Sculpins, the Every Day Bait Fish

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This past year was one of a kind. The steelhead fishing lasted forever, the hatches were late but amazing at times, and this spring’s flooding has had an impact on the entire fishing season in my neck of the woods. Some food sources come and go in these conditions. However, one of the most induring and ubiquitous creatures in Michigan is the sculpin, and I have been in love with these guys for a long time. Sculpins produced many fish this year as they are very effective in high water.

I have spent a lot of time looking for sculpins in our rivers. These fish love flat rocks in light to moderate current. If your river has broken concrete or bridges with a concrete base, these are sculpin hideouts. When the water is low, sculpins will come into shore. They also move into shore in the dead of winter. During the cold water months, one of the few baitfish that is easy to find is the sculpin. Sculpins themselves are predators, and if you ever decide to keep one in an aquarium they may well eat your other fish. The most common sculpin, the mottled sculpin, is pretty hardy and can stand warmer temps than other species.

When you tie flies, it is helpful to understand what sculpins look like. For most of the year, the majority of them are a tan color, like this one:

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When they are breeding, the males can take on a black color. This is also true of gobies, which look like sculpins in many ways. If you tie a black sculpin in the spring it will imitate sculpins and gobies; it will catch big fish.

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Sometimes you find sculpins that are a mottled olive color. This seems to be more common in the winter.

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Kevin Feenstra