Tying Flies: The Earl Madsen Dry Shunk
Today we’re celebrating fly tying with the dry skunk. This is one of the greatest historical flies of the Great Lakes. This one’s no exception. It’s Earl Madsen’s dry skunk pattern and one of the great top water searching flies for trout, smallmouth and crappie. The dry skunk is just a great all-around topwater pattern.
We’re going to start with the Tiemco 101 hook. It’s a ring eyed hook. You can use ring eyed hook or downturn hook. Whatever floats your boat. It’s a duplicate of the Mustad 94840 that was used as a topwater dry fly hook back in those days. This fly is no exception of around 1930. Typically this fly was tied in a size 10 you can make them a little bigger a little smaller.
DRESS THE HOOK
The first thing we’re going to do, when tying the dry skunk pattern, is we’re going to dress the hook. I’m using 6/0 black thread to dress the hook down to the bend. Directly opposite the barb on the hook is where our starting point is. A skunk is calf tail for the tail. Most of you that are seasoned fly tiers know that a calf tail is a little bit unruly and hard to tie down. It’s slippery as all get-out. I won’t say it’s impossible to stack, but it’s really tough. So I’m snipping out a pretty good-sized clump and then I’m taking all of the small down out of it. The down just adds to the difficulty of this material. Now, rather than stack this is just continue to make sure that the ends of the hair with a little taper to it are not all scraggly.
We want to measure the length of the hook shank which is the length of the tail. I’m going to transfer that to my left hand and we’re going to go to our tie in point right at the bend of the hook opposite the barb. We’re going to go around this twice and situate it so it’s right on top of the hook. Now I’m going to crank down on it and I’m going to Palmer wrap the thread forward. Comb out the down that’s in there by pulling it down out of there.
We have to allow for that deer hair clump to go in for the wing so we want to stop well short of the eye on this particular pattern. In order to get a little plumper body, use the butt tags of the calf tail. Now, go back over top and we’re going to start with a medium black tinsel chenille. It has a little thread of tensile going through it so I’m going to take out some of the fibers there so we’re tying in just the threads in the center of the chenille. Make a couple wraps wrapping that tensile tag down.
We’re going to go up to our tie off point and palmer rap the chenille forward with nice concentric wraps. Every once in a while you’ll see just a peek of that chenille sparkle through the wraps. That’s kind of the essence of this body material. Now make a couple wraps behind that chenille and tie it off. It’s a pretty simple fly up to this point. The next step, however can be troubling to a lot of folks, myself included, when I first started tying this fly. We are now going to dress the fly a little bit with some bucktail dressing after putting down a layer of thread.
Deer body hair is next on the docket and we’re going to snip out a nice clump. Then we’re going to stack the clump, but first I’m going to pull those long hairs out. Take the guard and the down out and run your comb through it. The clump should be about half the size of a pencil. This depends on the hook size and how you want the profile of the fly to look. Stack the deer hair with a few little shake, rattles and rolls and it comes out of the stacker beautifully.
The wing is now measured at the tie end point which is here about half the length of the tail or just off the bend of the hook. Stop the tips just off the band or about halfway the length of the tail. Now, wrap around the hair twice to make sure the hair is on top of the hook. Pull straight down on the thread to flare the deer hair. One more wrap pulling to flair the hair. Gather all of these butt ends and make one more wrap just to secure it really well. With your scissors, trim those butt ends off and clean it up just a little bit so we’ve got kind of a flared hopper head.
Now make one big palmer wrap back to about midway of the hook. Make sure the body looks good and if not, be sure to correct it, because you can’t correct it later. Once the body looks good and the wing is standing up like a Stonefly wing we can go to the next step.
Earl would unwrap balls back in the day to get the rubber for the legs. Tie the two rubber strands in an “X” across the body and don’t worry if the legs look different on one side or the other we will straighten them out later. Two palmer wraps to hold those down and across the top I’m going to pick up that wing or the rubber legs and wrap with a perfect X on top of the fly. Flare up the head hairs with your fingers and clear them clear away from the eye of the fly and make a wrap or two and we’re going to whip finish. I’m using a long throated whip finisher here you don’t have to on this fly, but I just happen to have it on my desk. Be sure all of those hairs are up. Make 4 wraps then snip your thread.
Turn the fly upside down so you don’t cut any of the rubber legs. Grab the two rubber legs on each side and stand them up and pick your shortest one and cut the rest to match. Position those and we have ourself a bona fide Earl Madsen Dry skunk. I’m going to turn it in the vise sideways so you can see from the side profile that it looks like a big black Stonefly or it could be a dark body hopper. The Earl Madsen dry skunk is a fabulous topwater searching fly and it floats like a cork because of the deer hair and the calf tail.