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.
Different Crayfish Fly Patterns
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 fly patterns—one for drifting and one for retrieving actively. I had my dead-drift pattern, now I needed to find a good swimming crayfish fly 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.
MK Baby Crayfish Fly Pattern Recipe
Hook: #6 Mustad 3366 or equivalent
Thread: Danville 3/0 Monocord, Brown
Wire: 0.025” lead or lead-free
Weight: XS nickel-plated dumbbell eyes
Tail: Grizzly Marabou, Brown or Sculpin Olive
Glue (Optional): Brush-On Super Glue
Body: Micro Polar Chenille, Brown or Brown-Olive
Legs: Silicone leg material of your choice
Dubbing: Coarse rusty brown
Tying the MK Baby Crayfish Fly Pattern
1. De-barb hook and mount in vise. Lay a thread base from the head position back to the hook point and forward again to about a hook eye width back from the back edge of the hook eye.
Catch in the wire on top of the hook and wrap thread back to the hook point and forward again. Break off the wire at the back of the thread base. Align wire on top of the shank.
2. Tie in the dumbbell eyes on top of the lead wire, just slightly back from the front edge of the wire. Be sure to leave enough room ahead of the dumbbells for a turn or two of dubbing and a thread head. Secure dumbbell eyes well with figure-8 thread wraps and a couple of circling wraps between the eyes and the wire.
3. Tie in a Grizzly Marabou feather at the tail position. Tail should be about the length of the hook shank. Wrap thread forward over the marabou butt, binding it to the hook shank as you go, up to the back edge of the dumbbells. Take two turns of thread ahead of the marabou butts. Wrap thread rearward slightly back into the hook bend, cocking the marabou tail slightly downward. Trim excess marabou butt closely.
4. Tie in a length of Micro Polar Chenille about three inches long. Wind the working thread forward to a point about a dumbbell-width from the back edge of the dumbbells.
(Optional) Touch the thread base around the dumbbells with a bit of Super Glue or head cement. This increases durability, but go lightly with the glue. Too much will make a mess.
5. Wrap the Micro Polar Chenille forward in touching turns, sweeping the fibers back as you go. Tie off and remove excess.
6. Select two strands of silicone leg material, align the ends, and fold in half around working thread. Bind down at the front edge of the Micro Polar Chenille body on the far side of the hook. Repeat with two more strands on the near side of the hook. Pull the strands down slightly below the hook shank, and take a few thread wraps over the tie-down to keep them there.
7. Form a dubbing loop about 3-1/2 inches in length. Advance working thread to head position. Load the loop with sparse tufts of dubbing. Twist up enough to secure the dubbing in the loop, but not too tightly. You want a loose, shaggy look.
8. Make two or three wraps of dubbing behind the eyes, sweeping the fibers to the rear with each turn. Make one figure-8 wrap of dubbing around the dumbbells and one or two turns ahead of them. Tie off and remove excess. Form a neat thread head and whip off.
9. Touch the thread head with a drop of cement. Brush out the dubbing with a Velcro teaser or similar implement of your choice.
10. Trim the silicone legs to length, about ¼-inch beyond the end of the marabou tail. Groom up as desired.