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Fly Fishing Jazz: “Muddler” Your Way Through a Day

by Kirk Deeter
Float TubeStillwater success. Photo Clayton Stuart

AN ANGLER’S GREATEST teacher is ultimately himself or herself. When you reach a level where you recognize your own mistakes, and improvise your own opportunities, that’s when you’re playing your best, and catching more fish. You can read books and articles, hire guides, take classes (all of which will no doubt help shorten the learning curve), but in the end, it’s the voice in your head that will matter most.

So how do you move toward that level? You challenge your brain. Go off script. Improvise your own tunes.

Fly fishing really comes down to the art of problem solving.

“How am I going to trick this creature and its instinct into eating an artificial fly?” “Where should I cast?” “If the fish eats, and he’s big, what then?” All problems (fun ones) worth solving.

Reading an instruction manual—or watching a strike indicator ride through the same run, over and over—isn’t really cognitive problem solving, is it?

Sometimes, when you intentionally make problems tougher (and solve them), those little routine challenges on the river become easier to overcome, and training for them is like doing calisthenics for the angling brain.

So here is my favorite challenge, and August is the perfect time to do this: Dedicate a day to fishing one pattern only (you can bring spares—there’s no penalty for breaking off). Make that pattern a Muddler Minnow. Fish it all day, and see how many trout you catch.

Now, I didn’t say fish the fly the same way all day…

I’m not going to spoil the lesson by doling out stuffy advice on how to fish Muddler Minnows differently, but I will give you three hints. 1) Muddler Minnows are so named because they can imitate baitfish—they’re a great streamer pattern, especially in rivers where sculpins swim. 2) August is a great time to try this exercise because Muddlers look a helluva lot like a certain insect trout like to eat in this season. 3) That insect isn’t a great swimmer, and isn’t even a particularly good floater.

Now go have fun. When you fish your Muddler in what way, and how you present it to trout, is entirely up to you. You might not want to spend a valuable day on the river as a “training exercise.” But believe me, developing your own improvisational skills will pay dividends.

You’ll find that there really are no definite rules or answers. Only hunches and intuitions. And yours are the only ones that ultimately matter.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
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  • March Brown

    This could be labeled, “Thinking Beyond the Strike Indicator”, a skill most of us had mastered by the age of 10, with the use of our red and white plastic bobber.

  • Kevin Kelleher

    The one fly challenge is excellent advice.  A buggy wet fly, a Wooly Worm, even a unweighted nymph would work. This is a basic tenent to traditional tenkara angling. Mastery=precision casting, streamcraft,and experienced intuition.

  • Which Way Out

    The first time I fished a Muddler Minnow I had people on the bank thinking I’d been doing this for years. I had no instruction on the fly at all. I just assumed it being a minnow that, well it should act like one. My skills or lack of skill would be a better way of saying it.
    I could see how if I could get the MM in a little pocket where it would just sit for a moment and sink some, all while the line would drift down stream and then pull the MM out of the pocket. Almost every cast the MM would shoot by the undercut bank on the other side and Bam I get hit. One of my best days ever on a river.
    Thanks to everyone that’s ever put a video on Youtube and of course the teasers here. I am self taught by watching them. I get to fly fish now and then and love it.

  • Sayfu

    Don’t punish the muddler by confining it to a bait fish/streamer pattern.  Grease  it up, and fish it as a dry, hopper pattern.  It makes an excellent dry fly.

  • Sayfu

    Why restrict the muddler to just a streamer?  A Muddler makes a great dry fly hopper as well.  Seems my other post didn’t get posted.  Why?

  • stevie

    I’m very interested in your own improvisations, any more clues :DD
    Checking back my diary catches this month, the muddler for me has been by far my most succesful fly.
    I do however admit it was’nt a MM I have been using, anyhow still very interested in how those dividends have paid off for you and especially would like know if your retriev is maybe faster in these warmer months >?
    regards stevie