The Egg-Yarn Sculpin
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Want to catch big fish? Then toss thema big fly. Egg yarn makes it possible.

There’s no doubt that it’s more fun to catch fish using floating patterns, and many trout anglers won’t use anything but dry flies. Game fish, however, find more than 90 percent of their food below the water’s surface, and larger fish most often feed on small prey fish. This suggests that if we want to consistently catch bigger fish, we should use baitfish imitations.

In his book Guide to Aquatic Trout Foods, Dave Whitlock says large trout prefer bigger meals than those offered by small floating insects. When he discusses catching large trout, he states, “When they feed, they prefer to grab a big, quick, easy mouthful of another live fish.” Trout anglers should heed this advice.

Sculpin Facts

Whitlock divides all forage fish into four groups, depending upon body shape and where they live. One of these groups contains “bottomdwelling forage fish, heavily pigmented and with compressed bodies.” He says, “This group seems to provide the most consistent forage fish for large trout in all types of streams,” and that imitations of these baitfish “are very effective on above-average to trophy-size trout.” Sculpins, which are some of the most abundant prey species available to trout, fit into this group.

Sculpins are small fish found in many coldwater trout streams. As a general rule, most sculpins are two to three inches long. These little fish dart along the streambed, hugging the bottom as much as possible; their slanted heads force water to flow over their backs and push their bodies down. Sculpins are colored to match the rocks or grass in the water where they live. Sculpins are a good meal for a large trout looking to fill its stomach.

There are more than 300 species of sculpins in the world. Fortunately for fly tiers, there are only slight differences among the different species; often these distinctions are perceptible only to the trained eye. The United States has a few dominant species. Banded, mottled, and Ozark sculpins are prevalent in most trout waters. It is easy for fly tiers to imitate the colors of these drab baitfish.

Designing a New Imitation

Sculpins have several characteristics distinguishing them from other forage fish, and we should consider those traits when designing imitations. Since sculpins live most of their lives on or near the streambed, any imitation must sink quickly. Flies tied with deer hair do not sink fast enough, but patterns made of egg yarn easily absorb water and quickly sink to the bottom. You can also color egg yarn with permanent makers to match the sculpins in your local waters.

The large pectoral fins are perhaps the most distinguishing feature of a sculpin. These fins stick straight out from the sides of the body. You can easily make these pectoral fins on your imitations using thin amounts of egg yarn. When the egg yarn gets wet, the small fins pulsate and move just like real fins.

As with any sinking pattern, you should thoroughly soak the fly before casting. Squeeze the fly and then place it in the water; let go and the water will soak into the body just like a sponge. Most of the water will remain in your sculpin when casting, and the fly will sink rapidly after hitting the surface.

The Simple Sculpin is easy to tie and uses only a few materials. The other great thing about the Simple Sculpin is it can be made to match the color of any streambed. Guide Tom Rogers, of Cotter, Arkansas, often fishes the Lake Taneycomo area in southern Missouri, where the sculpins are almost solid black with light blue bellies.

“The rocks on the river bottom are covered in a black mat, especially up by the dam,” Rogers said, referring to the dam at the start of Lake Taneycomo. “The sculpin are very dark, matching the color of the rocks on the bottom of the river.”

Rogers also prefers fishing with smaller sculpin imitations.

“You’ve got to fish a sculpin pattern with a dead drift, and I’ve had better luck with the smaller sizes, usually two inches or less long. People often fish sculpin patterns at night, looking for hungry brown trout.”

Fishing Techniques

The Simple Sculpin works best when fished along the streambed. Vary the sink rate of the fly by using different sizes of dumbbell eyes or even two eyes.


The Simple Sculpin rides with the hook point up, making it less likely to snag the bottom. It is a big, heavy fly, and requires a 7-weight or larger rod to cast. That might seem like a lot of rod for a trout river, but remember: we’re using this fly to catch big fish. Once you hook a behemoth, you’ll be glad you’re fishing with stout tackle.

A sinking line helps deliver the fly to the bottom of deep runs, and a floating line or sinking tip works fine for water that is shallower than five feet deep. Use a leader less than nine feet long to avoid snagging, and a short leader works better with a full sinking line.

Fish the Simple Sculpin up and across stream. Let the fly sink, and swim it through the water with sharp, six-inch-long strips of line; you want to imitate the action of a sculpin darting along the streambed. Let the Simple Sculpin bump along the bottom and drop into deep holes along the shoreline. With the upturned hook point, the fly rarely snags on the bottom.

Try collecting a few sculpins the next time you go fishing. Take a small net to your favorite trout stream and scoop a couple from the water. Pay attention to their color and size. Use egg yarn and permanent markers to imitate these baitfish the next time you sit down at the vise.

Any sculpin is a meal for a hungry trout. If you want to entice the largest fish in your stream, use a Simple Sculpin and give the fish a meal you’ll both remember.

Colby “Pops” Sorrells is an FFF Certified Casting Instructor who lives in Mansfield, Texas. He is also a freelance writer and photographer who has published articles in numerous fishing publications. He teaches a weekly fly-tying class in FortWorth, Texas, and is a member of several local fly-fishing clubs.

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