Minnow patterns

Big fly, big fish

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Big fish eat little fish. Given the choice between a mayfly and a minnow the trout will invariably choose the minnow.

All freshwater fish, at some stage of their life, could be classed as minnows (or baitfish as they are known in the fishing fraternity). Trout, being the carnivorous creatures that they are, are not averse to eating any kind of small fish that enters their territory, including their own species. Besides using standard minnow patterns, it therefore makes sense to use patterns that imitate trout, especially in watersheds that contain more than one species of trout.

All small baitfish have similar features. They are long, slim, sometimes dark on top, shiny, and with silver or yellow sides.

Baitfish species common to Nova Scotia: All trout, salmon parr, rainbow smelt, alewife (gaspereau), white perch, yellow perch, white sucker, black nosed dace, northern redbelly dace, golden shiner, common shiner, fallfish, stickleback.

The following popular fly patterns indicate the type of baitfish they are meant to imitate. That is not to say these patterns are limited to one particular species of trout or one particular watershed. As an example, I have found the Dark Edson Tiger to be successful for both browns and brookies at any time of year and in watersheds containing only one species of trout. And the Magog Smelt is a favourite of a friend who fishes in a system where, as far as I know, smelt are a rarity:

Trout: Little brook trout, Little rainbow trout, Little brown trout, Wardens Worry (brown trout), Dark Edson Tiger (brown trout, perch)

Smelt: Magog Smelt, Nine-three, Gray Ghost

Minnows: Black Nosed dace, Golden shiner, Silver shiner, Hornberg (minnow, parr, perch), Muddler Minnow

Perch: Marabou Perch, Yellow perch

If you look in your pattern book you'll note that most of these flies use bucktail for a wing. Try to select tails that have fine, straight, soft hair. This type of material will move more realistically in the water. Wavy, crinkly hair adds bulk and makes for a rather ragged fly. Remember that less is more when it comes to tying bucktails. When laid on a book the writing should be visible through the wing material.

A style of pattern worth considering when tying these flies is the Thunder Creek series developed by Keith Fulsher. They are fairly easy to tie and create an excellent imitation of a baitfish.

Minnows should be fished in a similar manner to streamers. Retrieve in short erratic jerks by twitching the rod tip. Varying the speed of the retrieve can sometimes entice a fish to strike.

Common shiner

Gold shiner

Black nosed dace

Red belly dace

Yellow perch

White perch


Alewife (gaspereau)



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Pat Donoghue, Canada, ©1997