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  • Designing Flies That Move Part 2: Creature Feature.
  • Post author
    John Satkowski
  • fly fishingfly tyingpopper fishingstreamer fishing

Designing Flies That Move Part 2: Creature Feature.

This is Part 2 of a 4-part blog series on articulated fly design. Read Part 1 here.

The basic principle of fly tying is to come up with a fly that imitates a fish’s choice food.

This gets a bit trickier, in my opinion, when you are imitating creatures other than insects.

A mayfly’s movement will change depending on what part of its lifecycle is occurring or if wind or weather is a factor in the hatch, whereas a creature like a frog, on the other hand, will desperately move all kinds of different ways when a hungry largemouth is chasing it. 

Some observation is almost always required to tie a pattern that will be a successful imitation of a fish’s preferred food source. Don’t be afraid to go "fishing" every once in a while without a rod; I find I learn more sometimes that way.

Take the time to really look at the way prey and food items move and when you go back to tie, choose materials that will do the best job creating that specific kind of movement that you are trying to achieve.

Headbanger Frog.

  • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S 2-3/0.
  • Thread: 6/0 Chartreuse Unithread.
  • Front Legs: Holographic Olive chartreuse Flashabou, large curly tail (chartreuse), silicon rubber leg strips (Watermelon color) tied on 30lb. Mason hard mono stem.
  • Back Legs: Holographic Olive chartreuse Flashabou, barred chartreuse magnum rabbit strips, large curly tail, tied on 30lb. Mason hard mono stem.
  • Body: Dark green deer body hair stacked over gray Senyo laser yarn with a chartreuse schlappen collar.
  • Butt: Chartreuse large trilobal chenille.
  • Eyes: Surface Seducer Dragon Eyes, Oceanic (green), size to match popper head.
  • Head: Surface Seducer Double Barrel popper & slider head glued to a 20mm Fish-Skull Articulated Shank, size of shank can be changed depending on back hook size and popper head.
  • Adhesive: Krazy glue.
  • Markings: Prismacolor markers.

Frogs swim with a basic kicking movement and if you sit near a pond or lake you can easily observe them swimming around.

The Headbanger Frog does a good job of tricking the fish by imitating a frog gently swimming along. The real magic comes when you throw the fly out and start really ripping it through the water. The head, arms, and legs start wildly moving and that is when the bite usually comes.

I really enjoy tying and fishing frog imitations because watching a bass come up and hit a frog on the top is enough to take your breath away. You can usually see the fish follow it or come up if the water is clear enough. When the fish comes up from the depths to check out the frog, you can create some crazy action with the fly and watch the carnage that follows. These types of trigger movements can get the tough fish biting and should always have a place in your fly box.

Inside look: Designing the Surface Seducer Double Barrel.

This pattern was the basically the prototype for the Rattle Trap Sucker Fly. I actually started playing around with the idea for a larger frog fly when my bass sized popper had acquired a couple strands of long grass and a nice pike came up and swiped at the fly. I cleared my fly of the grass and made some more casts and there was no interest. I switched to a popper I had with a long rabbit strip off the back and immediately got a strike so I figured the pike were wanting larger silhouetted flies on the top.

I came up with a frog that will wiggle back and forth but also have a swimming action to it. The curly tails add a touch more movement, especially the in the back. The rabbit strips activate in the water and kick with the tails fluttering. This is one of my favorite flies to move a little quicker with a double handed retrieve.

You can make the head with the popper cup facing out as well, but for speedier retrieves I use the slider style. I tie this fly in natural greens, browns, and all black.

Laser Changer.

  • Shanks: Fish-Skull Articulated Fish-Spines.
  • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S 2-1/0.
  • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (tan).
  • Tail Section: Barred mini marabou (tan), yellow Senyo laser yarn on bottom and sculpin olive Senyo laser yarn on top, yellow saddle hackle collar, gold holographic flashabou.
  • Next Section: yellow Senyo laser yarn on bottom and sculpin olive Senyo laser yarn on top, yellow saddle hackle collar.
  • 3rd Section: yellow Senyo laser yarn on bottom and sculpin olive Senyo laser yarn on top, yellow saddle hackle collar.
  • 4th Section: yellow Senyo laser yarn on bottom and sculpin olive Senyo laser yarn on top, yellow saddle hackle collar.
  • Hook Section: Gold ice dub spun in a dubbing loop and brushedout, barred mini marabou on the sides.
  • Head: (Top) Sculpin olive blended into black Senyo laser yarn (Bottom) yellow blended into flo. Orange Senyo laser yarn.
  • Eyes: Fish-Skull Living Eyes, Earth, 15 mm.
  • Adhesive: Krazy glue.
  • Connecting Wire/beads: Beadalon .46mm (black).
  • Markings: Black and red permanent markers.
  • Weight: .25 lead wire.

The Laser Changer easier to cast than most baitfish patterns because the body material sheds water a lot better than some other synthetics.

I wanted to experiment with different materials than just the minnow wrap that is usually reserved for making Game Changers. I like using laser yarn for my heads on streamers because it slims down nicely in the water and sheds water fairly easily. I added some hackle collars at each shank to imitate fins and just tie everything together.

Fly selection and speed of current.

On my home waters of northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, creek chubs are the main forage for the smallmouth and pike that live there. Chubs are beautiful little fish with iridescent sides that can be hard to imitate with just white minnow wrap.

With the laser yarn you can still get the bulk, but you can mix it and create nice blends to imitate the forage fish in your area. You can create all kinds of small fish imitations with great movement like this little baby brown trout.

    Cranky Cray.

    Hook section.

