March 22, 2021
By Charlie Craven
Now, I know bonefish aren’t the pickiest eaters, and that the general trick to catching them is to get your fly near them without scaring them. But once you get the hang of that part you start trying to hone the details, and that’s when I started thinking about making a better bonefish fly.
After several trips to South Andros, I began to get some idea of what was most attractive to these fish, and perhaps more important, what was attractive to the guides. Larger patterns, ranging from a smallish #4, to a 3-inch fly on a #2 hook seemed to draw the best responses. The bonefish seemed to pick out the larger flies from greater distances, a trait commensurate with my casting accuracy. Larger patterns also seemed to be preferred by the larger fish while smaller fish sometimes shied away.
A bright spot of orange or pink was a commonality of many of the favored patterns, as were rubber legs in one form or another. Combining these parts in a single pattern to create lots of movement, and replicate an actual food form, became my project for the year between trips.
To that end, I started playing with variations on the Bahamian bonefish favorite, the Gotcha, until I had strayed so far adrift that I had an entirely new pattern.
I started with the pearl body of the original Gotcha pattern, as it reflected the color of the bottom, allowing the fly to conspicuously fit into a variety of habitats. I added a pair of orange-tipped Sili Legs for both color and movement, and a longer wing of craft fur to stretch the pattern out a bit and create a larger profile. This original pattern worked well enough and is still a fly that I carry in my box, but my tinkering knows no bounds, so I just kept at it.
I recall our Bahamian guide Torrie Bevans finding a dead shrimp in our boat after a long run to the south. Before he flipped it overboard I grabbed the shrimp and was struck by its bright green eyes and the orange spot on its carapace.
I realize that bonefish prey on many different species of shrimp, but these two items in particular seemed to be capable of triggering recognition of food in the bonefish. I thought about that little shrimp the rest of the day and wondered how I could add those remarkable characteristics to the flies we were fishing. The answer had to wait until we got home, when I finally had a chance to sit down and hone in the eyes and bright spot to finish off my new variant.
The epoxy eyes I ended up with are amazingly simple to make and I have even come up with a way to mass produce them. You can spend half an hour making enough eyes for 100 flies, and have them ready whenever you need them, rather than trying to melt monofilament into giant burning globs, and risk setting your fingers aflame.
Coloring the eyes proved to be simple once I stopped listening to conventional wisdom, and tried adding a bit of paint to the epoxy. I had always heard that adding paint prevents the epoxy from curing, but as it turns out, epoxy dries just fine with either a tint of color or a definite hue depending on how much paint you add. The technique I developed to produce the eyes makes it less tedious, and makes for a much better tying experience. A little arts and crafts mixed in with your tying might even open up your creative side.
I eventually substituted Super Floss legs and antennae in hopes of improving the durability of the fly, and creating some movement in the fly when it was at rest. The Sili Legs I originally used wiggled just fine, and the hot colored orange tips were very appealing, but the inherent weakness of the silicone leg material made for frustrating days of retiring amputee flies.
Super Floss has proven much more durable, and the frosting on the cake is its ability to take a marker well. I found I could add subtle barring and hot spots with a permanent marker both at the bench and even on the water if needed. Adding the legs at first required some technical skills in wrapping and tying the wiggly strands to the shank, but I eventually stumbled upon a simple technique to distribute and anchor the legs in place. Small miracles are welcome on my bench.
This fly represents both many hours at the bench and several weeks on the water. I must admit that this is one of the most enjoyable patterns I have played with. The back and forth between home and the flats and the long winters of brooding over the variables kept me excited about the fly, and I confess that I have swum this fly across imaginary flats in my head many more times than I have in the Bahamas.
To make the eyes for this fly or any other monofilament stalk-style eye, I begin by straightening a piece of heavy hard mono by stretching it tightly between my hands. Clip off several 3- to 4-inch sections and stick them on a piece of masking tape. Once you have the desired number of strands set perpendicular to the tape, place another strip of tape over the center of the mono strands and directly across the top of the first piece of tape, sandwiching the mono between the layers of tape. Clip the monofilament ends so they all extend out from both sides of the tape about the same distance. Once you have the mono lined up production style, melt a small ball on the end of each strand with a lighter or candle. Finally, thoroughly mix a small batch of five-minute epoxy with a drop or two of fluorescent green Testors model paint. The paint changes the consistency of the epoxy but does not affect the outcome. Now, hold the eye blanks by the tape strand and dip each melted monofilament ball into the epoxy so it picks up an appropriately sized glob of colored epoxy. You can mass produce many eyes at one time, and you can use them after they hang to dry for about 15 minutes.
Hook: #4-1/0 Tiemco 811s.
Thread: Fire orange 140-denier UTC Ultra Thread.
Weight: Stainless steel bead-chain eyes, sized to hook.
Antennae: Shrimp Pink and Bonefish Tan Super Floss.
Flash: Pearl Diamond Braid, separated.
Mouthparts: Orange egg yarn.
Eyes: Melted monofilament with painted epoxy ball on each end.
Body: Pearl Diamond Braid.
Legs: Shrimp Pink and Bonefish Tan Super Floss.
Underwing: Pearl Diamond Braid.
Overwing: Shrimp Polar Fibre.
Markings: Sepia and orange permanent marker.
Step 1. Wrap a thread base from the hook eye to the bend and back again. Lash a pair of stainless steel bead-chain eyes to the shank at the 75% point using firm X-wraps. Tie in long strands of (one each) pink and tan Superfloss at their centers at the midpoint of the hook. Pull the front ends of the floss to the rear, and pull all four strands tight as you wrap the thread back over them to the bend.
Step 2. Tie in a doubled strand of the pearl Diamond Braid at the bend. Brush the braid out to separate the fibers and trim them raggedly to about two shank lengths.
Step 3. Tie in a small clump of orange egg yarn just behind the eyes and wrap back over it to the base of the tails. The orange yarn should be about one shank length.
Step 4. Tie in epoxy monofilament eyes on each side of the hook shank at the bend.
Step 5. Tie in another strand of pearl Diamond Braid at the hook bend, then bring the thread to just above the hook point and tie in two strands each of tan and pink Super Floss. Make a band of thread over the floss to anchor it in place.
Step 6. Begin wrapping the Diamond Braid forward up the shank, separating the Super Floss strands as you go to create three pairs of legs on top of the hook shank. Wrap the braid up to and around the eyes and tie off.
Step 7. Invert the hook in your vise. Double over another long strand of Diamond Braid and tie it in on the underside. Brush out the braid to separate the fibers.
Step 8. Cut a large clump of shrimp Polar Fibre, and tie it in behind the hook eye. The wing should be twice the shank length.
Step 9. Clip the butt ends of the Polar Fibre and build a smooth prominent thread head. Whip-finish and clip the thread. Use an orange marker to bar the legs.
Step 10. Bar the carapace with the Sepia marker. Run a wire dubbing brush down the wing afterward to soften the colors.
*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).