The Woolhead Goby
A Smallmouth Fly
by Bob Long, Jr.
To stake it's claim to life in Lake Michigan, a small, sculpin-like fish called the Round Goby hitchhiked more than 5,000 miles in the untreated ballast water of ocean-going freighters - traveling from the Black Sea and Caspian Seas, on the southwestern doorstep of Europe and Asia, to the Port of Lake Calumet on the Illinois and Indiana border.
The Round Goby is a square-headed, soft-bodied, scaleless fish with large, soft-rayed dorsal fins. As benthic feeders, (feeding on the bottom, but not digging or rooting into it like suckers or catfish), they inhabit the gravel-coarse-sand-and-rocky shoreline areas around Lake Michigan's southern basin and feed on nymphs, zebra mussels, fish fry and fish eggs. Gobies are prodigiously fecund - almost to the extreme - spawning five-to-eight times over two-thirds of the year, (it's rare to catch a female from April through October that doesn't have eggs in it). Having been introduced to this system they seem to be here to stay, and their only serious predator, to the fisherman's benefit we might add, is the young, but growing, smallmouth population.
Although called "sculpin-like," this is really a visual frame of reference for fishermen as Round Gobies aren't sculpins, (members of the family; cottidae), but exist as their own family; gobidae, (genus; neo-gobius, species; melano stomus). Like sculpins, however, they move with that same enticing, darting motion that our flies try to emulate.
The adult Goby's coloration is a mottled mix of slate-gray, brown, and dark olive along the upper body, with a sand, beige or dirty- yellow belly. Juveniles will carry more tans, light browns and olives in their upper body and back.
It's this enticing movement and coloration that the Woolhead Goby seeks to imitate using lamb's wool, synthetic "sculpin wools," soft, saddle hackle, and sinuous marabou. Lightweight, neutral-buoyant, and soft to the touch, these natural and man-made textiles, and soft feathers let you create a fly that feels "alive" and looks natural.
- Hook: Mustad Bass Bug 3366 #1 - 2/0
- Thread: 3/0 or 6/0, Brown
Tail/Fin: 2 light dun hackles inside
- 2 mottled brown/Olive saddle hackles outside these
- 2 brown furnace saddles outside
- Back: brown marabou
- Side: mottled brown or yellow marabou
- Belly: light gray, beige or tan marabou
- Head: light gray, beige or yellow lambs wool or sculpin wool
- Eyes: Witchcraft 3D Molded eyes or stem-eyes in brown, gold or orange. Small, 4mm dolleyes can be substituted, and then colored with permanent color marking pens.
- Weedguard: 25-to-30-pound-test, Mason or Climax, hard-type monofilament. (A monofilament weedguard is a must).
Assembling the Fly
- Step One - Tie in mono weedguard at bend.
- Step Two - The hackle will make up 2/3rds of fly, (body and tailfin). Tie in hackle at half way point of hook shank, along each side of the shank. Hackle will extend well past hook bend.
- Step Three - Tie in darker marabou on top of shank. Let it extend to hook bend. Tie in mottled marabou, (butt-section not tips), along each side. It should not extend past bend.
- Step Four - Tie in light colored marabou on underside of shank.
- Step Five - Make head of lamb's wool or sculpin wool. Cut to GOBY shape; large, squarish forehead, tapering back toward the body.
- Step Six - Color head with marker. Finish up mono weedguard. Glue on eyes at top-forward position of head.
The finished fly should run three-to-five-inches in length. (Don't worry about castability, it's lighter than it looks for its size). To color the head I use Olive, Value-3 and Van Dyke Brown, D-89, both by Design Art Markers, though any art director's-styled markers will suffice. For tips on various ways of making weedguards see, "Weedless Wonders," by C. Boyd Pfeiffer, Warm-Water, September/October 1997, Vol. 1, Number 3.
How To Fish It
The Woolhead Goby works very well as a general "sculpin/perch" pattern as well as a Round Goby imitation, so I use it in waters besides Lake Michigan.
Surface Technique in Still Waters; work the fly slowly just under the surface, as if wounded, sick or dying, near any type of cover; weed, rip-rap, seawall, pier or wood. Pull it, slide it, move it left, right, left, right. Stop-and-go. Try slow strips of up to a foot-or-two. Let it create ripples or a subtle wake.
Surface Technique in Moving Waters; in slow-moving pools and backwash areas cast down and across and slowly swing fly just under surface on a tight line. In circular pools, cast into center of pool and let fly swim around lazily as if feeding or injured. Let it drift/swim around for up to 30-to-45-seconds , (if you can be that patient), before picking up and recasting.
Subsurface Technique in Still Waters; don't just place your fly close to structure - weeds, rocks, bottom, wood - touch the stuff. Linger awhile. Drag it around. The more vulnerable it looks, the better. Or, if it looks like it's feeding, unaware of predators in it's surroundings - better still.
Subsurface in Moving Waters; put it dead on the bottom. Drift it into the calm pockets next to moving water, through any current breaks, pools, counter-flowing seams or backwash areas. Let the current help position the fly for you. Try to let the fly hold on in an area for as long as possible before it's "washed away" by current pressure on your line.
Finally, if a traditional slow-'n-easy presentation isn't working, a fast-and-aggressive, searching-style just might. Using short, 12-to-18-inch mono leaders, split shot and/or mini-lead heads, (with the fastest sink-rates you can find), let the streamer sink and then rip it across the bottom. Again, make sure the fly bounces off, drags across, and scrapes over things.
To get the most action from the Woolhead Goby, attach it to the leader using a loop knot, or a small, size 10 or 12, snap or snap-swivel, (heretical, I know - but quite effective).
Photos by Bob Long, Jr. (left)