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Fuzzy Muskrat Nymph (P. Rosborough)

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"It all began innocently enough. During the early Depression years I was living in northern California on a small winding creek well populated with brown trout, a few weighing up to four pounds. Smart was not the word for them. Every one had a framed diploma and seemed to delight in thumbing his highly selective nose at the local anglers who tried to fool them with a fly." (Polly Rosborough, Tying and Fishing the Fuzzy Nymphs)

Polly Rosborough was a self-taught nympher, and developed his own then-unorthodox method for tying nymphs with common furs available to him during the 1930's and 1940's, a method he later published in the 1960's, in what was more or less a pamphlet. His explanation of why his "fuzzy nymphs" work was that they appear alive to the fish from any angle. "When a fuzzy-bodied nymph is saturated and reaches the vision of the fish, every filament on the body -- tail, legs, even the wing cases -- vibrates, and this is enhanced tenfold by short quick movements of the rod tip." (He also explained that the softness of his fuzzy nymph patterns fool the fish even after the take, albeit for only a fraction of a second.) From today's perspective, there is nothing so unusual about a fuzzy nymph, but at the time he created them Rosborough "was keenly aware that here was a new and very exciting fly-fishing idea."

Here's an SBS of Rosborough's fuzzy Muskrat Nymph with materials prepared and tied as presented in his book, Tying and Fishing the Fuzzy Nymphs (1988). 


Coat a 3xl hook with cement, in a range of sizes #6 to #16. Rosborough preferred a sproat bend, but I only had perfect bends in a 3xl. Use a standard wire for fishing higher in the water column, a heavy wire for fishing lower. Rosborough did not weight his hooks.


Tie in one layer of heavy black thread, from the eye to the bend. Rosborough preferred nymo, but used 2/0 or 3/0 flat bonded nylon after nymo lost its popularity and became harder to find. I'm using what I think might be an old spool of heavy nymo that I must have picked up somewhere.


Make a medium gray felt out of 2 parts muskrat belly, 2 parts beaver belly, and 1 part rabbit back. The rabbit acts as a binder for the shorter furs. I didn't have natural rabbit so I used my black cat's gray underfur and some commercial Adams gray rabbit dubbing in place of the rabbit. Prepare the felt by mixing the furs with your fingers in a bowl of warm water with dish soap in it.  I used a fork. It takes a lot of mixing. The concept is to have a spectrum of grays with different textures rather than one tone of gray with one texture. Pour it into a strainer and rinse out the soap. Dry the clumpy felt by pressing it between paper towels. Keep it clumpy.

Note: By 1988 in his fourth edition, at age eighty-five, Rosborough had long since adapted to using natural and synthetic yarns instead of his original hand made felts -- "so I cannot be accused of being a stick-in-the-mud." He explained, "many of those [fuzzy nymphs] dressed with yarn bodies are easier, but it is important that the original spinning technique be recorded first. Learning to spin natural materials allows the fly tyer a kind of self-sufficiency in creating body material."


Parse out a thin veil from the felt, approximately two inches long by half an inch wide.


With the veil of felt in the palm of one hand, wet a few fingers from your other hand and roll it back and forth to create a noodle about as wide as a match stick, tapered about a half inch on one side and tapered more quickly on the other side. The noodle will get a bit longer than the veil you started with.


Tie in the top of the long tapered end of the noodle at the bend of the hook.


Make a loop in your thread a half inch longer than your noodle and wrap back to the start of your noodle. Sorry for the blurry picture, but you get the idea.


With your bobbin, wrap your thread forward to an eighth of an inch before the eye. Coat the threaded shank with cement. Note: Rosborough did not use a bobbin and instead wrapped his thread straight from the spool and used half-hitches to hold his thread in place. I'm using a bobbin without half hitches.


Wrap your dubbing noodle around your thread loop, so that the thread ends up on the inside and the fur ends up on the outside. Rosborough did not place the fur inside the dubbing loop. This allows you to later rough up your dubbing fur without cutting the tying thread, and it shows only the fur to the fish. 


Twist your Rosborough style dubbing loop very tight, per Rosborough almost to the breaking point. Hold it at the end with a hackle pliers.


Wrap your dubbing noodle around the shank, making a segmented body as shown. If you have twisted your dubbing loop clockwise, you will need to twist it one turn around each time you wrap the dubbing loop around the hook shank, to keep the dubbing loop tight.


Untwist the dubbing loop for the last turn around the shank, to give a tapered shoulder. Tie off and cut off any waste.260468403_9d1CementTieInandRoughUpFur.thumb.jpg.1cb7315b7a6bc5c19cd3e0a0b832c03b.jpg

Apply cement to the tie-in, and use a sharp tool to rough up the dubbing. Rosborough recommended using part of a hack saw blade (with electrical tape applied where you will hold it). I used a dental root canal tool as shown, ala AK Best. They're easy to store, cheap to buy, and handy to use. (More on these tools immediately below.)


Here's what they look like in the package. I bought mine on Ebay or Amazon Prime from a Chinese vendor for a few dollars, free shipping. I used the middle size here.


Here's the back of the package. The ones I bought are assorted thicknesses, and all 25mm long.  


Here's a close-up showing the short, sharp tines that poke out of the tool.


Rough up the top and sides, and then with your fly upside down, rough up the bottom. The picture emphasizes the roughed up fur exterior, but underneath the noodle is still perfectly intact and well segmented.


With the hook still upside down, tie in six to eight barbs from a finely speckled guinea hen feather, with a length of about a quarter inch. When tying them in, keep them bunched and in line with the hook, not flaring out the sides.


Return the hook upright, and tie in three black ostrich herls. The herls should end up as thick as the body. My head was tied a little too thick for that effect. A few too many wraps...


Wrap the herl loosely around the tying thread to help avoid breakage. This is not in Rosborough's book, he says only to wrap the herl around the shank; but I assume it was his method regardless.


Wrap the herl around the hook, leaving room for a lacquered thread tie-off. Rosborough referred to the ostrich as the "head" of the fly.2100357701_9iTieOffandCementHead.thumb.jpg.bbc25150fb3ac05fa6568505514fd885.jpg

Trim the waste, and tie off your thread. Rosborough used two half hitches. I used one four-turn whip finish. Coat with head cement.


Rosborough applied jet black lacquer as a second coat to make the fly look nice. I did that and of course it made my too fat and lumpy fly head look worse. Next time I'll be more careful at the head. Apologies.


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@chugbug27 that was just great. Explaining the segmented body in the "Rosborough loop" turned the light bulb on.  So many applications. I'm going to try it on some RS2s. Thanks for the SBS.

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Really nice sbs Chugs.  I’ve been looking at muskrat flies the past few days since I had one literally fall into my lap.

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Saw that post and thought of this, you beat me to it! 

My version of that here in New Orleans is crows dropping chicken bones and crawfish shells into the yard. My dog appreciates it plenty, me not so much.

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Lol. Sounds like a proper voodoo mix !   I was going to send you a small piece Steve as I know you like your muskrat procured in unusual ways.  The skin is not much larger than a large mole pelt and I’m splitting that with my friend who did a good job in dressing that small creature. I also have a large pelt of a mature muskrat and I’ll send along a healthy piece of that.  It’s amazing to me the lack of knowledge and use of natural materials for dubbing these days.  Most people have never used dubbing that did not come for a small plastic cubic box.

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With any luck I'll run across some nutria to return the favor. 

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Steve I’m thinking of starting my own publication !


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It’s a muskrat love kinda day here in Massachusetts so I’m going to try one of those Casual Dresses Chugbug .

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