I've been experimenting with the weighted heads from Hareline. I've on to the Sculpin Helmets.

Sculpins are really cool fish. I kept two of them in my aquarium until they started eating me out of house and home. They would lay flat and motionless on the gravel at the bottom of the aquarium and then would dart out quicker than the eye could see to grab a guppies I was feeding them. The danged Sculpins would not eat anything that wasn't alive so I had to buy guppies.

It was fascinating. They'd be laying on the bottom... I'd dump in some more live guppies and in the blink of an eye, the sculpin was where the guppies once was. They are fast! But because they don't really swim around much but instead lay in wait, I'm not really sure how to fish the patterns. I suppose they must swim around every once in awhile but the ones I kept relied on the ambush technique so they primarily stayed on the bottom. The heads are designed to keep the pattern flat on and close to the bottom so I'll see how they work. There are sculpins in some stillwaters so I'll give them a try this summer.

Eventually, got tired of buying the sculpins live guppies so I released the sculpins in a nearby creek.

Eventually, got tired of buying the sculpins live guppies so I released the sculpins in a nearby creek.
Nice fly. They're typically not up in the water column. Short strips and long pauses, hits are normally after a strip.

I'm surprised that you managed to keep both of them for long -- most of our freshwater sculpins can eat a prey item up to about 40% of their body length, so if there's any size disparity, one of them is likely to get munched. Hope the creek was the one they came from, or at least the same drainage...


The creek drains into The Willamette River where they came from so the sculpins were fine. Yeah, considering the manner in which they moved, I'm sure short fast strips and then a long pause is the best way to present the pattern.

The sculpins in my aquarium were perfectly happy as long as I kept buying them live guppies... that got old and expensive in a hurry.

I put small LMB in the aquarium after the sculpins were released -- the bass at least would eat the night crawlers I got from the compost pile so they were so expensive to keep alive.


Active Member
what are you fishing for with them?

I have had sea runs pick them out of the sand on the bottom
and trout in streams hit them while being stripped


I'm not yet fishing them for anything. I plan to try them in some trout lakes... and if they don't work there, I guess I could lower myself to try them in a river :)

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Nice tie. I like those sculpin helmets, but they seem pretty expensive. I recall that Roger Stephens and some other tiers on the salt forum tied some sculpins on tubes with those last spring, and reported that they were effective Searun Cutthroat patterns for beach fishing. I balked at the price and didn't get any. I'm using cones with eyes, or just plain cones.

I have been fishing Sculpzillas as well as Wounded Sculpins. I'm going to try to tie up some of the Wounded Sculpins, since they look easier to tie than the Sculpzilla. Both patterns have been really effective for cutthroat in the rivers. I don't have the recipe, but I found some nicely tied versions of each in the bins at Waters West. I plan to use 'em for models, if I don't lose 'em first.

I'm also going to try to come up with one of my own that looks like the sculpins in my local estuary and tidal creeks. They are a different color (maybe of a different species) than the ones I've seen in rivers like the Satsop. The ones I saw up river on the Satsop were darker brown and grey mottled on their backs, and not very big.
The ones I've seen here in the estuary have usually been larger, and are lighter mottled brown on top, with a lot of yellow/gold on the sides and fins and white on the undersides.

The biggest cutthroat I have caught was in an O.P. river. It took a #6 black schlappen hackled Halloween bugger tied with a tail of mixed hot-orange and red hackle fibers, with some natural mallard flank in the mix. Gold BH. (I still have that fly. I just pulled it out of my box to write this description). When I released the big cutt, I noticed a sculpin about 2" long swimming in the shallows right in front of my feet. It was close to the bottom, heading to some hiding place.

My picture above is what I fish on moving waters, and is really just an adapted spring creek special. Since I'm nymphing it mostly, I dig the jig hook (Gami size 1 light wire), which is something that may be useful to still water guys as well. You can adjust the weight with any cone you like (I build a thread base and epoxy them on.) I tie in flash-anything from black flashabou, to a couple of strands of purple or copper, or just some olive gliss n' glow- it's all up to you, then a few wraps of a rabbit dubbing brush over the top and you're ready to go.

We used to have an article on WFF about the spring creek special, but it looks like Ryan has a website now so here's the SCS:


Well, if you never lose the fly, the price of the head isn't that expensive.:)

I only bought one package for the experiment. I've paid more for other tying experiments that went south.
I fish the near-nuff sculpin pattern and generally use short strips with a pause. I vary the strips and may use two short strips followed by a slight pause then maybe one strip and pause. Just imagine the sculpin searching for food and what it would look like actually swimming on the bottom of the water. If you can see the trout coming after the sculpin fly, start stripping short strips without a pause so that you actually trigger the trouts feeding actions
I fish the near-nuff sculpin pattern and generally Just imagine the sculpin searching for food and what it would look like actually swimming on the bottom of the water.
Most sculpins don't actively move around searching for food during the day, they hang out and wait for something to swim by. At night they'll move around more. Luckily, most trout don't seem to mind an erratically swimming sculpin imitation.


