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Home->Articles->Fly Patterns->Archives->Skating and Popping for Steelhead   
Fly Patterns
Skating and Popping for Steelhead

The Ska-opper
Designed By Scott Howell

Hook:                             Daiichi 2220, #2-#4
Thread:                          MFC 6/0 or UTC 140, Brown
Tag:                               Gold Mylar Tinsel
Butt:                              Orange yarn
Tail:                               Lime Crystal Flash Mixed with a Few Strands of Orange Polar Bear Hair
Shellback:                     3MM Brown Sheet Foam
Body:                            Natural Deer Hair
Legs:                             Orange Rubber Legs
Beard:                           Orange guinea
White Spot (Optional):  Natural Deer Belly Hair

If you scan my Fly Patterns section on a regular basis you might recall my introducing steelhead guru Scott Howell and his innovative Squidro.  The Ska-opper is another innovative creation from Scott Howell’s fly box aimed at enticing steelhead to the surface.  After watching steelhead after steelhead crash traditional Styrofoam floats as they chugged and popped across the surface during the retrieve the die was cast in Scott’s mind.  In Scott’s words, “It didn’t take too long before I was trying to match the dink float hatch.” 

Scott’s initial efforts began with large popping intruders but it soon became apparent that he needed to downsize and redesign.  The end result of Scott’s efforts is the Ska-opper.  A fly designed not only to skate but to pop as well, luring steelhead from their lairs as the Ska-opper gurgles and darts over their living room.

While on the swing Scott twitches his rod, bringing the Ska-opper to life.  The surface disturbance this popping technique creates is critical to the success of the fly.  Presented correctly, the Ska-opper draws bold explosive strikes.  Although designed with northern B.C. steelhead in mind the Ska-opper has proven its worth along many western North American rivers and streams for both winter and summer run steelhead.

All of the components blended within a Ska-opper are intended to float, skate or pop.  In many instances the materials play multiple roles for all three pattern criteria.  For a foundation Scott uses a size 2 or 4, 3XL or 4XL down eye streamer hook.  In Scott’s experience smaller Ska-oppers work best.  The body consists of tightly packed manicured deer body hair.  Finished Ska-opper bodies should have a slender elongated oval shape trimmed flush top and bottom.  Trimming the bottom portion clear ensures the hooking ability of the fly is not impeded.  Round rubber legs, guinea hackle and a deer hair collar provides additional surface disturbance.

A Ska-opper body takes nine pencil diameter clumps of spun and clipped deer hair.  After spinning each stack of deer hair it is important to pack it tight. Not only for maximum floatation but to avoid crowding the hook eye too.  If you are planning to spin and trim deer hair on a consistent basis I recommend a stout pair of scissors or a flexible double edged razor blade.  Coarse deer hair dulls fine scissors in short order.

Most flies are always in a state of flux.  When the time constraints of guiding interfere with quality time at the tying bench Scott often substitutes a yarn body for the deer hair body as the foam shellback floats and pops the fly just fine.

When time is his ally, Scott still favors a natural deer hair body. Black or orange bodies with white round rubber legs are also work well.  Don’t be afraid to experiment, as other color combinations may prove their worth on your favorite steelhead waters. 

Scott also likes to add a small ventral spot of natural white deer belly hair at the front of the fly.  When flaring the deer belly hair it is important not to let it spin around the shank.  Hold it in place along the underside of the shank just back from the hook eye and use thread tension to flare it into position. 

In addition to the slender spun and clipped deer hair body the Ska-opper features a buoyant shellback formed out of 3MM sheet foam.  Scott begins with a hook gape wide slip of sheet foam to start.  From there he trims the foam strip to a tapered somewhat triangular shape.  The narrow end of the foam strip is tied in at the rear of the hook.  Pulling the foam shellback over the top of the fly completes the fly.  Build up the thread head underneath the remaining foam protruding forward of the hook eye to help prop the foam up.  The remaining foam is trimmed to form a short lip in front of the fly.  Don’t make the foam lip too long as this causes the fly to dive under.  About ¼ of the body is fine.

