When I look at a sculpin, I see a bottom dweller with a huge head, big pectoral fins, and a long, skinny body. I always wondered about an easy way to incorporate these characteristics into my sculpin imitations. One day, while looking at a pink Puff bonefish fly, I had my answer…
Use brass or lead eyes to get it near the bottom. Add a long body of bucktail or squirrel tail. Tie in some nice, round hackle tips for the fins. (Hen hackle works great!) Lastly, build up an oversize head with chenille. The pictures below should give you the general idea:
Brown is my “go to” color and the two brown patterns are tied using natural bucktail on #4 and #6 hooks – my “go to” sizes.
The version with the orange head is for high, dirty water. It is tied on a #2 hook with squirrel tail.
The green version gets dunked in spring creeks – or wherever there is an abundance of weeds. Olive bucktail covers its size 8 hook and bead chain eyes help swim it over submerged growth.
I usually cast Puffy sculpins slightly upstream and let them sink a bit; then I give them a bit of action with the rod tip as they drift downstream. I try to keep a tight line and don’t worry too much about drag. Occasionally, I fish them under an indicator like a nymph with a twitch here and there.
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In July of 2012, I was selected to join Chris Hunt and Kirk Deeter of Trout Unlimited, Rebecca Garlock, Bruce Smithhammer, Steve Zakur, and several representatives of Simms, The National Park Service, and The Yellowstone Park Foundation in a tour of Yellowstone. We were directly involved in removal of the invasive lake trout from Yellowstone Lake, stream study on Soda Butte Creek, and stream recovery on Specimen Creek. This is the fourth of a six part series recounting my adventures. This was my first trip to Yellowstone.
Roughly twenty years ago, I watched a special on the Lamar Valley. Rivoted to the screen I saw this valley of high peaks and rolling hills and thought to myself, “I have got to see this face to face”.
Sometimes the culmination of dreams takes time.
Twenty years of watching specials, reading articles, surfing the net, wearing my wife out with comments, and daydreams too many to number, I finally found myself in the Lamar.
Our band of merry anglers, still giddy from the mornings adventure on Yellowstone Lake headed north and I felt a level of anticipation that almost matched the vast beauty of this place, this amazing place.
At every turn, every rise, every drop in the road, I kept looking for this storied location until finally the expanse of the Lamar Valley opened up before me.
Honestly, it was almost like driving into a John Wayne western. The rolling hills just begged to be flecked at their crests with bands of Native American warriors. I chuckle now when I think of this because out of the myriad of sights I would feast on from that point forward on the tour, I kept thinking that there should be a circle of teepees and dark haired natives riding along on white and brown horses. It just goes to show how much we are influenced by both our childhood and our addiction to media.
I am not going to be able to do justice to the beauty of this place with words. It is one of those places that you simply must see to fully grasp.
We pulled to the side of the road and off in the distance to our right was the Lamar River. As I looked it seemed so small, little more than a tiny creek. That perception couldn’t be farther from the truth. It was here that I learned the deceptiveness of distance. In the land in and around The Great Smoky Mountains National Park that I call home, the hills roll, are full of foliage, and the mountains are softer, being as old as they are I suppose that is to be expected. But here in the land that I call home, distance is just easier to judge. The point of reference is so close that feet, yards, and miles are pretty easy to judge.
So….after gearing up, we began walking down to the river. And we walked….and walked…and walked…and then when we were done walking, we walked some more. When I stopped long enough to look behind me, I was amazed. Our vehicles were barely visible. There again, it bears restating that you just can’t imagine how big Yellowstone is until you have been there. And if you have not been there…you really owe it to yourself to go.
The Lamar River is a truly beautiful place, and as we stepped into the water, Steve calmly waded in very close to a bison that was picking grass near the far bank. Between he and I was Rebecca. Farther downstream the rest of the party were barely visible as they sized up the water.
I stood for a long time and just gawked at the place. It was almost like a kid who has wanted a certain gift for Christmas, and once the prized package was in his hands, he is to shocked to open it and play.
With no obvious risers, I tied on a hopper dropper with a prince nymph and set to work. Each time I cast, I thought to myself, “I am here”. The effect of my presence in this place was not the feeling of going home, but it was close. Sometimes your heart will long to the point that the unknown dwells as close as the familiar, and I looked around me as the big clumsy hopper pitched along downstream, in absolute awe.
