Article, Photography and Fly by Joe Cornwall
Videography and Production by Jim Stuard
Inspiration by Knob Creek
fly we are starting a brand new series. This fly, and the next six
flies we demonstrate on this program, will constitute our take on the
ideal warmwater smallmouth bass fly box for the Midwestern angler.
From now until the warm days of next spring we will bring you a new fly
every month, each fly related to the others as regards seasonal use in
pursuit of creek smallmouth, spotted bass and largemouth. Certainly these
flies will take just about any species of fish, but the project will allow
the reader, over the course of this winter season, to assemble a fly box
that will take black bass from moving water just about anywhere you'd care
to cast a line. At the end of the series we will have a very special
opportunity for one lucky read to win the fly box we will fill with these
flies during this Podcast series! Stay tuned for more details!
The Troth Bullhead
is one of my favorite flies. It's effective year-round and has
accounted for one of the finest smallmouth
outings I've ever experienced; a triple digit trip that took place one
September. It is, of course, a Muddler Minnow variant and a
brilliant one at that. The Troth Bullhead is designed to be an
imitation of a small catfish. Catfish are ubiquitous and it stands to
reason that gamefish would find them as tasty as we do.
schoolteacher from Pennsylvania, Al Troth became known as a guide,
outfitter, and professional fly tier after moving to Dillon, Montana.
He is the fellow who brought us such staples of the trout fly box as the
American Pheasant Tail nymph, the Elk Hair Caddis,
Terrible Troth Stone, Troth Salmon Fly and Gulper's Special. He
created this pattern to
fool big Madison River browns, trout that definitely had a taste for
meatier meals. While the Troth Bullhead is an effective imitation of
any small bullhead or immature catfish, it was designed specifically to
mimic the mad tom stone cat - a member of a group of fishes that consist
of about 25 species or so of the genus Noturus. Noturus
flavus can be found in good numbers in virtually any stream or river
healthy enough to maintain a population of trout or smallmouth bass, from
tiny creeks meandering out of the Appalachians to wider, warmer flat-land
flows and all the way into tumbling Rocky Mountain freestoners.
Mad toms live under the flat rocks
and in the crevices between boulders in well-oxygenated areas featuring
good current and modest depth. They are primarily nocturnal, as is true of
all members of the catfish clan, but they move about on rainy days, too. They are
cold water, so the mad tom is one of the first baitfish a smallmouth bass
will see during springtime pre-spawn conditions when water temps
are in the upper 40's. All through the season the mad tom will
remain available as prey to the gamefish population, especially under low
light conditions when it is overcast or as the water is rising during a
post-rain event. Typical mad toms are 4 to 5-inches in length, but
the species will range from 2-inch juveniles to 9-inch bruisers.
They are a substantial mouthful and therefore a prized delicacy; a situation bolstered by the fact that
they are slow and clumsy swimmers. Put bluntly, smallmouth eat the hell
out of these things!
While the original Troth
Bullhead was tied with black ostrich and dark natural deer hair, I much
prefer a very dark dun that matches my local baitfish population.
The natural hair is too brownish gray and too light for Midwestern flows,
but is a great choice for clear, rocky rivers with lighter bottoms.
Also its a fine choice to imitate sculpins. I've also found this fly
in a black or black-and-blue combination to be deadly and that's the first
color combination I'll grab at the very earliest part of the season.
Feel free to experiment with various color combinations, like the Muddler
Minnow on which it's based, the Troth Bullhead is really more of a style
of tying than a specific pattern.
Troth Bullhead is best fished on a sink-tip or full sinking line. Even
though the pattern has 10 or more wraps of .030 lead wire, the deer hair
head still pushes this fly towards neutral buoyancy. Put on enough
lead to really get the fly to sink and you'll kill the action in the
water. The flat, toad-shaped head pushes water making for a strong sonic
signature - a powerful strike trigger. It also makes the fly wobble
and wiggle, another powerful strike trigger. Kill the wiggle and the
fly loses its charm. Keep it just heavy enough to easily break the
surface tension and follow the line to the bottom and tie it on with a
non-slip mono loop knot for maximum shimmy. Retrieve the fly in very
short 3 to 6-inch staccato strips in order to truly imitate a
weak-swimming little catfish trying to find a place amongst the bottom
litter to hide and you'll be surprised at the response you'll get from
hungry bass and trout. And don't discount this fly in lakes and ponds.