The combination of the foam shellback and spun and clipped body creates a fly that floats like a cork.  When swung under tension the foam bill pulls the fly back up to the surface helping the Ska-opper skate and pop, hence the fly’s name.  No riffle hitches are required or recommended to bring the fly to life.  Scott uses a loop knot when swinging his Ska-oppers under tension as he feels the fly rides true and subsequently fishes better.

The Ska-opper is a neat interesting fly.  Besides placing a few in my steelhead box I think I might experiment with other colors and sizes for other species with aggressive top water tendencies.

Be sure to check out Scott's website for addtional information including his unique flies and materials.

For more information on Scott's Ska-opper please watch the following You Tube video.

Tying Instructions

1) Attach the tying thread just in front of the hook point.  Once the initial thread wraps are in place tie in a length of gold Mylar.  Wind the gold Mylar down into the bend and back up over itself to the original tie in point to form a tag. Tie off and remove the excess Mylar.

2) Tie in a sparse clump of lime Crystal Flash for the tail.  Secure the Crystal Flash back half way along the gold Mylar tag.   Trim the tail so it is 1-1/2 times the shank length long.  Tie in a sparse clump of approximately 20 polar bear fibres on top of the Crystal Flash Tail.  The tips of the polar bear fibres should extend almost to the ends of the Crystal Flash.

3) Tie in a single strand of orange yarn just above the hook point and secure back to the base of the tail.  Wind the orange yarn forward using close touching turns even with the hook point to form the butt.  Tie off and trim the excess.

4) Take a 2-3 inch long hook gape wide section of sheet foam and trim to a triangular shape.  Tie in the prepared foam at the rear of the hook by the narrow end, just in front of the orange yarn butt.  Trimming the end of the foam to a point eases tie in.

5) Spin two pencil diameter clumps of deer hair directly in front of the foam shellback. Remove any loose fibers and under fur from the deer hair to aid the spinning process.  Trim the tips as they are not needed.  Using your thumb and forefingers or a hair packer, push the pack the deer hair tight against the foam to provide maximum buoyancy.  Using figure eight wraps secure in a length of orange rubber hackle to form a set of legs along each side of the shank.  Leave the legs long as they will be trimmed to length once the fly is complete.

6) With the legs in place spin another four clumps of deer hair onto the shank.  Push and pack the deer hair tight to provide maximum floatation and avoid crowding the hook.   With the deer hair spun packed and in place, figure eight wrap another length of orange rubber hackle for the second set of legs. Spin another pencil diameter clump of deer hair in front of the rubber legs.  Push and pack the deer hair tight against the balance of the deer hair body and front legs.  Trim and shape the deer hair body so it is flat top and bottom and has a rounded oval shape no wider than the foam shellback.  It may be easier to tie off the tying thread and remove the fly from the vise to trim the body.  Be careful not to trim the rubber legs.

7) After shaping the deer hair tie in guinea fowl feather with fibers that reach back no further the hook point directly in front of the body.  Wind the guinea feather forward 2-3 times and tie off.  Sweep the guinea fowl hackle down and back and tie in place. 

8) Prepare two clumps of deer hair.  Even the tips using a hair stacker.  Hold a clump along the near side of the hook so the tips extend back to the yarn butt.  Using thread tension flair deer hair in place.  Do not allow the hair to spin.  Repeat this process and flare the second clump along the far side of the hook.  Massage the deer hair so the tips flow down the sides of the fly.  Prepare and spin a second clump of deer hair directly in front of the flared collar.  Pack both stacks tightly together. 

9) Prepare a small clump of natural white deer belly hair.  Flare the natural white deer belly hair on the underside of the shank right behind the hook eye to create a distinct white spot.  Do not allow it the deer belly hair to spin around the shank.

10) Trim the remaining deer hair to a rounded shape.  Trim the deer hair flush along the bottom and top leaving only the deer hair tips trailing down the sides.  Be careful not to trim the guinea hackle.

11) Pull the foam over the top of the body and tie down at the hook eye using progressively tighter wraps to avoid breaking the thread.  Do not trim the excess foam at this time.  Lift the remaining sheet foam protruding forward of the hook eye and build a neat head to raise up the remaining sheet foam and whip finish.  Trim the remaining foam so it is about half the body length.  Cut the legs slightly longer than the body.  Longer legs move better than shorter ones.


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