Bull Trout Fly Pattern

Bull trout fly pattern Squamish Sculpin

When it comes to fly tying, the sculpin is probably the most productive pattern to swing year round for both anadromous and resident trout alike here on the BC coast. Sculpins swim between the freestone rocks and are packed with protein and nutrients for larger predators, like bull trout. When swung well under a sink-tip or “grease” lining them, fish just can’t resist them.

The key to fishing the “Squamish Sculpin” is getting the fly pattern down to the riverbed, enacting the sculpin’s natural movement between the rocks. Having a varied colour selection of these flies is a must for any fly fishing angler’s fly box. Here is one of my favourite BC bull trout patterns. It is super easy to tie and the most effective sculpin fly pattern for BC bull trout that I’ve found, so let’s get started….

First off, the materials you’ll need to tie the “Squamish Sculpin” bull trout fly include:

  • Small cone head (Orange bead, lead eyes will work as well)   
  • Small shank OPST micro
  • 140-denier thread (Black or Brown)
  • Trailer wire (Black or Brown)
  • Size 4 Gamakatsu Octopus (No. 02408)
  • Krystal Flash UV Chenille for body (Brown or Olive)
  • Micro rabbit or pine squirrel strip for head collar and tail (Natural colours)
  • Arizona Simi Seal dubbing for gills (Red)
  • Barred Grizzly Ostrich (Natural colours)
  • Barred rubber legs (Natural colours)
  • Angel Hair Flash (Red)

Step #1:  First, slide your cone head or bead to the eye of the shank. I usually use a variety of weights for the cone head, it allows me to fish deeper faster stuff when needed. Remember, tie some light weighted sculpin patterns as well. Bull trout will often sit in the tailouts of runs where heavier flies will get hung up.

Step #2:  Wrap your thread around the shank to create a jam knot to help the materials wrap around the shank. The most common problem when tying with rabbit strip is that is looks great on the vise, but not always great in the water. Rabbit strip loves to wrap around trailer hooks, creating a fun swimming action or flawing the hook point.

Step #3:  Cut a three-inch piece of trailer wire, folding the end into the eye of the hook. To attach your trailer hook, wrap the thread around the wire onto the shank. The more wraps the better, and adding head cement will help prevent the trailer wire from failing. If you don’t have trailer wire, mono, fire wire or any other stiff material will help to reduce a foul hook.

Step #4:  Wrap your UV chenille up the shank, constantly pulling back the fibres of the material. Once secured, the chenille will have created a small body for the sculpin. Any olive colour will do, jut remember not to over-tie this portion of the fly, we want it to swim in the water.

Step #5:  Take your red seal dubbing and dub in gills, creating a ball ahead of the body. The ball will help the materials ahead expand and create more movement in the water. Again, don’t ‘over-tie’ this with too much material. We often think bigger flies means the fish will be able to see them better, that’s not the case with BC bull trout. They’re hunters, they can see everything that happens in their river section and they’ll see your fly.  Wether they want to eat it, well that’s another story!

Step #6:  Cut a two and a half inch piece of your micro rabbit or squirrel and secure it onto the shank, ahead of the gills.

Step #7:  Add a couple strips of rubber legs, as well as your angel hair flash to the abdomen of the sculpin. But sculpin don’t have legs?! Of course not, but legs seems to give this pattern a little bit of extra wiggle that can often assist in getting a bull trout to commit to grabbing the fly.

Step #8:  Next, grab your barred ostrich. You can either dub or take (4-6 strands) and lay them around the body of the fly. I prefer doing the latter, as it is easier to get an even and precise lay out of ostrich while using fewer materials.

Step #9:  We’re almost there! Take your micro strip rabbit or squirrel and dub in a collar. With every wrap, make sure you are constantly pulling back the fibres for an even finish.

Step #10:  To finish the fly, either whip finish or half hitch to secure all the materials with the thread, and then secure with head cement. Trim your shank if there is excess, as well as trim your flash, rubber legs, and rabbit to make a nice uniform sculpin. When you see nicely tied flies they’ve usual had a manicure after coming off the vice. Taking a few extra seconds to trim up excess materials will give your fly that finished look.

Step #11:  There you have it, one of my favourite year-round go to patterns when fly fishing for bull trout, the “Squamish Sculpin”. Enjoy your time on the water and I hope the pattern helps entice a few more bites! Keep in mind that fishing barbless flies is mandatory in BC. 


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About the Author

Austin Heffelfinger is a full time fly fishing guide with Chromer Sport Fishing, a guiding company and booking agency based in British Columbia. He is also an accomplished photographer with works published in many notable fly fishing publications. You can follow him at the links below.

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