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ON NEWSSTANDS October 5!

The Oct-Dec 2021 issue: Available in both print and digital.

This Month in Fly Fisherman:

Nine-Pound Hammer (see video below recipe)

A fly fisher's version of the Ned Rig

By: Charlie Craven

How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer
(Charlie Craven photo)

On a recent fishing trip, my buddy Marty Mononi and I were talking about some of the old-school flies like Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers and how—like a cool old house—they have good bones but can generally use a remodel. There are so many good, but somewhat outdated, flies out there that this “remodel” idea really struck a chord with me. As you saw in the Feb.-Mar. 2020 issue, I revamped the venerable Chubby Chernobyl with a fresh look and called it the Elevated Chubby Chernobyl. Well, the Nine-Pound Hammer I’m showing here is really nothing but an improved, purpose-built variation of a Woolly Bugger. I have to say I both love it and hate it when the design process runs a wide circle and ends up somewhere back around where it began, along with some noticeable improvements in both design and usability.

Mononi wanted a crayfish pattern designed to be fished under an indicator. He had been fishing Thin Mints with varying degrees of success, but wanted something a bit more imitative and with a wider range of colors. I was already thinking about coming up with something for him, when another couple of guide buddies asked me for basically the same thing. When three different guides/anglers of this caliber independently ask for the same kind of new pattern design, I listen.

Purely by coincidence, while all this correspondence was going on, another good friend, Brian Schmidt, had been showing me some of his hand-tied Ned Rigs he uses and sells for conventional bass fishing. The Ned Rig historically uses small plastic worms or crayfish with a light jig head so you can easily suspend it just off the bottom. It was originally created by outdoor writer Ned Kehde, who popularized it for bass fishing in the Midwest.

Schmidt’s new fly-fishing-inspired version of the Ned Rig has a horizontal, football-shaped lead jig head, and a sparsely tied collar of marabou and schlappen. It was taking the conventional tackle world by storm, and that gave me an idea. Let’s scale that kind of thing down and let’s see what we can do for the trout guys!

I started off with a sort of hybrid Woolly Bugger with rubber legs, but quickly realized that my guide friends had already fished patterns like this. If that was the answer, they wouldn’t be asking me for a new fly, so I started to go a little off the books.

I sorted through my hooks and found the Tiemco 708, a 2X heavy-wire 40-degree, flat eyed jig hook that seemed to be the perfect undercarriage. I added a slotted tungsten bead for weight, enjoying the fact, that because of the jig hook, I wasn’t limited to a specific bead size. I tie the Nine-Pound Hammer with various bead sizes, and choose them depending on the speed and depth of the water, as well as how thick the weeds are. Anything from a 3mm to a whopping 5.5mm bead can be employed here.

I didn’t stray far overall from the Bugger design, but did adopt the tri-color tail of the Thin Mint, and built a slightly thicker dubbed body, more reminiscent of a small crayfish.

I stuck with a rooster saddle feather for the body hackle, more in an effort to build volume and to help support the coq de León hen saddle collar I use to form the shell. This oversized, soft, mottled feather envelope over the fly body forms an artistic carapace that reminds me of a van Gogh painting. It’s really the key to the whole pattern.

I finished off the fly with some of Drew Chicone’s micro Crusher Legs in the appropriate colors for both the legs and antennae, and included a few strands of matching Flashabou just for spice.

I realize that most tiers and fly fishers look at a Bugger pattern and think “leech,” but the essence of this old pattern is its utility and flexibility to imitate so many different food items. Tied long and thin, a Woolly Bugger can be more like a damselfly nymph; thick and fat and it can be a stonefly nymph; and when tied upside down with a multi-colored tail, some wiggly legs, and a thick mottled collar that encompasses the body, it is a damn good match for a small crayfish.

As the pattern developed, I sent prototypes to all the guys, and got feedback on the parts and pieces, as well as ideas for color variations. The standard dark Thin Mint version of peacock and olive-brown-black was a given, as was a rusty brown tone, but the most interesting color turned out to be a gray-blue variant that imitates the molting stage of a crayfish. During this teneral period, crayfish are lighter in color and apparently soft and juicier than their hard-shell counterparts, and predators like trout and bass gobble them up. The gray-blue version immediately became the front runner for favorite color among all three of these guys.

