Monday, February 3, 2014

Austin Clark's Brown Muddler

By way of introduction:  I was recently asked to tie a batch of salmon flies for a gentleman name of Bob Richard.  Bob came to me through the recommendation of fellow speypager ( and spey claver (, Doug Anderson.  He had not fished for atlantic salmon in twelve years prior to the summer of 2013, when he contacted Ann Smith of QuebecSporting (, and arranged to fish the York, Dartmouth and St. Jean rivers.

He was after a number of flies for a return trip to the Gaspe' Peninsula rivers this coming June, and gave me a list of flies, most of which I was familiar with and have tied before.  I was unfamiliar, however, with one fly in particular, Austin Clark's Brown Muddler, as Bob wrote it on his list.  Time for "Google."

"Brown Muddler" is easy to find as you google around (I wonder exactly when "google" became a synonym for "search?").  But none of them looked like the fly as Bob described it to me: "If I remember right, the deer hair was around the whole body behind the head of the fly.  It pulsed as it moved through the water and when you started your retrieve."  So, time to put "Austin Clark" and "Brown Muddler" together in the search engine.

I found the fly, with a photo of Austin's tie of the fly, in Tony Lolli's Go-To Flies; 101 Flies the Pros Use When All Else Fails (2004, Wilderness Adventures Press, Belgrade, Montana).  It is listed in that book as "Austin's Brown Muddler."  Here's my take on Austin's Brown Muddler:

I used tan thread.  The tail is pheasant tail fibers.  Body is flat gold tinsel ribbed with oval gold tinsel (I believe Lolli has those reversed in his book...who puts flat tinsel over oval?)  The wing of gray squirrel tail (again, Lolli lists gray squirrel body hair for the wing...I hope I never run into the squirrel that has body hair long enough with which to make this wing!  He needed a better editor.) is tied in, then very thin strips of mottled turkey wing (one more for Lolli; he lists turkey tail for the wing...who uses turkey tail for Muddler wings?). These wing slips are much smaller than your standard Muddler wings.  Now for a main difference between Austin's Muddler and yer standard Muddler:  rather than spinning the first bit of deer hair as a collar, you tie in a top and then bottom wing of the hair, making sure that each batch flares out from the tie-in point.  Then you start spinning the deer hair head.

Fortunately, Bob wrote me that the fly I tied for him looked just like the one Austin tied on his tippet. Whew, happy about that!  I suspect the fly would work equally well as a dry fly (especially if you use mylar instead of metal tinsel for the body) or a wet fly.  As a wet, I bet it would work best in slow water, where a stripping retrieve adds interest to the fly.  Bob reports that the wing pulses enticingly.  He should know; he hooked a couple beautiful fish with it!

So that's the fly, but who the heck is Austin Clark?  I've never fished the rivers of the Gaspe' Peninsula, nor, sadly will I likely ever fish them...kind of above my paygrade at this point in my life (he said with a whine).  Bob started me looking for more on Mr. Clark when he related the following:

I was first introduced to Austin Clark in name only by Ann Smith, the owner of Quebec Sporting.  She said, "Bob, I'm going to put you with Austin as your guide.  When I related to Doug Anderson who my guide was going to be he said, "I don't know if the Austin you are referring to is Austin Clark. If it is, you have gotten the best guide on the Gaspe. Austin and his son Draper are legendary. Austin is at least 70 years old and you will have a tough time keeping up with him. I met Austin on the Dartmouth River in 2009. He had a client fishing the Dartmouth Falls and I spent a pleasurable time talking with him." 
I (Bob, that is) replied, "Yes he is. One and the same Austin Clark. Guess I'm in for a workout. Here I was worrying about keeping him out all day. Looks like it will be the other way around. Guess I'll be going back to school." 
You have to know Gary, my trip to the Gaspe last June was the first time I picked up a fly rod to fish for salmon in 12 years.  So here I am in my room at the Hotel Plante in Gaspe and I'm having a conversation with Ann about what time Austin should pick me up.  In a phone conversation Ann initiated with Austin, I asked him, 'What time of the morning would you go out if you were fishing for salmon tomorrow morning?" Quickly he replied, "How about if I pick you up at 5:30 am?"  And so at promptly 5:30 am the next morning my week of salmon fishing with Austin began.
Ann had told me, "Bob I put you with Austin Clark.  He is the most experienced guide on the river.  He has been guiding on the rivers of the Gaspe for 49 years."   She also told me he is a very quiet and sensitive person.  So our week together began.  What Ann said, I certainly found to be true.  But over time once we got to know each other he opened up to me and every day was a new lesson on how cast a fly for salmon.  Even up to the last evening when we fished Wild Rose Pool on the St Jean river.  As I stepped into the water he said, "Bob, if you should hook a salmon in this pool, even if it is a small one, be prepared for the fight of your life.  For some reason when the salmon come to lay in this pool the oxygen in the water or whatever it is must give them  new life.  Also vary the length of your fly line so that when you cast and step your fly lands and makes it's swing in a different place on the pool every time."  Even up to the last minutes we were together he was still teaching me his ways on how to fish for salmon. 

Austin has been mentioned by Monte Burke in Forbes Magazine (4/22/2006):

Clark has an understated manner. “"Well, we'’ll try our best to get one today,"” he says on the walk down to the river. He gives old vets their space but can also, if asked, teach a novice how to cast correctly. His instructions seem more like subliminal suggestions. "“That’s a taker",” he whispers from his client'’s shoulder when he sees an active fish. "“Rest her a bit, then try a cast".” Clark ties his own salmon flies during the snowy Gaspé winters... But more often than not, he’'ll ask for your fly box, thoughtfully finger through the mess of hooks, hackle and feathers, and say, "“Try this one,"” giving you confidence in your own tackle. He’s a sly one. At the end of the day, you’ll feel like it was you who chose the fly, you who spotted the big fish, you who landed it expertly.

Pete Bodo revealed a bit about Austin's understated humor when he reported, in the New York Times (7/7/1996) on a day with him:

Looking down the steep bank from the dirt road about 150 yards above Little Indian pool on the St. Jean River, Bill Taylor, a fishing buddy as well as the president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, remarked: "Look at all those dark shapes. I'm sure some of them are salmon."
"I believe all of them are salmon," our guide, Austin Clark, said. "At least they were salmon yesterday."

Austin with a couple of Bob's beautiful Salmon:

It appears to me that I went looking for a fly, and found a man.  Happy to have made, in my way, his acquaintance.   I think we'd get along.


  1. Great Post, Gary. Interesting Fly, interesting story!

  2. That's a lovely fly and beautifully tied-- classical in its appearance. Were I in need of it, I would surely tie it. But mine is my blessed time when I no longer need flies.

  3. Blessed time comes to us all, Gordon...but I wish you did need 'em, I'd send you all you need.

  4. Great post, Gary! This is the kind of thing that gets me really amped up for next season. Just what the doctor ordered for a snowy day in CT.

    1. Thanks, Ben! Like you, I'm more than ready for the season to get underway!

  5. Gary,
    Great story! Austin Clark is a legend on the Gaspe and Bob's salmon pictures attest the success that both men had. One time on Spey Pages you posted "It is not necessarily catching salmon that is the most savored experience of a salmon trip".

    Doug Anderson

    1. Doug, glad you enjoyed the post...and I stand by those words still today!