculpin
By Bob Shaffer

Origin: A 1991 or 1992 experimental combination of Bob Clouser's Minnow and a Woolhead Sculpin. I do not fish streamers nearly enough, especially sculpin imitations. This fly, in size and color variations has caught crappie, trout, Dolly Varden, bass and salmon. A friend fished it before I had a chance and it's hard to believe that two salmon moved a couple of feet forward and sideways to take them while he was fishing for searun cutthroat in fresh water!

This fly is an expression of the tyer's preferences, vision and judgements. It is expected that proportions, materials, colors and technique will vary.

The original pattern that nailed the salmon and others was almost black Dorsal and tail with a black head mottled with brown and green. Dark green head-fins-tail with a copper body works great as does lighter colors with silver or a light pink body. I like smaller sizes 12-6 and non-absorbent body material because 90 plus percent of my fishing is with a 3 and a 5 wt. The fly shown is a size 4 as I recall. ~ Bob

[Publisher's Note: This fly and the instructions were hand delivered by Mike Grinsell (Mike G.) to us at the Fish-In 2001. The Fraternity of Fly Fishers is alive and well.]

Recipe: Upside Down Sculpin

    Hook:  Longish streamer style, I use size 12 to 2 . Your choice.

    Thread:  Sturdy, color of head material or black like I use.

    Weight:  Dumbbell or chain eye.

    Tail and Dorsal:  Zonker Rabbit Strips.

    Body:   Diamond braid, flash chenille, tinsel or antron yarn.

    Pectoral Fins:   Soft Hackle or Hen Hackle.

    Head:   Clipped wool, synthetic equivalent or yarn.

Tying Steps:

1. Mount hook in normal position. Try a large hook first.

2. Dumbell eye is tied on top 1/4 to 1/3 shank length back from eye. Coat dumbbell thread with head cement or fingernail polish.

3. Tail - Pull about 1/16 inch hair off the end of a Zonker strip where the hair lays back along the strip. Lay a thread base on the hook to just slightly around the beginning of the bend where you tie the bald part of the strip firmly to the hook so the hair is oriented down. Trim tail to about 1/2 shank length or your preference by sliding scissors between the hair to the skin. Cut only the skin. Wrap thread forward to 1/4 inch behind dumbbell.

4. Remove the hook from the vice, turn it over so the shank is parallel to the table and the dumbbell is is on the bottom.

5. Body Tie in body material about 1/4 inch behind dumbbell, wrap thread over material on shank back to tail. Wrap thread body material forward and tie off at its tie-in place.

6. Strip barbs from stem of 2 matched large soft hackle or hen feathers till they are the same and leave an inch plus of bare stem. Cover the shank between the dumbbell and body material with thread. Tie feathers in at rear edge of this space. Cupped (concave) forward on each side. Tie and trim feather stems.

7. Dorsal Strip- Pull the hair off another zonker strip like the tail section and tie on top the hook so the hair begins at the front of the body material. Trim the dorsal so that the skin will clear the hook point by 1/4 inch. The hair will extend well beyond the hook point.

8. Head- Cut wool 1/2 to 1 plus inch long as needed and about an un-squeezed pencil's thickness; work from dorsal tie in toward hook eye as follows: hold wool parallel to shank, add two thread wraps at front edge of body material in center of the wool section, tighten; twist wool sideways and wrap thread twice tight against base of its tie in spot to securely bind it. (Keep wool on top of shank for fishing flies or tie bundle underneath or help it spin for demo flies.) If more thickness is desired, put another layer on top of first before the binding wraps and/or make the first pile of wool thicker. Fluff and even the wool bundles before adding the next. Repeat this toward eye, you may wish to dub a little wool on the thread and wrap the last 1/8 inch before the whip finish area.

9. Trimming - There are lots of shapes. I like a flat bottomed wide shape. It's easy to accidentally cut a pectoral fin or the dorsal fin so I generally hold them in and down against the shank with my left hand as I trim with a scissors in the right.

10. Trim bottom flat. Cut equal angles to the side and back from the eye. Cut and shape the top of the head usually fairly flat but slightly up and back. Carefully cut a notch in the top back of the wool to allow maximum dorsal movement. Carefully cut a notch in front of each pectoral fin to allow its full lateral position.

Bottom view

Top view


Make large black eyes with long black yarn plies tied perpendicular to shank in a lighter color head. Use small dumbbells for lightly weighted flies. Mottled heads by using more than one wool color. To make a light colored bottom, stack lighter color on bottom with darker on top. Use closely wrapped and trimmed hackle for the head. On smaller flies remove rabbit hair from the skin or cut narrower strips. Use chain eyes for un-weighted versions. I like non-absorbent slender, shiny material for the body. You may wish to counter wrap thin wire over body material. Both light and dark colors work. My impression is that the side fins provide the appearance of life and bulk of weight; I'm not convinced they are essential but they do look cool. I am convinced the unique movement of the dual zonker strips, wide head and jigging action of the fly differentiate it. ~ Bob Shaffer

For more great flies, check out: Beginning Fly Tying, Intermediate Fly Tying and Advanced Fly Tying.

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