Largemouth bass feed regularly on brown and yellow bullheads and immature
channel cats. This is a truly superb largemouth bass fly when fished
around blow-downs and weedy shores in late spring and early summer.
Hook: Size 4 to 5/0 Mustad SL53UBL
Signature Series salmon hook or similar up-eye salmon hook. Size 2/0
shown in video and size 1 and 2/0 are my go-to sizes. Conversely you
can use any size 4 to 5/0 3XL or 4XL streamer hook.
Tail: Cream or white marabou to
match body, black, dark dun or blue ostrich herl and peacock herl on top Thread: Black 140 denier, 6/0 for fly body, gelspun or similar for
spun deer hair head
Body: White, cream or primrose yellow
Antron yarn. Substitute dubbing or cactus chenille for different
Continuation of ostrich and peacock herl used in the tail
Black, dark dun, dark blue or natural deer body hair, 180 degrees over top
of the body and extending back no farther than the tie in point for the
Head: Spun deer hair, natural, black or
dark dun. Experiment with stacking dark blue or gray along the
Mount the hook in the vise and begin a thread
base. When I'm going to underwrap a lead body I leave the tag of the
tie-in thread to serve as a bridge to allow an easier creation of a
tapered thread "ramp" at each end of the wraps.
Here you see the lead - ten turns of .030 for
a size 2/0 - placed on the hook. You cover the middle third of the shank
with lead and have to leave plenty of room for the spun head.
Select the marabou for the tail, either light
cream, light yellow, white or some similar light shade. Tie it in at
the bend so it extends about 1.5 times the shank length behind the hook.
Use the butt materials to build a cushion over
the weighting wraps of lead. This helps to get the right body taper.
Tie in 12 to 20 ostrich herls. They should
extend about 20 percent beyond the marabou. I like to use black
ostrich which is what's called for in the original pattern, but experiment
with purple, blue, dark gray to simulate a lateral line and add a hint of
sharp contrast to your pattern. Don't cut off the butt ends!
Add 12 to 20 peacock herls on top of the
ostrich. The peacock should extend about 20 percent beyond the ostrich,
making for a nice taper at the rear of the fly. Don't cut off the
butt ends! Once the material is tied in, you'll fold those butt ends
back and lock them in with a few wraps of thread.
Now that the butts of the material are tied
back over the tail, advance your thread to a point in front of the lead
underbody and tie in the yarn. I use Aunt Lydia's Sparkle yarn in
cream, but you can use dubbing, chenille or wool yarn. The original
pattern called for wool yarn.
Wrap back to the tail and forward again,
making a thick, carrot-shaped yarn body. Tie off the yarn and clip
away the excess material.
Now fold over the butts of the ostrich and
peacock, making sure to keep them in line and in order. Push the
material back just a smidge so it lies along the back of the fly but isn't
tight - the fly will last longer if this tie isn't tight. As it is,
this back will like be the first victim after a few fish have eaten the
Clip off the black thread and change to
heavier gel-spun for deer hair spinning on the shank. Clip a bunch
of black or dark dun deer hair and roll a collar across the top 180
degrees of the hook, keeping the lower portion free of collar material.
Tie in a pinch of blue, dun or natural deer
hair for the lighter colored belly. Conversely you can use a monochromatic
head. There is plenty of room for experimentation to make this fly
look like the critters in the water you fish.
Add a pinch of black or darker back to the top
of the hook and flair the hair using the stacking method.
Continue to stack and flair deer hair until
the hook shank is covered.
Using a fresh double-sided razor blade, trim
the head. I like to take the hook out of the vise and hold it
hook-point-up for the first cut.
The first cut is flat and clears the hook
Use the razor to rough out a flat, triangular,
toad-shaped head being careful not to cut away the collar.
Continue to trim till you're happy and
take the resulting fly out fishing!
Part 1 of the 2 part YouTube
version is below. YouTube is limited to 10 minutes, so you may see
some videos are are normally downloaded in a single file broken into two
segments to better serve our YouTube and web viewers.