Published Jun 1. 2013 - 11 years ago
Updated or edited Jun 22. 2023

Gapen's Muddler Minnow

This is an article about Don Gapen's original Muddler Minnow - a fly that is tied in countless versions and has inspired thousands of patterns, but only few that resemble the original

Ted Patlen Muddler Minnow - A Gapen Muddler Minnow tied much in the style of Don Gapen himself by US tier Ted Patlen
Ted Patlen Muddler Minnow - Detail study of Ted Patlen\'s Muddler Minnow tied in the Gapen tradition
Ted Patlen's Muddler Minnow
Bob Petti - Martin Joergensen

I love muddlers and have tied many, many of them. I like tying them, looking at them and not least fishing them. The muddler technique can be used for many types of flies from deep fishing baitfish patterns to streaking caddises.

Spinning hair

The idea of spinning deer hair to form a voluminous head is attributed to Don Gapen of Anoka, Minnesota in the US, and the original Muddler Minnow was tied by him back in 1937 specially developed to catch brook trout in Ontario, Canada.

I knew that it was quite a lot messier than most muddlers tied nowadays. My own muddlers are stacked, spun and trimmed and I actually strive to get them dense and smooth, but with a bit of uneven, rustic charm. Some muddlers are so meticulously tied that it's almost crazy, and even I don't go that far to make mine neat and tidy. I knew that this wasn't quite in the vein of the original Gapen muddlers, but we tyers tend to like neatly tied flies.

Messy muddlers

The Terrible Muddler - Now we\'re getting closer to Gapen\'s style, but still not quite there
The Messy Pike Fly - Not nearly as messy as Don Gapen\'s original muddler
Not messy at all - This Messy Pike Fly is actually not messy at all, but neatly trimmed
Not messy enough
Martin Joergensen

I have experimented with messy muddlers with great success both for trout and pike, and I honestly thought that I had made them as messy as Gapen did. But during a recent visit to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum I saw one of Gapen's own Muddler Minnows, which is on display there together with a lot of other classic flies tied by their originators.

Even messier

And man, that is one messy fly!

First of all: the head is just a bunch of untrimmed, spun deer hair. No even collar, no nice conical bullet shape, no flat underside. Just hair sticking out in all directions.

The original - This is a Muddler Minnow tied by the originator Don Gapen himself
Original Gapen muddler - Don Gapen tied his muddlers commercially, and this is an image of an original package containing a muddler for sale
Don Gapen Muddler Minnows
Bob Mead - Martin Joergensen
Original Muddler - Another Muddler Minnow tied commercially by Gapen, this one from the 60\'s
Original Muddler
Mick Hall

When I announced this article on Facebook, I got this note from Mick Hall:

Hi Martin,
I have an original Muddler tied by Don Gapen way back in the late 1960s A fishing tackle store in Melbourne called J M Turvilles imported a number directly from Don they came in small plastic boxes and sold for $1.00 au If you would like a hi res shot to use any way you wish I will gladly send one to you.
Cheers Mick

You can see Mick's Muddler Minnow on the image here, and can again confirm that although it's very neatly tied and is trimmed and with a more distinct collar than the really early Gapen muddlers, it's still a lot more bulky than many of today's Muddler Minnows.

Neat muddlers - These muddlers are tied like I usually tie them: on top what can only be called an interpretation of Gapens Muddler Minnow, using the same basic materials, but a far cry from the Gapen fly, and below a Polar Muddler, one of my favorite muddlers for sea run brown trout
Neat muddlers
Martin Joergensen

And man, that is one messy fly!

Secondly the rest of the fly is a mess too! A large turkey tail, a very rough body made of some kind of embossed gold tinsel, wound on the hook shank with no concern for smoothness or finesse. And sure the wing is squirrel and turkey, but a large bunch of each tied in so that it almost covers the body.

To top it all off the deer hair head is placed a bit down the hook shank, and the fly is finished with a large, bulky and not very elegant head made of thread and varnish.

Very, very different from most muddlers tied these days - including my own.

