CROSSING BORDERS WITH CONTRABAND (CRABS)
Vagabond Fly Introduction:
Before you get stuck in and revel in the latest fly design to come from the vice of Drew Chicone from Salty Fly Tying, afford us the opportunity to give credit where it is due…
On the second day of IFTD 2016 (International Fly Tackle Dealers Expo) we once again ran into our good mate Drew Chicone – we have published several Step-by-Step articles on his various killer patterns over the past two years. After a quick catch-up and high-fives, Drew stuck his hand into his fly-tying bag and pulled out a fist-full of Contraband that he casually stuck into our palms, introducing us to his latest pattern – The Contraband Crab. Unbeknownst to us (and Drew kept us in the dark), Umpqua Feather Merchants entered the Contraband Crab into the show awards and imagine our even bigger surprise and level of stokedness (that is a thing) when it was announced that the pattern won the Fly Pattern – Saltwater category!
Needless to say we made sure to share a few beers that evening to welcome the Contraband Crab to stardom.
We are stoked to bring you this Step-by-Step on a pattern that has just hit the market and shines of Chicone’s practical, innovative and out-of-the-box style of fly-tying. Crab patterns have become a firm favorite and go-to for fresh-and saltwater fly fishers alike; be it from targeting Triggerfish, Permit and Bones on the flats to mudding Carp in a local pond.
A special thanks and mention to Mike Owen for the photos to support the article, be sure to click here to view more of his amazing photography and be sure to follow him on Instagram @michaelowenphotography.
Over to Drew…
What makes a fish think something is food? I have been asking myself this question since I was old enough to hold a fly rod. The theories are endless and the pursuit of this knowledge has driven more than just a few fly junkies completely mad. I certainly don’t profess to know all the reasons why fish eat, but I have spent the better share of a decade trying to demystify the crucial elements needed to design productive flies.
Like most anglers pursuing Permit on fly, my crusade has been vexing and exasperating to say the least. On each trip I learned something new, like gathering pieces of a puzzle from some of the planet’s primo Permit guides. With each grain of knowledge, experience and knowhow, shared from these collaborating guides and guru’s, together we have worked in concert to hone existing patterns and have designed a few new patterns along the way.
The Contraband Crab is a confluence of several of my favorite crab patterns; the Bauer Crab, Scotch-brite Crab, and McFly Crab. My goal was to incorporate all my favorite attributes or “abilities” while overcoming each patterns shortcomings.
The Bauer Crab is a fly box staple since the 70’s. Its iconic, knotted square rubber legs allow the segment below the knot to be positioned in a rearward facing direction giving this pattern a very realistic silhouette. This is very difficult to do with smaller diameter silicone or round rubber legs, and they do not provide the same silhouette or movement. The original body of this pattern was created from sculpin wool with burnt mono eyes glued in to its fibers. When purchasing this pattern from your local fly shop, you will find that the cheap (usually dull) hook is bent to create a larger hook gap. This weakens the integrity of the hook not to mention altering its effectiveness. If the eyes are inserted into the wool with too much glue, the wool fibers wick the glue and stiffen as the glue cures – leaving you with a great looking “teaser,” with little to no hook gap.
The Scotch-brite pattern is a variation on the rag head crab. I did not like the flat, unrealistic look of felt, so I searched for years to replace the material with something that was thicker, more durable and also provided a more mottled look. After a little experimentation, I found that Scotch-Brite pads can be stamped to shape and cut in half to sandwich the hook. This provided the look I was after; however, the feather claws were on the rear of the fly, not the front, and the splayed round rubber legs shooting in every direction looked like a spider that was smacked with a flip-flop. Although the round rubber legs were excellent for movement, they were not durable and were terrible for holding the colour applied with a permanent marker. After being exposed to saltwater for a few hours, the colour either faded away or bled everywhere.
The McFly Foam crab was my fix to the majority of these issues; however, I ran into some new problems when I tried to scale the pattern down to smaller sizes. The pattern calls for a 1/0 Gamakatsu SC -15 which is perfect if you are looking for a quarter-sized crab, but this hook was not as effective for matching dime-size crabs.
I probably sound like a broken record, but when it comes to creating productive flies for any species, there are a few important factors or “abilities” that need to be considered. First and foremost in my mind is “Castability”. This is a term I use for the fly’s aerodynamics. Even the most perfectly tied fly is useless if it fouls in the air or doesn’t make it to the fish. Wind and flats fishing go hand-in-hand, so your fly needs to be somewhat streamlined and presented with limited false casts. Bushy or wide, flat flies are very wind resistant, and extra-long rubber legs frequently foul and make casting into the wind at great distances unmanageable.
As a commercial fly-tyer, you can gather a lot of info from the orders that you get based on the location or species the anglers intend to fish. Each year it seems that the flies for all species (especially tarpon and permit) get smaller and smaller as these fish become more pressured and in turn more educated. Matching custom requests is typically not a problem; however, some materials are simply not scalable or available in smaller sizes or colours. With some materials, like McFly Foam, using less to create a smaller fly does not respond the same as the original recipe, therefore you lose the realistic look or functionality that you picked the material for in the first place. As the hook size decreases, so does the hook gap, wire and strength, which becomes a huge issue, especially when it comes to crab patterns for plus sized permit. The obvious fix would be to go to a larger or wider gap hook, however this is no good if it doesn’t look natural and the fish refuse your fly.
Sink Rate & Colour
Another important attribute of a permit fly is the sink rate. Salinity, current, leader material, or any number of other factors can affect how your fly falls through the water. In order for your fly to mimic the intended prey item, it needs to sink at the same speed as the real thing. A fly that moves too slowly through the water column is often a red flag to permit, and a refusal usually follows. Most of the time your fly is going to need to get down quickly, so the majority of my permit box consists of heavily weighted flies. 5/32’s dumbbell eye is a good place to start for a size 4 or 6 hook, but I would suggest tying identical flies with a few different size eyes for different situations and water depths.
The hook size, style and colour that you choose are also crucial. I prefer a heavier wire hook with a short shank and wide gap. This not only helps with hook ups, but a hook with a larger gap ensures that you have enough room for the materials without impeding the hook’s effectiveness. In the past, I have talked about the idea of black hooks having a tendency to silhouette over white sand potentially being more visible in clear water. However, over the last few years this hypothesis is believed by many, including myself, to be untrue. Larger fish or fish that experience a lot of pressure seem to be more spooked by the glint from a silver hook, therefore I tend to tie with both black and silver hooks to hedge my bet for any situation.
When choosing crab patterns to fill the box, I like patterns that can be easily modified on the water and fished effectively anywhere. The materials used in the Contraband Crab Pattern hold colour well and can be easily modified. Its ultra-realistic look is thanks to a Copic air brush. Copic offers a wide array of colours that work astonishingly well on these materials. I like to use blends of tans, browns, and olives for the flies I tie before the trip; however, I always tie a few plain tan or white patterns, especially when I am traveling. This provides a blank canvas that can be easily coloured with permanent markers to mimic a unique prey’s colourations you may encounter on the water.
We all have our favourite patterns, however the hot fly yesterday, may not work so great tomorrow, or next week. While local knowledge of the fishery and forage is paramount, more often than not success comes to those that can adapt to the ever-changing playing field. Combining historically productive patterns with new techniques and materials provides a fantastic platform to build new productive patterns and hopefully ensure you have the right bugs in your box for any flats situation.