The Muddler Minnow and The Black Ghost:
Two of the Best Flies that Few Fly Fishermen Use!
Over many years of fly fishing instruction
and guiding I've come to the conclusion that most fly anglers have a limited understanding of what flies to
use, how to use them, and when to use them. This is especially true of standard patterns. For some reason fly
anglers believe there will always be hatch. Well...keep waiting. Perhaps they read too many books which tell
them there will always be hatch and rising trout. Unfortunately, even on the streams with good hatches you
still have to be there at the right time.
As one lodge owner told the anglers, “You should have been here last week. You missed
it; they were rising for four days!” This is the standard line and sometimes it's actually true. But if you wait
for hatches you will miss the opportunity to catch most trout. Furthermore, contrary to what you have been told
many of the larger fish don't rise even during the best hatches.
Two of the best flies for trout when they are not rising (and sometimes when they
are) are two flies that I would guess that most anglers don't even carry: The Muddler Minnow and The Black Ghost
Streamer. Both of these flies are real fish catchers when used properly. In fact, they would be on my list of the
best two dozen flies for trout. Yet if you ask most anglers if they take trout on them......they will look at you
with a perplexed look on their face. Usually you get something like, “Well I tried them a couple of times but
didn't have much luck on them.”
One of the secrets of consistently catching trout is knowing when to use which flies
and at what time period on the stream. Early in my fly fishing training I was taught method fishing which means you
use a certain technique with certain flies at a certain time. Streamer fishing is a lost art. Many fly anglers
carry streamers but use them improperly or they think only bright attractor patterns will work. Furthermore, they
fail to understand how to fish the them There are a number of techniques to fishing streamers. You should realize
that fishing the streamer straight upstream and retrieving the fly towards you will result in highest percentage of
hooked fish. Fishing the streamer downstream will result in the least percentage of hooked fish. That does not mean
that that you never fish downstream. There are four basic techniques in fishing streamers: Upstream, downstream,
across stream and fishing the streamer like a nymph. The first three involve retrieves while fishing the streamer
like a nymph can be fished in a number of ways.
Now let's discuss the terminal tackle:
I prefer leaders around 7.6 to 9 ft for streamers. I usually don't use longer
ones. You may wish to invest in some power butt tapers which help the streamer cast better. In most instances, you
should not use a tippet size of less than 4x in fact, 3x is usually better. Although I'm not a big fan of
Flurocarbon tippets they work well for streamers. They are stiffer and may give you a hooking advantage with
streamers. Always use a shock section before your tippet. For example, 7.6 ft 1x leader with 12 inches of 2x before
you tie on your 3x tippet. The actual length of your tippet depends up the level the fish are at, and the stream
conditions as well as fly size.
You hook more trout and land more with longer rods as far as I'm concerned. 8.6 to
9 ft rods are best. You'll also have more control of the fly with a longer rod. Furthermore, don't be an idiot. If
you are fishing a heavier fly use the appropriate rod. Rods with line weights of 5 or 6 depending upon the water
are best for most small to medium streams and rivers. Larger waters may merit 7 weight. Rods with slightly stiffer
actions may also help too but you don't need a broomstick.
The Basic Method and
If you want to hook trout using a streamer fishing upstream, down or across the
rod tip should be pointed down not up in most instances. If fishing the streamer in the drift like a nymph then
using the standard nymphing technique will work with one caveat: trout take drifting streamer differently than they
take a nymph, and this depends upon the size of the streamer as well as the water temperature!
Where do you find most minnows and bait fish? Not usually at the surface-they tend
to be on the bottom. In most instances you must use weight to get the streamer down. Yes, you can sometimes make a
trout including a big trout move to chase a streamer but to take the most fish the streamer needs to get deep. You
can add weight to the body in various ways but since we are talking about using the The Black Ghost or The Muddler
weight can be added to the hook or on the tippet or both. Once again make sure you have the proper leader for using
weight. Believe it or not the weight actually helps you hook the fish but the fish will tend to eject the fly
quicker. The weight helps the fly penetrate better.
The Muddler Minnow
Don Gapen invented the Muddler Minnow in the 50's. It is one of the best flies
ever designed and can be used in more ways than any fly. It can be used as streamer, nymph, terrestrial, caddis
imitation...you name it..it works. Unfortunately, most fly anglers don't carry it in the sizes and variations
needed. I want sizes from at least 4 or 6 to 16! On bigger riffled rivers in a size 14 or 16 it's a great caddis
imitation. It can be fished at all stages from the surface to an emerger. In the summer it makes a great hopper
imitation. As minnow imitation it not only imitates a small fish but when fished on the surface below and on the
surface it looks like a minnow chasing an insect.
