The Modified Muskrat Nymph: A Simple and Suitable Sowbug
No other food form can rival the year 'round importance of sowbugs (cressbugs) to the wild trout on small to medium limestoners like Spring Creek and Logan Branch in Centre County. Even on larger streams like Penn's and Fishing Creeks, sowbugs are an important and often overlooked lower link on the food chain.
Sowbug patterns are many. A simple Muskrat Nymph, consisting of little more than a fatly dubbed muskrat fur body with guard hairs, has been a consistent local producer for decades. Noted limestone anglers Joe Humphreys and Ed Shenk have developed effective ties for this little crustacean as well.
When you live in central PA, you want to spend more time on the water and less time at the vise, so your flies tend to be effective, durable, and quick to tie. By modifying the fast and simple Muskrat Nymph, a fine impressionistic sowbug can be fashioned. Here's how to do it.
The flatness inherent in sowbugs can be enhanced by creating a weighted underbody for the nymph. Wrap 6-8 turns of lead wire around the hook shank. Use .015" lead for sizes #12-16 hooks and .010" for #18 and #20 hooks. Cover the lead wire with several wraps of tying thread. Gently squeeze the thread-covered lead with smooth-jawed flat pliers (serrated jaws cause the lead to break), creating an oval shape with plenty of shank fore and aft of the underbody to permit tapering. Give the underbody two more coats of thread to stabilize.
To a blend of muskrat fur with most of the guard hairs removed (the Wapsi muskrat preblend we carry is fine), add a healthy dollop of Wapsi preblended SLF gray squirrel fur. A 3-1 muskrat-squirrel ratio is about right. Blend the mixture thoroughly in a coffee grinder or seed and nut mill. The addition of gray squirrel to the blend adds different tones, better movement, and the shagginess that trout love.
Use the dubbing blend to create a flattened Muskrat Nymph with a nicely tapered body. After whip finishing pick out the sides of the fly aggressively. A dubbing needle works adequately but is slow and tedious and can cut tying thread. Both the Hare-line Ultimate Dubbing Brush and the Dr Slick Dubbing Brush/Velcro Teaser are easier, quicker, and more effective. To achieve the flat, oval sowbug shape, it may be necessary to invert the fly in the vise and tease out fibers along the underside of the fly as well.
Hook: Tiemco #3769 or Dai-ichi #1550, #12-20
Thread: Danville's 6/0 gray
Weight: .015" or .010" lead wire, covered with tying thread, and flattened with smooth-jawed pliers
Body: Blend of 75% muskrat fur with the guard hairs removed and 25% gray squirrel fur
Legs: Pick out the body heavily along the sides of the fly.
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