The Wisco Cisco
Every Midwest angler needs a suspended minnow for visual eats.
By Kyle Zempel

As we head out to a river or lake in search of smallmouth, we all have high hopes of explosive topwater eats. That, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen. Enter neutrally buoyant, suspending minnow patterns. In the world of Midwest smallmouth fishing, your suspending minnow pattern—basically a baitfish imitation tied with little to no weight—is a staple. Most legitimate smallmouth guides in the Midwest their own version of a suspending minnow pattern that fits their needs. I’d say most are influenced by the famed Murdich Minnow that Tightlines Fly Fishing Company popularized as a smallmouth pattern in the early 2000’s.

These patterns, if designed correctly, are easy to cast and slow sinking (appearing suspended) so that the angler can fish the middle column of the water. This allows the fly to float above the bottom structure where smallmouth like to hide. It’s hard for smallmouth to resist the effect you get with this fly.

I prefer to fish my fly, the Wisco Cisco, on a Scientific Angler Bass Bug floating line. My instruction to clients is to retrieve the fly at a pace where they can visually see the fly—in other words, not so slowly that it sinks out of sight. A strip-strip-pause retrieve tends to work best. When the fly vanishes, that means it’s in the fish’s mouth—time to set the hook! Fished correctly, 90 percent of your eats with this fly will be visual. This, to me, is the great thing about this pattern. It may not be better than a topwater, but it’s pretty darn close.

The Wisco Cisco is my suspending fly of choice for the lower reaches of the Wisconsin River where I guide for smallmouth. Pike love this pattern as well. It has become a favorite of many anglers and has been tested in many places around North America. When tying this pattern, it is key to use a hook with some heft to it. The hook weight is crucial to the functionality of the fly. If the hook is too light, the fly will float and not suspend.

This fly can be sized up or down as long as the proportions stay the same. The colors can be also customized.


Hook:   KONA USS Size 1
Tail:   White Bucktail
Tail:   White Saddle Hackle
Tail:   Silver Flashabou
Body:   UV Silver Polar Chenille
Overwing:   Gray Bucktail
Gills:   Red Laser Dub
Head (top):   Gray Ice Dub
Head (bottom):   White Laser Dub
Eyes:   3D Adhesive Holographic Eyes

1.  Load the hook into the vise and attach the thread, stopping before the bend of the hook.

2.  Measure a clump of bucktail about half the diameter of a pencil. Tie it in so that is roughly two hook shanks in length and cut off the excess. Tie this bucktail clump down securely on top of the hook shank with tight wraps ensuring the bucktail does not spin around the hook. Add head cement if desired.

3.  Pluck out four hackle feathers; try to find matching ones. Pair them up, adivgning their tips, and then measure them so they are a half inch longer than your bucktail. Prep them by stripping them at the tie-in point. Affix two feathers to each side of the hook.

4.  Cut off excess hackle stems and clean up the ends. Add head cement if desired.

5.  Prepare the Flashabou by separating out the desired amount and cutting it free from the hank. Keep in mind this quantity will double when folded back. Tie in the Flashabou so it sits between the paired hackle feathers. (NOTE: the Flashabou should be sdivghtly longer than the hackle feathers; it will be trimmed later.)

6.  Fold the forward pointing Flashabou back towards the tail of the fly and give a couple wraps to lock it in.

7.  Tie in your Polar Chenille at the tie-in point of your tail materials. Advance your thread 2/3of the way up the hook shank.

8.  Wrap the Polar Chenille forward, brushing the fibers back with each wrap so no fibers are trapped. Once the thread is reached, securely tie in the Polar Chenille and cut off the excess.

9.  Cut a clump of gray bucktail about half a pencil’s width in diameter and measure it so that it extends to within one inch from the tips of the hackle feathers. At the measured point, cut the butt ends of the bucktail to produce a clean edge.

10.  Firmly hold the bucktail in place and give securing wraps to ensure the bucktail does not wrap around the hook.

11.  Clean up ends with tight securing wraps. Add head cement if desired.

12.  Take a small pinch of red Ice Dub and secure it to the underside of the hook shank, tying it in the middle of dubbing clump with 3 overlapping wraps

13.  Fold the dubbing back and advance the thread in front of the red dubbing.

14.  Get a clump of gray Ice Dub about a pencil’s width in diameter. Place the bunch on top of the hook shank secure it down so 2/3 of the material is towards the back of the hook.

15.  Fold back the front portion of the Ice Dub and advance the thread to just in front of the material. Repeat step 13 but this time tie in the middle of the Ice Dub bunch with only 2 overlapping wraps to secure it.

16.  Grab a clump of white Laser Dub about a pencil’s width in diameter. Place it on the underside of the hook and tie it in at the same point that the grey Ice Dub is tied in with 3 overlapping wraps.

17.  Fold all the material back and advance the thread to the front of the hook.

18.  Create a thread dam here between the head materials and the eye of the hook.

19.  Whip finish the fly and cut the thread. Brush the dubbing to blend it. Trim Flashabou flush with the hackle tips.

20.  Add head cement and affix eyes with gel super glue.

Kyle Zempel

Kyle currently resides in the rural bluffs of Black Earth, Wisconsin, where in 2013 he created Black Earth Angling Co. (, a fly fishing guide outfit focused on providing clients with one-of-a-kind fishing experiences. Kyle guides full time for Driftless trout and the diverse warmwater opportunities of the Wisconsin River. Kyle has become well known for his guide work on the Wisconsin River, specifically “The Crash,” as well as his work with a camera in the field as a fly fishing photographer. His photo work has appeared in notable publications, such as The Flyfish Journal, Eastern Fly Fishing, The Drake, and Fly Fisherman. Kyle has fished in Mexico, the Bahamas, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, and extensively throughout the United States.