As I mentioned, the sculpins in my aquarium didn't move unless there was food involved. Thus, I'm not exactly sure how available they are to trout. For all we know, the sculpin patterns do not really represent a sculpin to the trout but because they catch fish, we figure they must.

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Thanks for the link to Ryan's blog and the recipe for the Spring Creek Special, Constructeur. Main takeaway: Losing the leather, and making a dubbing loop with the rabbit.

The Wounded Sculpin looks like an easy tie. Dave Steinbaugh at Waters West recommended it to me as one of the more effective sculpin patterns for trout in OP rivers. I had just lost my last Sculpzilla to a small summer fish (either a small steelhead or a good resident rainbow) on the Bogachiel, and was in his shop to pick up some more of 'em.

First time I fished the Wounded Sculpin, I cast to a nice cutthroat that I saw swirl inside the soft water along a seam, and it grabbed my fly as it swung into its holding area. First cast. Was a nice Searun Cutt of nearly 16"! Was off a clear intermediate 10' sinktip, and the fly wasn't that far under the surface. Definitely not near the bottom. I was swinging it to the fish.

I haven't tied one yet, and I don't have the recipe written down, so I'll just look at the fly.
Tied on a streamer hook, it has a tungsten cone, a body of dubbed "Ice Dub Orange" by Hareline Dubbin, and a strip of natural Pine Squirrel for a back and tail. Squirrel strip looks like it is tied down at the top of the hook bend and again right in front of the body behind the conehead, and then wrapped once around just behind the cone to make a collar.
There is a single strip of small red flashabou running the entire body length down each side, also tied in just behind the cone, and before the squirrel strip is wrapped as a collar.
I'll work the sequence of building this thing out as I tie it.
Materials are hook, thread, tungsten cone, Ice Dub Orange, Pine Squirrel strip (cut thin...I bought mine that way), and small red flashabou.

The nice thing about the Pine Squirrel is that its hide is thinner than a rabbit's, and the leather doesn't present as much of a flotation problem.


Sculpin Enterprises
Hi Gene et al.,
Those are some nice sculpin imitations. There are 10 species of freshwater sculpins (genus Cottus) found in Washington. There are 6 species in the Olympics alone. And there are 30+ marine species in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca; they range in size from two inch maximum to the world-record cabezon at 23 pounds). I have spent decades studying the marine species and I am starting some research projects with the freshwater species. While I think that the marine species are relatively straight forward to identify, many others agonize over them (familiarity breeds comfort...). The freshwater Cottus species are amongst the most difficult fishes in North America to identify; you have to count fin rays and look for tiny chin pores among other obscure characteristics.

Regardless of species, sculpins can change their coloration (pattern and grain) to match their environment, sometimes dramatically so. In addition to crypsis, they do keep a low profile, often hide under rocks or burrow into soft sediment; this is a favorite trick of Leptocottus armatus, the staghorn sculpin that fishers for searun cutts often encounter. I have watched Cottus while snorkeling in the St. Joe River in the summer and you can find them out in the open, often just below high current areas. They are probably waiting to intercept passing insect larvae. One can imagine that they are occasionally dislodged when they misjudge the current or grab a tasty morsel and are carried downstream. This puts them at risk of predators, like trout, and the variety of sculpin patterns testify to their effectiveness; you can find pictures from a WFF sculpin swap at

I have had three Cottus rhotheus (torrent sculpins) in the lab for several months. I and my students plan to shoot some high-speed video (1000 frames/s) to examine their feeding. I feed mine pieces of earthworms. I tried mealwom larvae from our lab colony, but they didn't like them (shocked me, frankly). If I had to use guppies, I wouldn't use them in lab - too expensive and a pain in the &$)#* as you saw. They are well-trained at this point and come out from their resting positions when I walk by the tank when it is feeding time.



Sculpin Enterprises
While I haven't tied any yet, I plan to tie some sculpin imitations that are a variant of the tandem tube style for steelhead. My plan is to use pine squirrel for the same reasons as Jim describes for the wounded sculpin pattern. While I was planning to use a cone on the front (or hot-beads for an egg-sucking sculpin pattern), I could see using the sculpin helmets too. I think that an advantage of the tube tube style is that it puts the hook back by the tail where predators are likely to grab it; no more short-strikes!! And you can get away with a smaller hook which should reduce collateral damage that can result when an ambitious small trout grabs a larger fly and the large hook trashes the little guy.


Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Thanks for the insight into sculpin behavior, Steve. Those tube sculpins that Roger Stevens tied up using the sculpin hemets last April sure look deadly. Couldn't find a pic here on the site, but Doug Rose has a pic of two that Roger tied up, as well as the recipe, in his blog. (I check his blog all the time..its my favorite NW fly fishing blog). It can be found there in the "Fly Tying and Entomology" section (see menus on left of page, which appear after clicking "Blog,", then scroll down to early April 2012 until you find it).