Not long after my streamer fishing addiction began, I realized that traditional streamer techniques were not performing the way I had envisioned. You know, the 30-ft. full sink with three feet of leader and an unweighted fly. This tried and true system simply wasn’t doing it for me on the local mid-sized streams I habitually fish. I discovered that fishing upstream with this type of set up was causing me to strip like a maniac. I was constantly playing catch up, with little to no real connection to my streamer. When I finally did catch up, usually halfway or more into my retrieve, I wouldn’t slow my strip back down: I was too accustomed to the fast strip. I was only effectively fishing half of a retrieve. This occurred because the unweighted streamers I was using rode higher in the water column where the water is moving at a faster rate than the sinking line below. The steamers were doubling back above my sinking line, rendering me with little to no control or connection to my streamers. Fluid dynamics can be a cruel beast.
So, there I was in the river, effectively fishing half retrieves, watching numerous big fish flash, hit my streamers, and then nothing. By the time I could establish a connection to strip set, the fish were long gone. I was becoming more than frustrated. When this exact situation occurred between me and a large brown, and during which the brown got the upper hand, a string of expletives flew from my mouth. I did what any veteran fly fisherman would do: I stormed out of the water and planted my ass on a large boulder pouting like I had somehow been wronged. While I sat there composing myself, that boulder let me in on a little secret. Instead of trying to force bigger river streamer techniques on smaller waters, I had to adapt and fish streamers based on the river I was currently fishing. I decided there and then that a weighted streamer coupled with a floating line would be my new approach. The Sweeney Todd had been conceived.
I wanted a sculpin steamer that acted like a sculpin. A steamer that would get down fast, stay there, and glide along the bottom like sculpins do. What I didn’t want was a streamer that would go rocketing head first towards the bottom like a river lawn dart. So, I distributed weight throughout the fly. I accomplished this by adding a series of lead wraps mid-shank to balance out the weight of the lead eyes. It was also necessary to invert the hook due to the bottom skimming nature I was going for. I knew right from the get go that it had to have a large deer hair head. A dear hair head was necessary for two reasons. First, it would create drag and slow the fly down, forcing the streamer to maintain connection with a floating fly line (remember that the surface of the river is moving faster than the bottom) and I was bound and determined to make sure the days of lost connections with my streamer were over. Second, dear hair heads are magical.
I usually try to incorporate a red gill throat attractor into my flies. For this streamer, I had something special in mind. I wanted to incorporate the gill feature into the deer hair head. This saved shank space and placed the gills into the correct anatomical position. By creating the red throat slash out of deer hair, it really showcases this feature instead of it being hidden somewhere in the body of the fly. Trust me, fish pick up on it.
Being a faithful follower of Kelly Galloup, I try to follow his philosophy of reducing fly patterns down to their most basic elements. Due to the large deer hair head on the Sweeney Todd, I knew that I needed to minimize body profile to allow for a better sinking rate and freedom of movement of the rabbit strip. So, after a few tweaks and some reduction of body material, I had the Sweeney whittled down just the way I wanted. As It turns out, it was just what the fish wanted too.
Carpenter’s Sweeney Todd is available in both single and articulated versions in all the popular streamer colors and a few extra for good measure. They are part of the ‘New for 2017’ lineup from Rainy’s Flies.
Chuck Carpenter grew up in the Western United States near a small river where he fished conventional tackle and learned a lot about feeding trout and reading the water. He later learned to tie and flyfish with his father where it eventually took over as his life’s passion. He is a student majoring in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences and obsessively designs, ties, and fishes large streamers that trigger large predatory fish.