I like the Muddler in it's normal colors as well as olive, silver (body), white
(polar bear), black, and the Maribou Muddler in various colors. How many variations do you carry? One of the best
techniques in using a Muddler is what I learned as a young fly fisherman in Western Pennsylvania. On Neshannock
Creek in Mercer County there were many stretches of undercut banks and log jams with debris. The fish were almost
complete impossible to catch unless they were out from under the jams. I figured out very quickly that most methods
wouldn't work and you lost half the flies in your box to the stream snags. Then came the Muddler! The Muddler with
its deerhair head will float but with a split shot or two, the split shot will sink the but the fly will float
above the bottom in these slow waters. We learned by experimenting on how much lead to add. We had the
technique down to a science the fly got to the bottom floated underneath the debris and twigs and it was like
magic. We just watched the leader. When the leader would stop, slow down or jerk.....we struck! I won't even tell
you how many big trout we caught; it was simply amazing. The technique never failed to work. Yet, the same
technique can be use in a variety of habitats on a trout stream in a number of variations. How many fly anglers
have you seen use the Muddler in this way!
Just recently I took a Muddler with Olive “Wings” and Tail with a silver body and
coaxed a 15 inch wild brookie from the bottom fishing downstream in a tough lie. He took the fly half way below the
surface in the middle of the day. I also use the Muddler on the famous spring creeks with a shot on the bottom, it
makes a great sculpin pattern. I especially like a Black Muddler in these situations. A combination white maribou
and brown deer hair muddler in all sizes really is a trout taker if fished properly. The famed White Muddler with
Polar Bear Wings or a substitute is a secret pattern for large browns. If you don't wish to tie Muddlers they
are cheap enough to buy in quantity and are reasonably tied well even in the cheaper versions. Just carry a number
of sizes and variations. After a stream has had numerous caddis hatches trout look for such a fly profile. For some
reasons a small Muddler in size 14 and 16 bounced on the riffles is just unbelievable. It's a good searching fly
for the surface and imitates everything from the caddis to a multitude of terrestrials.
If you get into a stream and have no idea what to fish. Try this: Fish the Muddler
on the surface and then on the bottom with a split shot or two. You should be able to judge the trout's behavior
even if they don't take the fly. Did you move them at the surface? Did you see a flash or chase from the bottom? If
you use a Muddler to find fish even if you don't catch them you should be abl to figure out what they might take.
And finally one trick that many anglers don't use is to add a dropper or tandem to the Muddler. You can tie the
Muddler off a wet fly or nymph hook in tandem or for more action put a dropper of extending 5 inches; put it about
10 inches above the Muddler. You can fish this at the surface skimming it or at any water level. It's one of the
deadliest combos that most anglers won't try. It works great during a hatch too.
The Black Ghost
The next great fly that no one uses much is the famed Black Ghost. The Black Ghost
is one of the oldest streamer patterns and was one of the first patterns I used as kid in my introduction to fly
fishing. It was a streamer of American Heritage in the North East region of the US and Canada. A simple pattern it
owes its effectiveness to its coloration profile in water. Its white wings and dark body for some reason show up
great against the sky. It is one of the most effective streamers for brown trout and especially hatchery
I learned the importance of this streamer on places like Neshannock and Slippery
Rock Creek in Western Pennsylvania. Once again my fishing buddy Ricky Hoover and I prowled these waters incessantly
learning about trout and their behavior. These are not great trout waters but they do produce holdover trout and
they can become selective and rather sophisticated. We used this streamer at all times of the year and at all times
of the day. The streamer pattern is one of the best for night time or evening fishing for big browns.
I like this streamer in sizes from 4 to 14. In the summer tie these streamers
sparsely and they will take trout (even in spring creeks) when nothing else is working. In the spring with plenty
of shot the they will pull out big fish from heavy water when fished up and coming across if you get them deep
enough. They are more effective than any streamer that I have ever used when fishing downstream. For some reason
the trout are teased by this fly some days like no others.
I also like to fish two small Black Ghosts in tandem or on droppers. Swing them
downstream against the bank at different levels you might be surprised at what action you get! These are two of the
best trout catching lures ever invented. Use them in a variety of methods and situations and increase your
ability to catch more trout and bigger trout. These patterns may be old but they have not lost their effectiveness
on modern trout.