s

Flymen Blog

  • Designing Flies That Move Part 4: Throwing Loops To Jaws
  • Post author
    John Satkowski
  • fly fishingfly tyingmuskypikestreamer fishing

Designing Flies That Move Part 4: Throwing Loops To Jaws

This is Part 4 of a 4-part blog series on articulated fly design. Read Part 1 here, read Part 2 here, and read Part 3 here.

While I’m always excited to catch any fish regardless of size, the level of excitement goes up exponentially when casting for predatory fish like musky and pike.

There is something seemingly primal about these fish — maybe it’s all their teeth in that crooked grin. There are a couple of puzzles to figure out when designing and tying big flies for big fish.

To get bigger fish interested in your flies, they have to be of sizable equity to the fish. In other words, you throw a big fly to a big fish because they need a bigger meal to sustain their weight. Smaller patterns will more often than not get the results that a larger fly will, especially in waters known to house bigger fish.

Big flies can often be mistaken for a lot of materials stacked onto a hook. The more materials you tie on a hook, the heavier it will be. With some musky flies being a foot long, you don’t want your arm to fall off halfway through a fishing trip. The trick is to pick materials that shed water easily and impart the kind of action and movement that makes Mr. Pike or Musky start drooling. I like tying with synthetics for big flies because they shed water much better than natural materials and synthetics allow the tyer to tie longer flies.

When you pick materials for big fish flies consider three things:

  • Durability
  • water-shedding ability
  • Length

Rattle Trap (Musky Size)

Back Hook  

  • Hook: Any large durable big game hook
  • Body: Alternating clumps of dark bucktail in tan, brown, and black
  • Body-bottom: White and a very light tan bucktail with a couple saddles tied on the sides of the fly in each clump
  • Spacers: Fish-Skull Body Tubing, black

Back Shank

  • Shank: Fish-Skull Articulated Shank, 35 mm
  • Body: Alternating clumps of dark bucktail in tan, brown, and black
  • Body-bottom: White and a very light tan bucktail with a couple saddles tied on the sides of the fly in each clump
  • Spacers: Fish-Skull Body Tubing, black

Front Hook

  • Hook: Any large durable big game hook
  • Body: Alternating clumps of dark bucktail in tan, brown, black, and orange
  • Body-bottom: White and a very light tan bucktail with a couple saddles tied on the sides of the fly in each clump
  • Spacers: Fish-Skull Body Tubing, black
  • Rattles: Spinnerbait rattle pod with rattles on each side (glued and tied down)
  • Collar: Palmered rust-colored marabou

Front Shank

  • Shank: Fish-Skull Articulated Shank, 20 or 35 mm
  • Head: Surface Seducer Double Barrel popper & slider body, large, reversed, and colored with Prismacolor markers and clear coated for durability
  • Eyes: Surface Seducer Dragon Eyes, volcano color (size to match popper head) 
  • Adhesive: Krazy glue
  • Connecting wire/beads: Surflon 40lb. wire (black), medium chartreuse round beads

The Rattle Trap was born out of me experimenting with different ways of making a baitfish streamer with a floating head. Suckers are very common forage fish for musky to eat. I once saw an axe-handle size pike resting against a bridge pylon trying to digest a big white sucker that was stuck in its mouth. There is no such thing as too big with these fish, so I grabbed some bucktail and started tying. Bucktail is very durable when put to the test against a fish's teeth. The bucktail  may not move and breathe much but the fact that the articulation is there makes the body move and swim, as well as acting as a base for other materials with more movement to be tied on top of it.

The barred marabou collar imitates the sucker’s fins or gills moving and the reversed foam Surface Seducer Double Barrel head moves and wiggles when stripped. This type of movement helps call the big ones in.

Each section is spaced and spread out by Body Tubing. The entire fly is built this way making it teeth-proof and eliminating weight and extra bulk to keep it light and castable. Tying with different body materials and shank placements and arrangements can also be a key to designing a fly that moves in an exciting, new way. 


Not only was this my favorite fly to tie for this article, it’s the most artistic as well. Couple the bucktail with some nice seductive (yes, I am calling the saddle hackle seductive) premium saddle hackles and you have a big pattern that pushes water and has good movement. The hidden rattle pod and the head of this fly really set it apart. I got together all the markers that are brown or tan in hue and started making marks on the foam Double Barrel head and smudging it slightly with my index finger. After a couple layers, the foam takes on life and starts to look like a sucker head with all the subtle color variations present in the real fish.

Make some noise! How to tie loud flies for esox fishing.

Once you have colored the foam, you can either clear coat it a couple of times or run a thin layer of epoxy over the entire head for durability. The Dragon Eyes complete the package and they even give this fly a slightly mad or grumpy appearance.

