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Advanced Fly Tying:
Al's Flash-Pan Crayfish
Al's Flash-Pan Crayfish

By Al Campbell

One of the aspects of advanced fly tying that's very often overlooked is vision. By that, I mean the mental vision to see things differently than most other people and act on that vision. Haven't you ever asked yourself why a certain fly works so well when it doesn't look as much like the natural critter as another fly that doesn't work as well?

Fly creation involves much more than just making a fly that looks a lot like a natural insect or minnow. It involves a mental vision of what the fish sees and what triggers the fish's instinct to feed on what he sees. Why does a fish feed on a minnow? Is it the flash of the scales or the color of the body? Do fish feed on an elk hair caddis because it looks like a fluttering caddis returning to the water to lay its eggs? Finding that trigger is often the difference between a fly that works a little and a fly the fish can't resist.

Those of you who have followed my fly tying instruction here on FAOL from the beginning are familiar with my pattern called the SHWAPF. Did you ever ask yourself why that particular pattern works? What does it trigger in the mind of the fish that bites it? Is the trigger merely a similarity to enough natural insects that fish are willing to try it? Is it more than that? Could it possibly be the shape or profile of the fly that triggers an instinct as old as that particular strain of fish? Since it works on so many different types of fish, maybe the instinct it triggers is older than just one strain of fish.

I'm not trying to tell you I know all the reasons fish bite that particular fly. In fact, I'm sure I don't know more than a few of the reasons; but it does work on a variety of fish. Tied in the colors pictured in my recipe in the beginning fly tying series, I've caught five species of trout, crappie, bluegills and sunfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass, rock bass, whitefish, goldeneye shad, a couple of variations of chubs and even suckers. I also caught several red snapper on a SHWAPF tied with orange crystal flash hackle and a pearl tinsel body recently while fishing in Belize. Something about that fly triggers a feeding response in fish.

I'm not trying to tell you that a SHWAPF will catch everything. Bonefish ignored it completely, but a variation (or maybe offspring) of the SHWAPF I call a Shrimpf was a killer on bonefish and worked well on jacks. Why did I feel confident my new fly would work on bonefish when I hadn't ever fished for that species before? The same vision I'm trying to describe to you now.

The Flash-Pan Crayfish is one of those flies created using that type of vision. It isn't hard to tie, and it doesn't involve difficult skills; it requires vision. Bass, trout and virtually anything that eats crayfish will take it if you fish it in the right places; and if you twitch it so it swims with an erratic motion common to a fleeing crayfish, fish will find it hard to resist. It was created to capitalize on several items that trigger a feeding response in fish.

First, the Flash-Pan Crayfish looks vaguely similar to a real crayfish with claws, a shell and legs; but the attraction goes beyond those features. I tossed in a couple of other triggers to add to the attractive qualities of this fly.

I placed orange crystal flash near the hook bend to add several features I've noticed fish find attractive. Adding a touch of orange to a crayfish pattern seems to be a trigger that often causes fish to take that fly when they've refused others that were very similar. An orange and black wooly bugger would be a good example. Also, the subtle sparkle and translucent qualities of crystal flash often triggers a feeding response in fish that will ignore the same fly without it.

I formed the back and shell with some prismatic tape, but I didn't try to make it look very realistic. In fact, I covered it with hair so the flash of the tape would be slightly subdued. If you've ever fished with hardware like spoons, spinners or spinner baits, you know how attractive flash is in any lure, so why not in a fly? Slightly subduing that flash by covering it with hair that moves and breaths in the water adds a touch of mystery to the fly. The fish see the flash and instinctively feel an urge to investigate. Then, as the hair waves in the water with each twitch of the fly, the flash appears to move like a living creature. Not only is the fly moving through the water, it appears to have a motion of its own because portions of the fly are moving or breathing and the flash seems to be moving with them. Add to that the fact that prismatic tape flashes in many different colors, and you have a trigger most fish have a hard time ignoring. Even the bead chain eyes have a subtle flash that attracts the attention of fish.

Do you have the vision required to create a fly that triggers a feeding response in fish? As we tie this pattern, try to see a fly in your mind that incorporates similar triggers to attract fish. Maybe it'll be a variation of my pattern, or maybe it will be something completely different. If you're going to advance beyond copying other people's patterns or merely experimenting until you luck into something that works, you'll need a vision of what triggers a feeding response in fish, and the ability to put that vision to work in your own pattern. It's time to take that next step in your fly tying progression.