The method of closer trimming a denser muddler head is attributed to Dan Bailey, whose muddlers in the 50's were used to imitate grasshoppers and obviously needed to have a more well defined profile and maybe some better floatation, which is what the repeated spinning, packing and trimming of the deer hair yields. That technique is the most common i muddlers nowadays and the muddler style is used to imitate caddises, hoppers, baitfish and many other naturals as well as to create a large number of "fantasy flies" like bass poppers.

In Gapen's honor

So to honor Don Gapen and this fantastic fly concept, which has brought me countless hours of joy at the vise and at the water, I will show how to tie the Muddler Minnow Gapen style. I'm not the first one to have done so (apart from Gapen himself of course). Many tyers have tied flies that look like his original. I recently saw and photographed a fly by Ted Patlen, which is very true to the original. This fly is found in a picture above as well as in this article featuring a whole bunch of flies tied as the originators would have done it.

The Gapen family

The Gapen family is still in business and runs a tackle company called The Gapen Company, based on what Don Gapen started back in the 30's and now lead by Don's son Dan D. Gapen, who is an author and the CEO of the company. The company mainly manufacturers and sells spinning lures, but you can still buy the original Muddler Miinnow, tied much in the tradition shown above. You can also read a brief history of the family and their activities.

Muddler Minnow
Pattern type: 
Don Gapen
Kamasan B800 size 2-4 or similar long shank streamer hook
White 6/0
Turkey strips
Embossed golden metal tinsel
Turkey strips
Spun, natural deer hair
Tying thread
Skill level/difficulty: 

Step 1 -hook

Step 2 - start thread

Step 3 - tail

Step 4 - position tail

Step 5 - tail tied in

Step 6 - thread base

Step 7 - tinsel

Step 8- start in the front

Step 9 - and back

Step 10 - tie down and trim

Step 11 - squirrel

Step 12 - tie in underwing

Step 13 - turkey wing strips

Step 14 - position wings

Step 15 - catch strips

Step 16 - tighten

Step 17 - deer hair

Step 18 - position hair

Step 19 - spin

Step 20 - stroke back

Step 21 - head

Step 22 - varnish

The Muddler Minnow

Fishing the fly

My guess is that the Muddler Minnow of the 30's has been fished very traditionally either by casting it downstream across a current and letting it swing back or by casting and stripping it in lakes or even trolling it behind a boat. Unlike many of the modern muddlers (including many of my own), I don't think the Gapen fly has floated or even fished high in the water. The hook was heavy and the tinsel most likely metal tinsel, which has added to the weight, and the deer hair was tied so sparsely that it hardly added much buoyancy. I think this fly was a perfect imitation of a bottom dwelling species like a sculpin and was fished as such.

More on muddlers

If you want to tie a neater Muddler you can follow the instructions in many articles on this site:

We have a ton more.

And there's a video too:


I've used these up t...

I've used these up through Northwestern B.C. to Alaska and had some awesome days on the rivers. Even days the trout wouldn't take anything else

If you go to the Gap...

If you go to the Gapen tackle Website you can buy a DVD of Dan Gapen, Don's son, tying a muddler in the manner his dad and he originally tied it. The only difference from the above is that the original was tied on an Allcock's streamer hook and red thread was used.

My go-to flies are m...

My go-to flies are maribou muddlers or zuddlers. I am guilty as charged of tying tightly packed, carefully trimmed, even multicolored heads. Love a white chin with dark on top. I find fishing a fly like this with a sinking tip line gives you the best of both. After a few casts, the fly will oak up some water, the tip will get it down, but the hair will keep it off the bottom a bit. Very effective on Missouri smallmouth.

Thanks, Martin, nice article.

Martin, The origina...

The original muddlers look like messy hair days, for those of us who have hair; for those folks who feel more of the hot sun and the breeze on their scalp, we have the neat, shaved head muddler. What the heck, both varieties do a fine job of catching fish.

streamcaddis's picture

The Muddler is one o...

The Muddler is one of the best patterns out there bar none. It will catch anything but a cold. It is a must have in the lfy box..


Gary LaFontaine...

Gary LaFonatine spent an entire season fishing nothing but Muddler Minnows; in every size and variation. Apparently he caught about the same number of trout as he would have using the usual variety of flies. A real testimony to the fish catching abilities of this pattern.


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