Wounded Baitfish

Back Hook

  • Hook: Gamakatsu EWG Offset Shank Worm Hook sizes 2-4/0
  • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (olive)
  • Instructions: Put a 30lb. piece of Mason hard mono in the vise, palmer three to four marabou plumes on the mono with green polar flash mixed in, attach your thread to the space near the eye of the EWG hook and tie the mono stem down, Fill the space to the eye with palmered marabou (olive) and green polar flash and whip finish

Shank 

  • Shank: Fish-Skull Big Game Shank, 28mm
  • Body-top: Olive marabou mixed with green polar flash tied in clumps on the top of the shank and
  • Body-bottom: White marabou mixed with pearl polar flash on the bottom of the shank

Front Hook

  • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S sizes 2-3/0 (Fly tied on its side)
  • Body: Red palmered marabou, olive marabou mixed with green polar flash on top and white marabou mixed with pearl polar flash on the bottom
  • Collar: Olive under brown under black Senyo laser yarn on top, white under yellow under olive Senyo laser yarn on the bottom, clump of red uv ice dub in the middle and several strands of thin later scale flash down the middle of the fly to the tail
  • Head: Fish-Skull Fish-Mask, size to match hook
  • Eyes: Fish-Skull Living Eyes, size to match Fish-Mask
  • Connecting Wire: Beadalon .46mm (black)

The Wounded Baitfish is an exercise in movement created by different tying techniques. The whole fly is tied sideways on the hook so that when stripped through the water, it will impart a dying action to the fly. Weighting this style of fly can be a little tough, but once you figure out a system to get the fly to do what you want you are set. The Fish-Mask balances this fly nicely, you can also cut circles of lead tape the same size as the eyes in the eye hole of the Fish-Mask before you put the eyes in. In this manner, you can control the action, weight, and balance of the fly.

I really like the idea of tying flies on their side. I was at home reading one of my bass fly pattern books and there is a pattern that uses spun deer body hair and is tied on its side. I tied the fly and played with it in the water and it has a great injured appearance. I wanted to emulate this to tempt some predator fish but on a bigger scale. When I throw on a small baitfish imitation, I can go catch rock bass by the dozens by throwing near rock crevices. Every once in a while, a toothy critter will be observing the struggling rock bass and come try to do a pick off move on my fish. I designed this fly with a wide-bodied fish in mind, but if you slim out the profile it could work as a chub, shad, or even perch. Sometimes when fish approach an injured, twitching bait, they may miss once or twice before actually snagging their prey. I put a keeled Gamakatsu G-Lock hook as the back hook to not miss short strikers and odd takes. This makes the fly very weedless and the hook is basically hidden by the marabou.

The power of suggestion: 3 key elements of streamer fly design.

If you take a look the Wounded Baitfish’s eyes you will notice they are quite large. Predatory fish seem to have an affinity for a pattern that has eyes, and more specifically big, noticeable eyes. If you look at a double bunny, without the eyes, it is two hunks of rabbit hide glued together. When you put the eyes on a little fish appears before your eyes. I’m not saying you always have to use eyes, but it has been my experience that they help your confidence and hookup ratio.

Crafty Skrat

Back Shank

  • Shank: Fish-Skull Articulated Shank, 20 mm
  • Body: Black magnum rabbit strip tail and dark brown sheet foam tied all around the shank with thread and covered with natural color craft fur in a dubbing loop

Next Shank

  • Shank: Fish-Skull Articulated Shank, 35mm
  • Body: Dark brown sheet foam tied all around the shank with thread and covered with natural color craft fur in a dubbing loop

Back Hook

  • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S size 2-2/0
  • Body: Dark brown sheet foam tied all around the hook and covered with natural color craft fur in a dubbing loop

Front Hook

  • Hook: Owner Straight Shank Wide Gap 3x Worm Hook, sizes 1/0 - 5/0
  • Body: Dark brown sheet foam tied all around the hook and covered with natural color craft fur in a dubbing loop
  • Ears, Nose: Dark brown, black sheet foam
  • Head: Surface Seducer Double Barrel popper & slider body, large, reversed, and covered with tacky craft glue and bits of craft fur underfur combed out and applied to the surface
  • Eyes: Plastic eyes, gold
  • Arms/legs: Black magnum rabbit strip trimmed to shape, black curly tail, silicon rubber leg strips (brown with red flake) tied to mono stems and superglued or epoxied
  • Adhesive: Krazy glue, tacky craft glue
  • Connecting Wire/Beads: Beadalon 46mm (black), size medium red Czech beads
  • Whiskers: Paintbrush bristles
  • Weedguard: 30. Lb Mason hard mono glued into foam

Mousing has become very popular for catching big trout and bass after dark. The mouse “hatch” even intensifies when you have a full moon out and the silhouettes of little furry critters dancing on the top of the water make the fish go crazy and hit with wild abandon. In smaller waters, muskrats can be very plentiful and where there are adult muskrats, there are baby muskrats. I know that trout eat mice and rats and I know that bass will also. What I did not know is that the big bad northern pike will consume baby muskrats as a mean snack when they are really hungry.

