Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tying the Crawdad

I'm going to be perfectly honest here. I am not handling winter well this year. I'm freezing cold all the time, I just had a two-day bout with the stomach flu (that I'd rather not relive here), and worst of all, aside from some short 45-minute lunch hour romps at a local pond, I haven't had a decent fishing trip since October. Luckily though, if I play my cards right and don't relapse into the stomach flu, I'm going to have a day-trip tomorrow. I haven't decided yet where (maybe Bennett Spring, maybe Blue Spring Creek, probably Montauk), but I do know that wherever I go, I'll have a new trick up my sleeve.

If you look closely in most any body of water in Missouri, odds are you'll find a crawdad. I remember pulling up an old wire cage out of my grandpa's pond as a kid and there being dozens of the little crablike creatures scurrying in the trap. They are typically pretty well camouflaged in stream beds, but every so often, you can catch one swimming by, with surprising agility. It is no surprise then that with their prevalence in the Missouri water system that they are a significant food source for fish, even trout.

A real Crawdad, pulled from Bennett Spring
I've heard in order to catch the big browns, you need a more significantly sized fly. Instagram is chockablock with pictures of anglers holding up trophy fish with what appears to be 10-12 inches of streamer material hanging out of the fish's mouth. These flies all seem to be about size 0 and weigh upwards to 15-20 pounds each. Meanwhile, I'm usually tying up a size 16-18 nymph and catching the same 8-10 inch rainbow again and again. I decided life is too short to only catch small fish, and went by Hargrove's to buy some materials to make a big, nasty streamer pattern. I settled on the crawdad.

The Crawdad

The crawdad is a large, fairly complex pattern that takes a few minutes to tie. This pattern is tied on a massive size #4 hook, and is significantly larger than any other hooks I have tied trout flies on before, so I am skeptical that it won't be too large for fishes' mouths. I've seen many variations of a crawdad pattern, some of which use feathers with painted tips for the actual body and claws of the crawdad. I tied mine with a felt cutout pattern. The full list of materials I used are included below.

  • Hook: Dai-Riki #700B Size 4 Streamer/Nymph Hook, 1x Strong, 4x Long
  • Thread: UNI-Thread 6/0 Camel
  • .025 Lear-Free Wire
  • Fish Skull's CrawBody Felt Crawdad Pattern, Medium, Brown
  • Fishers Advantage Barbell Eyes
  • Centipede Legs - Speckled Brown Medium
  • Hare's Ear Plus Dubbin - Reddish Brown
The first step is to tie this fly is to secure your giant hook into your vice. I begin my thread wraps at the eye of the fly and bring them to the hook bend, leaving a nice thread base along the entire shank. At the bend of the hook, I secure the barbell weight using figure-8 thread wraps, ensuring it's locked firmly in place at the top of the hook bend. This barbell acts as the crawdad's eye.

Once the barbell eye is secure, I use a rubber centipede leg to form the crawdad's antennas. I double the leg in half, and pull it around the barbell eye. I lock it in place with several thread wraps.

Behind the barbell eye, I will add several wraps of lead wire to give the fly more weight, and hopefully bring it to the bottom of the water column where all the big browns hang out. I secure the lead in place with a good number of thread wraps and bring the thread back to the eye of the hook (not to be confused with the secured barbell eye of the crawdad).

Now it's time to flip the fly over in your vice, so that the point of the hook is facing the ceiling. Pulling out several large pinches of dubbing material, apply the hare's ear fur to your thread, approximately 6 inches' worth. If you are having difficult twisting the dubbing material onto your thread, try a dubbing wax. I personally do not use dubbing wax, but I know several tiers who do and swear by it.

In slow, deliberate wraps, bring your thread and material back up to the barbell eye. You might have to add more material halfway through if you run out, as I did.

Above the dumbbell eye, on the opposite side of the hook shank, tie in the head of your felt crawdad cutout, being careful not to lock in its claws with thread, or to have the body twist along the hook shank.

Finally, wrap in each segment of the crawdad tail, careful not to crowd the eye of the hook. Whip finish at the eye and enjoy your new crawdad pattern.

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