I realize that I was in a place where fly fishing was king and fish are bright, vibrant, and wild, but I honestly didn’t care if I caught anything or not. I was present, and sometimes just being aware of that is enough. This thought would prove on more than one cast to be prophetic because I was so immersed in the place that I missed multiple strikes as the hopper briefly vanished under the weight of a fish as it engaged the prince.
Upstream from me I see Rebecca raise her arm and that familiar flush of the water as a trout realizes that it has just made a critical mistake. Beyond her, a billow of cigar smoke drifts above Steve. We are new friends, but the peace and familiarity we share unifies us as if we had been together since birth.
Rebecca slips the trout back in the water, and begins again as if what happened had never taken place. She is in her zone, and, as she would later recount to me, she has never been skunked on this river.
Chris, Bruce, and Kirk had very little luck and had traveled back to the cars long before our group had it fill. In a park like Yellowstone, you can expect traffic jams from time to time, and these guys decided to break the monotony of waiting by creating a traffic jam of their own. They would wait until a car approached, then they would point and spy out into the vast expanse of the valley, of course nothing was there. Cars would stop, set up cameras, pull out binoculars, gazing out at nothing. Its the little things in life that bring the biggest laughs, and later that night we would spend a good portion of time chuckling about it. Honestly, if I were driving up and saw a bunch of people pointing out to the river, I would stop too.
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After slipping and sliding through yet another slick, cobbled Skeena run, we came home determined to find a better traction solution. Drawing on his mountaineering experience, Yvon Chouinard disappeared into the Tin Shed and went to work…
“Sometimes I caught fish – sometimes I didn’t. …….I lived merrily, mindlessly, uncomfortably on the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” – Nick Lyons, The Intense Fly Fisherman
There was a time in my youth when I chased fish with all the passion I had within me – with all the force and vigor and excitement I could muster. I would get up two hours before dawn and drive four hours just to reach the first available trout water. I’d fish all day, stopping only to eat a quick lunch or move to another spot on the river. When darkness fell, I continued to fish – pushing the limit of effective fishing and the legal limit of fishing regulations. A four hour drive back home would end with me dragging myself into the house, leaving all my gear in the truck to be cleaned out the next day, or the day after that perhaps. I was “on fire” for fly fishing and I ate it – drank it – obsessed over it – loved it – was consumed by it.
This went on for some time. Years passed, then decades and then one day I experienced a great tragedy in my life when my father passed away suddenly. At the same time, I lost my job. I was devastated. I stopped fishing almost completely. I think I may have spent time fishing, just a few hours each time, only twice that year. In my salad days fishing happened every other weekend for years and years. I fished only twice in that most terrible year and thought several times that I might give it up altogether. Over the next few years, there were times when I felt like flinging my rod and reel into the lake or river. No, I’m not kidding. I just couldn’t get that passion back, even though when I wasn’t fishing it was still there and as strong as ever.
I still consumed fishing articles, photos and chat like they were going out of style. I loved to talk about bass on poppers and trout flies that sit just so, right in the film. I’m still a sucker for hearing another angler talk about a river that’s new to me. Last year I even took my very first trip out west to fish in Montana and Wyoming. I’m fishing more now – probably twice a month or so when I can get away and I’d fish more often if I had the time and money. So, I had to ask myself – what happened? How did I come back from the brink of leaving the sport behind me for good?
I think what it all came down to, was that I had to realize two things: that I didn’t have that 24-hour-7-days-a-week passion that I had in my youth, and that not having that passion was OK. Once I stopped worrying about the fact that I didn’t go fishing as much (and frankly didn’t catch as much either) I was able to begin to enjoy my time outdoors again. These days it’s not so much about the fishing. It’s more about being outside and enjoying time spent around the water. It’s the feel of the river on my legs and the fleeting glimpse of a deer on the drive home. Now that I’ve had a couple of years of this relaxed fishing life, I think I rather prefer it to living on, as Nick Lyons so accurately put it “…the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” Maybe someday you’ll be there, too. Maybe you already are?