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