Phantom Sculpins of the South Platte

Why would a trout eat a sculpin fly in a river without sculpin?

sculpzilla fly pattern
Sculpzilla fly pattern getting put to the test on the Madison River, Montana

March 2023 (Member Bonus Article)

We often mistakenly draw connections as fly anglers, and especially as fly tiers. If I were to sit down with the intention of tying a sculpin pattern, any fish caught from that fly would almost assuredly be associated with wanting to eat a sculpin. But this is a dangerous assumption! We've previously discussed this topic in other articles, like in Adding Triggers to Fly Patterns: Subliminal Messaging for Trout.

You're on the stream bank and notice caddis flies bouncing on the water's surface and in the stream-side vegetation. So you grab an Elk Hair Caddis to match the hatch. You catch fish, possibly quite a few, which reinforces your belief that the Elk Hair Caddis works well during a caddis hatch. DUH! Then, next time you're fishing and there are no caddis flying about, you might not reach for the Elk Hair Caddis. But, can you honestly tell me that the Elk Hair Caddis is a realistic caddis impersonation? Seen from below, I'd argue that an Elk Hair could be used for many different situations.

So the same would hold true for sculpin... we use a sculpin fly and assume a sculpin take. But what happens when a trout eats a sculpin fly in a river without sculpin?