The genesis for this fly came a couple of years ago when I was fishing one foggy morning. I saw the usual flora and fauna about, nothing was really out of place. I got my big box of pike flies out and put on an all chartreuse bunny strip streamer and let it rip. I was almost getting ready to recast and a dark colored, slender freight train with teeth came rocketing up out of the water and absolutely murdered my fly. I fought the fish for a bit and then was able to get my hands on it. As the fish was settling down, I saw something come out of the fish’s mouth. The weird mass was very dark brown in color and looked really slimy and disgusting. I released the fish and went over to the mysterious blob. It was a waterlogged baby muskrat! I was in shock because I realized that this pike ate a baby muskrat and then apparently was still hungry enough to eat my big chartreuse streamer.

Fly fishing for predators: 3 ways to entice an aggressive eat.

This is why pike always have a special place in my heart — they are toothy eating machines and this swimming baby muskrat is one way to nail a big one. I wanted this pattern to really be the icing on the cake. The fly looks and feels real enough that you want to pet it.

Monstro Leech

Back Shank

  • Shank: Fish-Skull Big Game Shank, 28mm shanks,
  • Tail: 2 curly tails
  • Body: copper ice dub spun in a dubbing loop and brushed out, copper flashabou
  • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (dark brown)

Back Hook

  • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S size 2-2/0
  • Tail: Brown marabou palmered
  • Body: Copper ice dub in a dubbing loop and brushed out over which is a couple strands of copper flashabou
  • Collar: Brown angora goat dubbing in a loop and combed and teased out with barred mini marabou (tan) tied short on the sides

Front Hook

  • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S size 2-2/0
  • Tail: Palmered marabou, brown
  • Body: Copper ice dub in a dubbing loop and brushed out over which is a couple strands of copper flashabou, UV Copper Polar Chenille
  • Collar: Brown angora goat dubbing in a loop and combed and teased out with barred tan mini marabou tied longer on the sides
  • Head: Rust then brown Senyo laser yarn (brushed well)
  • Weight: .25 lead wire
  • Eyes: Fish-Skull Living Eyes, 15 mm, fire color

The Monstro Leech came out of experimenting with shanks and hooks in different configurations. The fly has a shank on the tail and then two articulated hooks. I noticed that this configuration really sends the back shank out wide when being stripped. The addition of the curly tails really give fish something that they just cannot handle. When the big boys are out, I tie this big beast on and get ready.

Catch bigger fish on the fly in 3 simple steps.

The fly is composed of ice dub in a dubbing loop and thoroughly brushed out. I also added some angora goat and marabou in the mix. All these materials breathe great in the water and are fairly easy on the arm when casting all day. The natural colors and textures mixed with the flash really bring this fly alive in the water. Tie it in small sizes for trout or upgrade to beastmode and tie it on 5/0 hooks for musky — this fly is sure to activate some neutral fish.

Want more articles like this? 

Subscribe to the Flymen mailing list at the bottom of the page!

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 tyingmuskypikestreamer fishing

Comments on this post (5)

  • Jan 29, 2018

    I have been using Skull head Sculpin patterns with some success here in Wyoming. A fast retrieve in shallow water seems to work best.

    I have broken off a couple times when using a heavy tippet without even a chance of a retrieve . Big fly..big fish does work.

    — john parr

  • Jan 29, 2018

    Thank you for the kind words Ron and Capt. Tom

    — John Satkowski

  • Jan 29, 2018

    Hello Capt. Tom, I do tie big poppers from time to time but honestly a great fly is an articulated deer hair diver. Lots of movement and the fly really pushes water. I have a crease fly that I tie where the foam has braided line hinges and swims really nice like a big baitfish. Take some of the Flymen articulation shanks and use those following a big main hook and you will get a big fly that has the right profile. Gamechangers will also do the job very well. I really like half and halfs but even with the added saddles on the back the fly really slims down in the water, the same thing can happen with even the biggest deceivers. I have been trying to build bulk but not weight into my bigger patterns to increase castability. Have you tried anything like an articulated bush pig or yak hair streamers?

    — John Satkowski

  • Jan 29, 2018

    Great info looking forward of more in the future good job

    — Ron

  • Jan 29, 2018

    Beautiful flies.

    Big flies catch large fish. I fly fish on the Chesapeake Bay for striped bass. Do you have any big flies such as poppers, crease, or half and halfs?

    — Capt. Tom Hughes

Leave a comment