It wasn’t until just last week that I myself finally got to fish the fly up in Wyoming. Rigged on a long 2X tether under a Big Fat Angie instead of an indicator, the Nine-Pound Hammer taught a few lessons to the kind of fish that make you lie awake at night. Angry, predatory brown trout and spectacular leaping rainbows both fell hard to the Nine-Pound Hammer, and this group project got an A+ on the final exam. Thanks for the inspiration, fellas!

Craven’s Nine-Pound Hammer - Gray & Blue “Molting Crayfish” Version

  • Hook: #6-12 Tiemco 708.
  • Bead: Purple slotted tungsten, size 4.6mm for a #6 hook.
  • Thread: 8/0 black Veevus.
  • Tail: Blue over purple over gray marabou.
  • Flash: Blue Flashabou.
  • Antennae: Blue and purple micro Chicone’s Crusher Legs.
  • Hackle: Low-grade grizzly saddle hackle.
  • Body: Electric blue SLF Prism Dubbing.
  • Collar: Kingfisher blue coq de León hen saddle.
  • Legs: Blue and purple micro Chicone’s Crusher Legs.

How to tie: 10-step guide

How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 1
Step 1: Pinch the barb and slide the bead up to the hook eye. Arrange the bead so the slot is on the top of the hook, and build a thread dam against the back edge of the bead to hold it in place. Add a drop of Zap-A-Gap or head cement. Build a thread base back to the bend, then pull a small clump of fibers from a gray marabou feather. Measure the fibers against the shank so they are about as long as the hook shank, and tie them in at the bend.
How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 2
Step 2: Repeat the process with a clump of purple and then blue marabou fibers, matching the length to the gray fibers. You want a three-color tail of stacked fibers, with equal amounts of each color.
How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 3
Step 3: Wrap forward over the butt ends of the marabou feathers to just short of the bead, and clip them off. Tie in two strands of blue Flashabou at the center of their length and fold them back along each side of the tail. Trim the Flashabou to about 25% longer than the tail.
How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 4
Step 4: Peel a single strand of blue, and a single strand of purple Chicone’s Crusher Legs from the hank and even the ends. Tie them in at about the center of their length at the center of the shank. Fold one strand of each color back along the near side of the tail and wrap back over them to the bend, then repeat the process on the other side.
How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 5
Step 5: Select a wide, soft, grizzly rooster saddle feather, strip the fluff from the base, and create a separation point near the tip. Tie in the feather at the separation point at the base of the tail, with the outside of the feather facing you.
How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 6
Step 6: Dub a thick, shaggy body of SLF Prism Dubbing up to just behind the bead. Fold the hackle fibers back along the grizzly feather, and palmer it forward to the bead. Make a couple of extra wraps at the front of the body before tying off and clipping the stem.
How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 7
Step 7: Select a wide and webby coq de León hen feather from the saddle. Break the fluffy base off the feather and trim the fibers along the bottom to leave short bristles as seen here. These bristles help to anchor the feather securely in the next steps.
How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 8
Step 8: Tie in the butt of the coq de León feather at the back of the bead. Pull the feather up and fold the fibers back toward the bend like a wet fly hackle, then wrap two or three turns to form the collar before tying off the tip and clipping it. The hackle fibers should reach back to the bend of the hook to form the carapace.
How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 9
Step 9: Take a strand of each color of Chicone’s Crusher Legs and tie them in along the near side of the hook at the center of their length. Anchor them with a few tight wraps and pull the forward-facing ends back along the far side of the hook and anchor them there with several wraps of thread.
How to tie the Nine-Pound Hammer Step 10
Step 10: Dub a small collar behind the bead and whip-finish by letting the thread wraps slide off the back of the bead and under the dubbing. Clip the thread and add a drop of head cement. Trim the legs to about halfway up the tail, and the antennae to just slightly longer than the tail.

Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado. He is the author of four books, most recently Tying Streamers: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books, April 2020).

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