Fly of the Month: Mitchell’s Dancing Minnow

April’s Fly of the Month Club is brought to you by Dan Wells.

I wanted to start by saying I consider myself an “adaptive” fly tier not an “innovator”. All of the flies I have created that are “new” are all from blending together elements of existing patterns that I have learned from “innovative” fly tiers like Bob Popovics, Rich Murphy, Jack Gartside, Joe Cordiero, or Niklaus Bauer. Its quite possible someone has already come with a very similar or identical design and I am just unaware it exists.

Rich Murphy has been the most influential for me personally as his book’s section on night flies helped me decide on important characteristics to include in all of my night patterns. I have also had several conversations with Rich in person talking about fly design. Rich has looked my flies during those discussions and given very helpful feedback that was incorporated in later versions of the flies. Thanks to all of these great fly tiers for sharing their knowledge with the global fly tying community.

Mitchell’s Dancing Minnow

This fly is a general purpose night surface fly for prospecting for striped bass. It particularly shines in an estuary where silversides are present. In the dark, silversides lose their ability to school and transition from deeper channels to very shallow water to avoid predators. They will try to follow the incoming tide in the dark until they can escape in to the marsh grass from predators. The silversides will hang near the surface and jump out of water to avoid predators. A splashy surface slider is a great way to fish the night incoming when silversides are the predominant forage in shallow water areas.

Some key attributes of the fly are the angular front face that keeps the fly riding towards surface and pushing a wake even in choppy water. The jig rattle adds a sound component that helps draw fish to investigate the fly in the darkness. The mesh body has slack left in in so that when a fish strikes the body can bend and not give fish leverage that a rigid body would cause the hook to be thrown during the fight. The V tail feathers help fly track and give very interesting movement in rear third of pattern.

Material List

Tiemco TMC600SP 2/0 Hook, black UTC Ultra Thread 210 Denier, Solarez UV Resin in both the thin and medium viscosity, size medium black plastic jig rattle, two 4″ long black saddle feathers, EZ Body braid in size large/color peacock/3.5″ long, and one 1.5″ long black live body foam 3/8″ diameter cylinder
Set saddle hackles so they curve away from each other and insert in the EZ Body tubing.
Free hand tie the EZ Body braid down around the feathers. This is much easier with a NorVise automatic bobbin, but can be done with any bobbin that has tension control.
Secure the thread wraps with thin UV resin and set with UV light.
Tail feathers should spread apart from each other forming a “V” shape
Cut a 1/2″ long piece from foam cylinder this will be inserted first followed by the jig rattle. The rear foam makes this fly sit nice and high in water even when at rest.
Seat foam with about 1/4″ space from thread wraps. Make sure jig rattle has groove towards front of the fly.
Insert TMC600SP 2/0 hook into vise and thread wrap the shank with black thread. Make sure thread is strong for working with mesh. I prefer UTC Ultra Thread 210 Denier.
Cut a 5/8″ section of foam cylinder then cut a groove the length of the cylinder to about halfway through depth of cylinder.
Add Zap a Gap foam safe super glue to thread wraps then slide notch in foam cylinder to place foam on hook. Let dry to harden for at least 10 minutes this is a step I like to do on multiple hooks then make feather tails while these dry if I am trying to make several flies at one time.
Thread hook into mesh body. Its very important that you make sure hook point comes out 1/8-1/4″ ahead of the start of the rattle as you need some space for body to flex correctly.

The other key thing is making sure hook point comes out centered so the tail feathers are in correct V position when hook is point down.

By leaving the space between the jig rattle and where you thread hook through the mesh it allows the body to bend side to side or up and down 90 degrees. This flex in the body keeps stripers from getting leverage on your fly and throwing the hook. Its very important. If you find the flex is not adequate back the mesh back off and insert hook further away from the rattle to created the necessary slack for tubing to bend.
Reattach your thread now that mesh body is fully over the foam on hook.
I like to cut a slit in the top of mesh then pull my thread up through it to better grab the mesh for tying it off.
Tie mesh off and thread wrap back tight to the foam cylinder.
Cut all extra mesh off and clean up. You should have 1/4″ of space from tied off point to the eye of the hook. Whip finish or use half hitches to secure final tie down and cut your thread.
Take the remaining 3/8″ long piece of foam and cut the front to a 45 degree angle. This can be done with a scapel, razor blade, or very sharp pair of scissors.
Take your bodkin or a needle and heat under a flame. Punch a hole 1/3 up from bottom edge on the narrow side of foam. Work the hole with bodkin until its decently large as it will have to fit over the hook eye.
Secure your thread wraps with thin UV resign.
Work foam over hook eye then set it in this position with the 45 degree at an upward angle. This helps the fly push a wake and work through choppy water.
Don’t fixate on a perfect connection of the foam to the mesh body because you are going to fill all this with medium viscosity UV resin anyways

What does matter is getting the eye as close to centered as you can and making sure its perpendicular to the 45 degree face of the foam.

Start filling the gaps and smoothing out transition from the foam head to the mesh body using medium viscosity UV Resin or Tuffleye Core.
Make sure you create a smooth transition all the way around the foam head.
Add your choice of stick on eyes. Eyes are completely optional on this fly. I don’t think at night it has any impact on catch rate if the fly has eyes or not. Daylight versions eyes are preferred but I also think not necessary. Do what gives you the most confidence in the fly.

I use a very thin UV resin to coat the stick on eyes and remainder of exposed foam head.

Eyes are now secured to head.
Entire head is now coated and the fly is ready to fish.

Fishing Mitchell’s Dancing Minnow

  • Waking Swing: Waking employs a down and across swing to present the Dancing Minnow. The fly is cast quartering across the current in the same manner as a wet fly, but rides the surface as it comes across leaving a V-shaped wake trailing behind it. The angle of the cast across the current varies with the speed of the current. Water current you will cast further downstream to decrease angle and flies swing speed. In slower water you will cast more of a cross-stream cast get fly to swing at better pace and form the wake.
  • In areas with limited current a very slow two hand retrieve is the generally the best approach to begin with in the dark. Keep the strips smooth and even no more than 3-4″ each strip.
  • The fly can be popped and with long pauses. Think 10-30 second pauses. Slower movement with this fly at night is key to success.
  • My absolute favorite tide for fishing this is in an estuary on a full moon clear night. I want to start fishing at 1 hour before low tide and all the silversides will be concentrated in the remaining water. I listen for fish feeding and generally the bait keeps moving back into the shallower part of estuary with tide with bass on their heels. Generally the bite dies once the tide gets high enough the silversides can enter the marsh grass and avoid predators.
One of several schoolies keyed on on silversides during a night incoming tide.

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