    • Hook: Any stinger style hook with a decent gape.
    • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (tan).
    • Head: Two strands of black krystal flash, Two tan barred rubber leg strands, brown mallard flank fibers, clump of Australian Opossum, clump of dark tan Senyo laser yarn picked out.
    • Eyes: 12 lb. mono strung with small black beads and melted together with lighter.
    • Body: Tan hare’s ear dubbing and remaining clump of dark tab Senyo laser yarn pulled over as carapace and tied down in two sections.
    • Claws: Tan pieces of sheet foam cut to shape and sandwiched/glued between a piece of white 30-40lb. braided line.
    • Legs: Gold fleck and clear silicon strip rubber legs.

    Articulated Shank section.

    Crayfish have a unique backwards movement that is very hard to imitate – throw in a shank and a Shrimp & Cray Tail and you have something that moves just like a little mudbug.

    The fly can be sped up and retrieved very quickly or twitched at rest. The foam claws start waving when the fly is at rest.

    Inside look: Designing the Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail.

    The lesson I learned while developing this fly is if you can get a fly to move a certain way with very little effort and tying technique, it’s a really effective method. The claws look like a crayfish’s claws, but they are a good exercise in form versus function.

    As I design commercial patterns, I often look for ways to maximize materials and creativity while tying new patterns. There are a ton of different crayfish patterns on the market and most of them are pretty productive.

    The thing that I have noticed when using craw patterns is the more realistic ones do not always work as well. When it comes to crayfish, movement is more important than realistic silhouette and appearance.

    I sat down and tried to really think about how I could have the best of both worlds. The foam claws are basically strung on the fireline so when the fly is at rest the claws come up for attack mode just like a real crayfish. The Flymen Cray tail gives the fly weight and a nice fleeing action when stripped so it scoots away just like the natural.

    Crayfish are actually quite a complex creature to mimic in fishing lure form, but this pattern is good when the bites are tough and the fish are being picky.

      Sucker Punch.

      • Shank: Fish-Skull Senyo’s Articulated Shank for steelhead and salmon flies, copper, 40 mm.
      • Hook: Owner Mosquito hook size 2-2/0.
      • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (dark brown).
      • Wire: Senyo’s Intruder Trailer Hook Wire (black).
      • Tail: Copper flashabou, Copper Wing-n-Flash, barred rust colored zonker strip.
      • Body: Copper ice dub in a dubbing loop and brushed out, burnt orange barred marabou tied on sides over body, cream colored marabou tied on the bottom of the hook.
      • Head: White and yellow Senyo laser yarn on the bottom and rust, brown, and black Senyo laser yarn on the top (brushed well and blended).
      • Topping: Black wing-n-flash.
      • Weight: Lead eye (black/red).
      • Markings: Brown permanent marker.

      The Sucker Punch really shines once it gets wet. The rabbit tail waves and all the materials come together to closely resemble a small sucker or stoneroller.

      When you look at how a sucker swims, they are not very animated compared to other fish species. They are mostly bottom dwellers with slow, deliberate movements. The fly does a good job of mimicking this food source’s basic movement and appearance.

      Swing it! Spey streamer fly fishing tips.

      Every once in a while, swinging streamers can be productive in the areas I fish for smallmouth. I generally don’t care for fishing that way but it can be incredibly productive at times. I don’t really swing flies because the pike that inhabit the deep holes don’t come up and stare at flies. They either come up and smash it or follow for a bit and then when you’re ready to recast they attack the fly at the change in direction.

      Sharp, violent movements are usually the key to triggering the bigger fish, but when the water clears and warms, the pike find deeper, cooler areas to congregate. The smallmouth bass are then free to roam the water looking for food. This is the time of year when they really focus in on chubs, suckers, and small baitfish.

      I tied the Sucker Punch to be a small baitfish imitation that can represent a couple prey items. You can strip it, swing it, or double-hand retrieve this fly. It's also a good alternative to a Clouser at times because of the slithering movement of the rabbit strip in the water.

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      About John Satkowski:

      John Satkowski resides in Toledo, Ohio, where he fishes for all fish that swim in the rivers and lakes of southeastern Michigan and northwest Ohio. An artist, fly tying demonstrator, and fly tying instructor, John shares his love of fly tying and fishing as often as he can. For the last fifteen years, he has focused on unlocking the secrets of smallmouth bass, carp, trout, and northern pike on the fly, chasing after them in the rivers and lakes of the Wolverine state and the glory waters of Montana. John is also an accomplished realistic tyer and always tries to add a little realistic flair to his patterns. John’s patterns often use creative fly materials and unconventional tying styles. Check out his bio and commercial fly patterns at Rainy's Flies. You can get a hold of John by visiting the River Raisin Fly Company page on Facebook or through email at RiverRaisinFlyCompany13@gmail.com.

      • Post author
        John Satkowski
      • fly fishingfly tyingpopper fishingstreamer fishing

      Comments on this post (7)

      • Nov 07, 2017

        I just wish I had the time to tie these flies.

        — Joe loeschinger

      • Nov 07, 2017

        Great ties! love the frog especially.

        — Raymond Meneses

      • Nov 06, 2017

        i did made those flies but i dont know why went with flyfishing and try out see how good bait bite

        — lawrance freeman cogar

      • Nov 06, 2017

        Great article Love the cray pattern cheers for sharing

        — Andrew Wakefield

      • Nov 06, 2017

        These and all of your flies are great. Really appreciate them. Keep up the good work.
        Tight Lines

        — robert scotti

      • Nov 06, 2017

        Thank you Jack, tight lines!!!

        — John Satkowski

      • Nov 06, 2017

        Nice flies

        — Jack Pease

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