Friday, June 1, 2012

North to Alaska... A Review on the Slap-n-Tickle

Being a nomadic angler certainly has its ups and downs. A true devotion to hunting fish involves a lot of time spent traveling, whether on the road or in the air. This notion of going where the fish are also involves a TON of prep-work in order to be successful and see positive end results. With a little faith, all the research, planning, budgeting, and other aspects of the pre-trip will lead to success in the end, hopefully surpassing one's expectations. 

Recent prep-work has taken up much of my time as we get ready for another season in Alaska. This will be my 12th season guiding up north, and it really has been an incredible journey thus far. I will do my best to post updates several times a week from the lodge. I'm looking forward to another amazing season in AK!

One of Alaska's most beautiful offerings...
I've decided to put together a little review on one of my patterns available through Idylwilde, the Slap-n-Tickle. Believe it or not, it's more than just a snazzy name (don't ask)... and I have been successfully fishing this pattern since I created it several years ago.

McDonough's Slap-n-Tickle (olive)
If you've fished trout in western Alaska, chances are you've thrown a sculpin imitation a time or two. Sculpins are a primary food source for trout, char, dollies, and grayling on many tundra streams across southwest Alaska. Spending many seasons guiding on rivers across the Bristol Bay region has allowed me to study sculpins in great detail in their natural habitat.

A few years ago, I set out to create the perfect "dude-friendly" sculpin. That is, a pattern that not only fishes well, but produces results when fished by beginner to novice level anglers. A good sculpin pattern can be broken down into four main traits: profile, weight, movement, and size.

McDonough's Slap-n-Tickle (tan)
When looking at a natural sculpin, the most apparent features are its profile- an oversized head and flared gill plates. The Slap-n-Tickle is tied with Laser Yarn, a material that holds its shape in the water and doesn't detract from the fly's ability to readily sink. Laser Yarn is also very easy for anglers to cast once it gets waterlogged, making these sculpins fishable on a 5 or 6 wt. rod. The red soft hackle fibers breath like natural gills, and a decade of guiding in Alaska has taught me that 9 times out of 10, sculpin patterns tied with a hint of red outperform those without.

The two tungsten rattle beads add sound and vibration, knocking against each other as the angler strips the fly. They also add a good amount of weight to get the fly down quickly. Sculpins need to sink immediately because the fish-zones we target are generally pretty small. If the fly moves a foot or two as clients mend it in attempt to get it down, more often than not it's fishing out of the zone completely. This fly sinks very quickly and requires very little mending, mostly for presentation.

The combination of bunny, polar chenille, soft-hackle, and grizzly maribou allows the fly to swim and breathe naturally without completely collapsing in the current. The stinger-hook prevents short-strikes and missed hook sets, making the day more enjoyable for the angler, and the guide.

Happy angler, Happy guide. A nice leopard on the Slap-n-Tickle.
The Slap-n-Tickle mimics a fairly large sculpin and doesn't require an 8 wt. to throw. Fish it on a 5 to 7 wt rod, slap it in next to the bank or around structure with a light mend just to get the head pointed at an upstream angle. Pause briefly to let it sink a bit, then use short, erratic strips with a low rod tip and hold on tight. Fish crush this fly all throughout the retrieve, but I've been amazed at how often it gets eaten "on the mend" as it's sinking. A good guide bug is one that almost fishes on its own, the Slap-n-Tickle falls into this category for me.


  1. looks like zach is giving out some love over at the mothership. enjoy ak

  2. Hey, can you give the recipe for the fly?