More than seventy years ago, Don Gapen created one
of the most recognized and effective fly patterns in existence. The
Muddler Minnow was designed as an imitation of a sculpin minnow to fool
the large, carnivorous brook trout of the Nipigon River. It was, of
course, immediately successful.
As the years went by the Muddler Minnow was found
to have a similar effect on brown trout, rainbow trout, and, especially,
smallmouth bass. An interesting bit of fishing trivia is that Jesse
Gapen, Don Gapen’s father, planted some of the first smallmouth bass in
Minnesota’s shield lakes. Along the way the Muddler Minnow gained
marabou wings, mylar tube bodies and multiple colors. Always it kept
the spun deer-hair head and flattened deer hair collar, however. And
that was a problem. Deer hair floats; sculpins do not. And spun deer
hair can be challenging for a lot of tiers.
Years later the Gapen family would again manage to
create a classic pattern, this time it was Don’s son, Dan. The pattern
was called the Thief, no doubt because its inspiration was blatantly
stolen from the Muddler Minnow! What changed was the substitution of a
chenille head for the buoyant spun deer hair of the original fly, a
change to a silver body to add a bit more flash, and the addition of a
red hackle fiber tail. All told, the changes made for an easier tie and
lost none of the effectiveness of the original Muddler Minnow. The
Thief is still used, but it never gained the popularity or legendary
status of its older sibling. Much is the shame. It’s a great pattern.
The Thief isn’t perfect, though. First, it rides
hook-point down, which can generate a lot of frustration if you’re
fishing a rocky creek or wooded oxbow. If the Thief is weighted with
wraps of lead wire, it tends to sink bend-first. This is a bit
unnatural. In short, the Thief is a good fly, even if it’s not
ultimately refined. Enter the Modern Thief.
The Modern Thief is my take on a great fly. I’ve
added the attributes of another classic pattern, the Clouser Deep
Minnow, making this Modern Thief inverted and snag resistant. Also, the
lead eyes make for a nicely flattened head with a good strong lateral
Hook – Daiichi 1750 or any 4xl ring eye hook,
size 2 to 10 (size 6 shown).
Thread – Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail – Red or claret hackle fibers.
Body – Medium flat silver tinsel or holographic tinsel (shown).
Wing – Red fox squirrel tail or gray squirrel tail flanked by
mottled turkey strips.
Weight – Small or medium lead dumbbell eyes
Head – Black chenille