Flash-Pan Crayfish - List of Materials

  • Hook: Mustad 3407, S71S, C70S or equivalent stainless saltwater hook, size 4 to 8, pictured is a size 6. (If you don't want to use stainless hooks, a Mustad 3366 will work fine.)

  • Thread: Tan or orange 3/0 monocord or flat waxed nylon..

  • Tail: Orange crystal flash (Tied in to form the front of the carapace of the crayfish).

  • Eyes: Bead chain or hourglass, depending on the weight desired.

  • Claws: Brown hen saddle feathers (I have really grown fond of Conranch JV hen feathers for this task).

  • Dubbing : Tan synthetic using a dubbing spinner to create a chenille-like dubbing. (Light olive dubbing also works fine).

  • Shellback: Gold prismatic tape folded lengthwise down the center.

  • Wing: Fox squirrel tail hair. (Tan bucktail will work)

  • Dubbing tool instructions:

    Dubbing tool

    This is a dubbing tool or dubbing spinner.

    Dubbing tool

    The thread is wrapped around it like this then attached to the hook to form a loop.

    Dubbing tool

    The thread on one side of the loop is waxed with tacky wax and short, sparse pieces of dubbing are applied to the waxed thread on the inside of the loop. Don't overload the dubbing. It is better to be too sparse than too thick.

    Once the dubbing is spread on the inside of the loop, the tool is pulled tight and twisted to form a type of chenille that is wrapped around the hook while the thread is still attached to the dubbing tool.

    Tying steps:

  • 1. Start the thread on the hook, then tie in the crystal flash, securing it slightly past the start of the bend of the hook.

  • 2. Secure the eyes to the hook as shown. Leave a little space between the eyes and the tail for dubbing and claws.

  • 3. Attach one hen feather to the far side of the hook (curvature outward) as shown.

  • 4. Attach the other feather to the near side of the hook (curvature outward).

  • 5. Attach a dubbing tool as shown. Your loop should be longer. I made mine short so it could be seen in the photo.

  • 6.Wax the thread on one side of the loop and spread a sparse coat of dubbing on the inside of the loop.

  • 7. Twist the dubbing tool to form a type of sparse chenille. I'm using a rotary vise with a detachable bobbin cradle here. It makes dubbing with a dubbing spinner easier. I made a half hitch with the thread near the eye of the hook and placed the bobbin over a bobbin cradle to keep it out of the way as I spin the dubbing. I remove the bobbin cradle as soon as I finish dubbing the body.

  • 8. Apply the dubbing by rotating the vise head and feeding the dubbing to the area you want dubbed. I'm using a Dan Vise (nice vise for the money).

  • 9. When you finish dubbing the body, trim the thread loop and remove the bobbin cradle or move it out of the way.

  • 10. Select a piece of prismatic tape to use as a shellback. This tape is about 3/8 of an inch wide.

  • 11. Fold the tape in half lengthwise.

  • 12. Trim the end at an angle so the open end is shorter than the top of the fold.

  • 13. Rotate the hook in the vise and attach the tape like a tent as shown. The point of the fold is resting against the bend of the hook.

  • 14. Select a small bunch of squirrel tail hairs and remove any under-fur or short hairs.

  • 15. Tie the hair on top of the shellback to extend slightly past the tips of the crystal flash tail.

  • 16. Trim the butts of the hair and build a solid head.

  • 17. Whip finish and cement. I'm using a water-based head cement in a Loon applicator that uses a hollow tube to direct the cement to its target. If you get too much cement in any spot, you can suck the excess back into the applicator bottle.

  • 18. From the bottom, your finished fly should look similar to this.

  • 19. From the top it should look like this. Notice how the hook will ride with the point up?

  • 20. Here is a side view of the finished fly.

  • Although using a rotary vise isn't absolutely required to tie this fly, rotary vises speed up the task of dubbing with a dubbing tool. Be sure to use a bobbin cradle to keep the bobbin out of the way as you rotate the vise and apply the dubbing.

    Are you ready to see flies differently? Do you have enough vision to discover the subtle things that trigger fish? If you have that vision, there is nothing that can get in the way of you and more creative flies that catch fish.

    See ya next month - Remember, I'm always happy to answer your questions, feel free to email me. ~ Al Campbell

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