I first became aware of Ed Shenk's sculpin pattern in 1973 when it was published in the Garcia Fishing Annual, one of the numerous angling magazines on the racks at the time. I simplified the fly somewhat to suit my tying ability by omitting the wing and changing the body from looped and trimmed rabbit fur to fuzzy yarn, but the fly was really little changed from the original tie. In the forty plus years since I first tied and fished it, I have caught hundreds of good trout on the pattern. To this day it remains my favorite pattern for fishing murky or dirty water in limestone streams. Each summer I eagerly await a hard overnight thunderstorm after a protracted period of low, clear water. The next morning will almost certainly find me fishing a big, black sculpin upstream along the cut banks and edges of Spring Creek, where good browns will be feeding in inches of water. It is some of the most exciting fishing I do in the entire season.
That trout show interest in sculpins is not difficult to understand. Sculpins are a fairly small fish that live in most good trout waters. In suitable habitat like limestone water, sculpin densities can be amazing. Since they lack a swim bladder, sculpins live under rocks and can swim in only short inch or two bursts. Hard rain dislodges them from their cover and makes them more accessible as food items, often drowning them and making them truly easy prey. Deaddrifting or fishing sculpins slowly and deeply after a hard rain only takes advantage of a big trout's desire to take in large amounts of calories under the relative safety of discolored water. The Shenk Sculpin is not terribly difficult to tie, but it is time-consuming and materials intensive. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is to not clog up and clutter the front third of the hook with materials. Deer hair spins best over a clean hook shank.
Hook: Dai-ichi #2220 or TMC #5263, #4-10
Thread: UTC 140 black
Weight: .020" lead wire
Tails: Black marabou, as long as the shank and full
Body: Black leech yarn (mohair)
Collar (pectoral fins): Tips of black deer hair, to the sides
Head: Spun and clipped black deer hair, trim to a triangular shape
Tying and Fishing Sucker Spawn
Sucker Spawn has been used on Spring Creek for as long as I've fished the stream, and that dates back into the 1960s. I have no idea how long the fly was fished previous to that time, and most of the anglers who fished Spring Creek much prior to then made their last cast some time ago. Sucker Spawn, which represents a clutch of fish eggs, is a deadly pattern when fished at the right time. There are several periods in the year when the fly is particularly effective.
The first, of course, is during the spawning activty of the common white sucker, one of the most prolific fish in many Pennsylvania streams. Suckers begin to spawn in late February to early March. Reproduction can occur into May on smaller, high elevation streams.
Suckers spawn in approximately the same areas as trout, that is, in riffled water 12-24" deep with a gravel bottom. Spawning masses of suckers often contain 6-12 individuals, and the surface disruption made by their presence is often the first indication that reproduction is taking place. Since white suckers attain significant average sizes (18-22" individuals are not uncommon), they can move a lot of water.
When you locate spawning suckers, there is a high probability of trout stationing themselves downstream of the reproductive activty, hoping to gulp down succulent eggs that do not adhere to the redd or spawning bed. I have seen particularly voracious and aggressive trout work right amongst the suckers looking for a meal. I've observed trout move up to three feet to take an errantly presented sucker spawn.
Fishing in such situations can be downright fast. I remember encountering a substantial concentration of spawning suckers on Spring Creek several Aprils ago. I backed downstream carefully to make sure that I did not spook them. Cast after cast was rewarded with a hard strike, and in a short ten minute period I landed eight browns to 14" and missed three more. I lost my last #14 spawn in a tree and was amazed that fishing first #12s and then #10s seemed to matter little to the fish. They were so intent on an egg lunch, they really didn't care. As long as I kept the fly properly weighted and bouncing bottom, the size, within reason, was unimportant.
When the suckers are spawning in earnest, fish over much of the stream will recognize and take the fly. Fishing is, however, much quicker in those areas where the suckers are really active. Just like any other "hatch", the effectiveness of sucker spawn will shift and change over time. Also, if there is a Baetis hatch, a midge emergence, or other incidence of heavy bug action, the fish will generally opt for the more abundant prey.
Sucker spawn also fishes well for stocked trout. On streams like Bald Eagle Creek in Centre County and Stone Creek in Huntingdon County, both heavily stocked, a Sucker Spawn is an effective "nymph" for early season angling. I have also taken more than a few carp on spawn. Sucker Spawn works during the November-December time frame during which brown and brook trout spawn as well. Finally, Sucker Spawn, especially in bright colors, is an effective streelhead fly.
There is ample reason, then, to have Sucker Spawn in your fly box. Sucker eggs are in reality a light gold color, well suggested by a single strand of gold sparkle yarn. Light yellow is good, too. For steelhead insect green, white, orange, and salmon seem to be most productive. I prefer to match the sparkle yarn with the same color thread, but other tyers like to use red or a hot fluorescent color, especially for steelhead.
Hooks for Sucker Spawn should be heavy wire wet fly models (TMC #3769 or Dai-ichi #1550) or scud hooks (TMC #2457 or Dai-ichi #1120). I prefer to mount an appropriately sized gold bead at the front of my spawn patterns, but that is certainly optional. The actual tying of the fly is simplicity itself, consisting of little more than tying in a series of back-to-front yarn loops along the top half of the hook shank. Tying a Sucker Spawn, however, will be the subject of a future web tying session.
Sucker Spawn Pattern
Hook: TMC #3769 or Dai-ichi #1550, #12-16, debarbed
Bead: 1/8" gold for #12, 7/64" gold for #14, 3/32" gold for #16, if desired
Thread: 6/0 yellow
Body: Single strand of gold sparkle yarn. Tie in a series of loops side-to-side and back-to-front along the top half of the hook shank. Also use yellow, light yellow, insect green, salmon, orange, or white sparkle yarn and thread.
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©Flyfisher's Paradise 2012