With all the new tying materials these days, it has become really easy to complicate things. It’s hard to look at a delicious pile of fluff and feathers and limit yourself to using only what’s needed, without piling everything onto the hook. This affliction seems most prevalent in modern streamers. Designing a fly using a minimum of commonly available materials, and thoughtfully applying them, is a challenge we all face.
Matt Winkler has obviously got a pretty good handle on this skill set. His Kamikaze Sculpin is a simple fly that uses common materials, but they are applied to create an entirely new pattern that works well in both form and function. Everything on this fly has a reason for being there, and is well thought out in both selection and use.
Winkler starts with a pair of heavy eyes lashed to the point side of the hook shank. Attaching the eyes to the point side assures the fly rides hook point down, which may seem a bit counterintuitive, but hooks that ride point up have a greater likelihood of injuring trout. The fly is designed to ride close to, but not on the bottom, and the forward placement of the eyes tilts the pattern head down. This fly gets to where the fish are, but doesn’t snag the bottom as frequently as you’d imagine.
He adds a bit of soft flash for a tail to extend the overall belly profile, creating a longer pattern silhouette without unnecessary bulk. On top of this, Winkler ties in a standard black-barred rabbit strip rather than a wider, magnum strip as has become so common on the “bigger is better” streamers we see today. Standard-width rabbit strips create a lot of movement, but don’t involve all that extra leather that just soaks up water and makes the fly heavy to cast. This is one of my favorite, subtle details of this pattern. Recognizing just what a pattern needs and not overdoing it is something we should all strive for.
The body of this fly is built with a dubbing loop with long, coarse-fibered synthetic fur and flash mix from Arizona Dubbing. This forms a fly with a deep belly, again, through the use of a relative few long, loose fibers rather than sheer bulk.
The collar may be my favorite part of this fly. A couple turns of long, gangly mallard produce a wide, Spey-like collar that can imitate the fluttering fins of a baitfish. When I tied the fly shown in the accompanying step-by-step photos, I came across a mallard flank feather that had subtle brown tips on the otherwise gray and white speckled feather, and I couldn’t resist incorporating it here, although any mallard flank feather will suffice. The key on this collar is sparsity.
Winkler finishes the head of his fly by creating another dubbing loop, this time using four strands of thread. He hand-twists his dubbing loops for better control, and the double loop allows a bit more finesse when working with the loose rabbit fur. He cuts the fur from a magnum rabbit, as the width allows him more material per bunch in order to build sufficiently sized rope for the head. He then wraps the head, figure-eighting the noodle over the tops of the eyes (bring the noodle over the top, under the far-side eye, around the eye, and back over the top, under the near-side eye, around the eye, and back over the top) to yield more bulk on top and round out the head shape while keeping the bottom relatively flat. There is no trimming required, as the natural fibers blend handsomely back into the mallard collar.
While the name says “sculpin,” the shape is generic enough to imitate a wide range of baitfish in both rivers and lakes. The gray version shown here imitates a small whitefish or dace, while a ginger/tan looks more like smaller brown trout, suckers, or crayfish. The olive version matches up well with its namesake. The Kamikaze Sculpin is easy to tie, versatile, and smartly designed to get the job done. I’m willing to bet you don’t have these in your fly box. Don’t you think it’s time to fix that?
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of two books: Charlie’s Fly Box (Stackpole Books, 2011) and Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books/Headwater Books, 2016).
Tying the Kamikaze Sculpin
- Hook: #4 Tiemco 5263.
- Dumbbells: Large red Pseudo Eyes.
- Thread: Gray 3/0 Monocord or 6/0 Uni-Thread.
- Flash: Pearl Angel Hair.
- Tail/Wing: Black-Barred Rabbit Strip.
- Belly: Silver Minnow Arizona Simi Seal Dubbing.
- Collar: Natural Mallard Flank.
- Head: rabbit fur dubbing loop.
1. Dress the front of the shank with thread and attach the eyes to the underside about two eye lengths back from the hook eye. Wrap the thread back to the bend. Tie in a clump of pearl Angel Hair at its center, just above the hook point. Fold the front ends of the clump back and wrap back over it to the bend.
2. Separate the fur on a black-barred rabbit strip, leaving about a shank length of hide beyond the division. Tie the division point down at the bend of the hook with five or six firmly stacked thread wraps.
3. Fold the remaining rabbit strip back over the bend so it’s out of the way. Move the thread forward to just in front of the hook point and form a 6-inch-long dubbing loop. Fill the loop with Arizona Dubbing, taking care to keep the fibers perpendicular to the thread. Spin the dubbing loop to create a dubbing chenille rope.
4. Wrap the chenille rope, one turn in front of the other, up to the eyes. Tie off and clip the excess. Use a dubbing brush to rake the dubbing down and to the sides, clearing the top of the hook shank. Pull the rabbit strip tightly over the dubbing and tie it off with several firm thread wraps just behind the eyes. Clip the excess.
5. Peel the fluff off the base of a well-marked mallard flank feather. Preen the fibers down against their grain to create a separation point, and tie the feather in by its tip right behind the eyes, with the feather curvature toward the hook shank.
6. Fold the feather fibers back as you would for a wet fly collar and wrap two turns right behind the eyes and tie off. Clip the excess.
7. Matt Winkler uses a wire tie to pin the mallard flank fibers out of the way while creating the fur head. I didn’t have a wire tie handy, so I really had to fight with it. Form a double dubbing loop at the back edge of the eyes. Cut three healthy clumps of fur from a magnum rabbit strip and place them in the loop, with the thread closest to the butt ends.
8. Spin the loop and wrap the head with two turns behind the eyes, then figure-eight the loop over the top side of the eyes to form the head. (Bring the noodle over the top, under the far-side eye, around the eye, and back over the top, under the near-side eye, around the eye, and back over the top.) Finish with the last two or three turns of fur in front of the eyes. Tie off and clip the excess. Build a smooth thread head and whip-finish. Trim the flash to just short of the rabbit strip tail.