The Sculpin Diet - Is it a Fad?

Atkins, Paleo, Veg-head diets are fads but one thing is for sure….trout will always eat a sculpin.  The sculpin is a staple to the trout’s diet and for good reason.

This brown trout couldn’t resist the jigging sculpin.

This brown trout couldn’t resist the jigging sculpin.

The mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdii) is a freshwater sculpin (family Cottidae) found widely although unevenly throughout North America according to Wikipedia. The sculpin is a chubby little bugger that can grow up to 8 inches in length.  They don’t have an air bladder so they are bottom swimmers. The absence of the bladder and buoyancy is something to take into consideration when you fish a sculpin fly pattern. Another major difference from other bait fish is that sculpin have prominent pectoral fins. This is an additional feature to take into consideration when fishing the pattern.  

So how do you fish a sculpin pattern? Yes, bombing it out there and ripping it back works.  However, let’s really think about it for a minute or two.

Okay, time is up. When fishing we are trying to imitate a food source. We always talk about getting the perfect drift for dry flies but with streamers, most anglers don’t vary their tactics.  

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Think about the bass fisherman and or watch a bass tournament. They fish worms, leaches, spinners, crankbaits etc.. These are some of the best anglers in the world. They have thousands of hours on the water. Have you ever noticed how they fish lures differently? Ones a twitch another is a yank, etc., etc.. Imitation is the name of the game.  

Let’s get our focus back to the sculpin. The sculpin doesn’t travel much and in fact, they typically live in a range of fewer than 200 feet in circumference. When they do move they are typically in a predatory mode. They scurry up and out of their safe zone down in amongst the rocks, then drift and control the drift with their oversized pectoral fins. Notice I said drift. So they typically aren’t scurrying upstream. Additionally, and this goes for all baitfish in a river system.  When a baitfish is attempting to evade a predator the baitfish is going to evade in a downstream manner in most cases and use the current to their advantage.

With all that in mind, I recommend fishing the pattern in a jigging manner that is down low in the water column and in fact right on top of the riverbed substrate. Essentially, you are bouncing the fly off the bottom in your retrieve and angling that retrieve back down the river.

Tip: When retrieving down the stream and or in any retrieve it is critical that you maintain contact with the fly, so you can feel the take and achieve a proper hook set.

Getting the fly down is important and there are multiple ways of achieving this. Sinking lines, sink tips and weighted flies. I personally use combinations of both. With sculpin patterns, I almost exclusively use a sculpin head on my fly. I love how that heavy head really jigs the pattern up out of the rocks then drifts down quick, making the flies action over exaggerated in the water. Imagine that the sculpin is ducking and weaving in and out of its safety zones.

Tip: My sculpin patterns are almost exclusively tied hook up. Because I’m bouncing the bottom so often I prefer the hook up position to avoid hang-ups.  

Give these techniques a try when you fish a sculpin pattern on your next outing.  Jigg that fly, keep it on the bottom and pull it downstream. Hopefully, it will increase your catch rate and land you a big old meat eater!

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