Choosing a Crayfish – Part 1

Guest Blogger: Mary S. Kuss, Life-long avid angler, licensed PA fishing guide, founder of the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association

I’ve been looking for a few good crayfish fly patterns for many years. I’ve rejected the vast majority of the ones I’ve come across. Many of them have a very realistic appearance, but are overly complex for my taste. They tend to be both time and labor-intensive to tie. These are not good traits in a fly that will be put at risk in the hazardous environment of a stream bed. The other problem with these elaborate ties is that, despite looking as though they could crawl away on their own, most of them simply do not fish well. A good imitative fly pattern not only has to resemble the natural food item in question, it also has to behave like it once in the water.

When I discovered the Clouser Crayfish, in the mid-1980’s, I felt that I finally had a keeper. This excellent design proved very effective when fished dead-drift in riffle and run areas of my favorite warmwater streams. However, it did not track and behave well when actively retrieved. I began to understand that it might be necessary to have two go-to crayfish patterns—one for drifting and one for retrieving actively. I had my dead-drift pattern, now I needed to find a good swimming crayfish pattern.

When I ran across DC’s Fin Tickler in a magazine article, it seemed to be just what I was looking for. This carp pattern was devised by Dennis Collier, who readily admits that his fly is the result of tinkering with existing, traditional carp patterns. I, in turn, have been bold enough to tinker further. This organic process is at the heart of fly design, and has a long tradition in the tyer’s craft. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have preceded us. And no one bothers tinkering with unsuccessful patterns.

For me carp are a target of opportunity, not a species that I actively pursue. The carp I’ve caught were ones I stumbled upon while fishing for bass and panfish. I’m always happy to cast to a mudding or clooping carp whenever I have the chance, but frankly it doesn’t happen all that often.

Still, I’ve found that most fly patterns intended for carp also make very good general warmwater patterns and will even work for trout under the right circumstances. After all, a predatory fish is a predatory fish. Within a given ecosystem they all eat pretty much the same things.

This fly is designed to fish inverted, hook point up. This greatly reduces the incidence of bottom snagging. The placement of the lead dumbbell eyes on top of the hook shank will create this orientation on its own. The lead wire added to the top of the hook enhances that tendency by increasing the weight opposite the hook bend and spear and also by moving the dumbbells a bit further away from the hook shank.

Although this rather impressionistic design may not look a lot like a crayfish to human eyes, it has all the right triggers—behavior in the water, internal movement, and color. It has been very successful for me, whether drifted or hopped along the bottom. Bass and panfish alike will often charge it as it sinks on a slack line.

The silicone legs are obviously key to its attractiveness. The legs close together as the fly is stripped, and open again on the pause. This mimics perfectly the motion of a swimming crayfish. Use any combination of colors that look good to you. You can’t go wrong with some combination of olive, rust, brown and tan. Sometimes crayfish show highlights of bright orange, blue or green. It’s always a good idea to check out the naturals where you fish.

My preferred method for fishing this pattern is to cast quartering upstream in areas of moderate depth and current. Allow the fly to sink on a slack line, mending the line as necessary. Be alert for takes as the fly sinks and drifts. When the fly starts to swing, start a strip-and-pause retrieve. In areas with a sand or gravel bottom, the fly can be cast up or up-and-across current and hopped along the stream bed.

In Part 2 of this post which will be published later this week, I’ll show you how to tie this crayfish.

11 thoughts on “Choosing a Crayfish – Part 1

  1. Don

    I’ll give it a try, fish for smallmouth a lot. Can’t use lead, have to substitute it, not legal in NH anymore. Fish in lakes, no current and soon the bass will be in deeper holes, 15 to 20 feet. Interested in seeing the pattern which looks simple enough.
    Thanks for the post.

    Reply
    1. Mary S. Kuss

      Thanks, Don. J. Stockard has several excellent non-lead dumbbell eyes any one of which would work well with my crayfish pattern. I haven’t tried fishing it in stillwater situations, but if there are crayfish present, why not? Rocky shorelines would be the best place to try it, I imagine. Fishing it in those deep holes might be challenging. I’d be interested to know how you do with the fly. Good luck!

      Reply
  2. Michael Vorhis

    Hi Mary, very nice article. As I said in a comment in the last article, I enjoyed your write-up. It’s igniting me anew to get out and toss some fake lobsters. I plan to add a few of the ways you like to fish the Clouser crayfish to my own repertoire. Thanks for a great read.

    – Mike

    Reply
    1. Mary S. Kuss

      In addition to bearing a pretty good resemblance to the naturals, the Clouser Crayfish is tied using a lot of soft, “chewy” materials. When a fish takes it on a dead-drift presentation I think they tend to mouth it longer. This increases the number of hook-ups you get. At least that’s my theory.

      Reply
        1. Mary S. Kuss

          The line between flies and baits gets blurrier year by year. Now that the likes of Gummy Minnows and Squirmy Wormies have “wormed” their way into the fly fishing world, I don’t see how it can get much worse.

          Reply
          1. Michael Vorhis

            I myself have a pack of “squirmy worm” rubber somewhere in my tying materials. I confess! But in my own defense, I always reach for feather and fur when it comes down to tying or fishing. Honestly there’s nothing more amazing than the simultaneous strength, resilience and delicacy of a natural feather–I’m still continually amazed by what the so-called delicate feather can do.

            Anyway these are nice articles; something to learn from even for use in tying other patterns. Tnx Mary.

        2. Robert W Forester

          “Rubber” worms? I’m amazed fishermen still use that terminology.
          Soft baits have been made from plastisol, which is PVC and other additives, for the last fifty years.

          Reply
          1. Mary S. Kuss

            Once a term like “rubber worm” gets firmly embedded in the jargon, it tends to stay there regardless of technical accuracy or lack thereof.

          2. Michael Vorhis

            And I think it hardly matters. The word “rubber” is commonly used in all sorts of ways in the language; the word “plastisol” has not been adopted into common usage at all. The word “rubber” is a useful proxy for the concept of elasticity. Similarly words like “bug” (when we should technically name the genus) and “rod” (when we should technically say “fly fishing tube”) and “dry” (when we should technically say “floating” and further differentiate between displacement vs. hydrophobic flotation) are all commonly used, and effective enough to communicate.

            I once caught a monster bass on a long plum-colored “rubber worm,” and when I say that, everybody knows exactly what I mean–everybody on the city bus and in the DMV line immediately thinks, “ahh, plastisol.” : )

            – Mike

  3. Mary S. Kuss

    You are so right, Mike, about the magical properties of feathers. They are a miracle of design, whether you believe that’s by evolution or divine providence, and it’s fascinating that they serve both birds and fly tyers so very well. I’ve never seen a synthetic material that can come close to the beauty of what nature makes. And of course in a sport like fly fishing, there’s always tradition to consider. There are tyers who won’t use synthetics, although I don’t think many of them shun nylon or polyester thread or metallic tinsel. There are a few who want to use nothing but synthetics. I am no purist either way. I try to familiarize myself with the characteristics of each material in my arsenal and choose based on what I feel will serve my purpose best for a particular pattern. For instance, after tying and fishing my Cicada pattern for several years it occurred to me one day that it was tied entirely of synthetics. I hadn’t planned it that way, it just happened.

    Reply

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