I've said before that the saltwater fly-tying arena could use a shot in the creative arm. Too often, saltwater fly fishers and tiers settle for "good enough," and head to the water with proven patterns like Deceivers, Clousers, and Merkins, while in the freshwater fly-tying world, we are 20 generations removed from the old standbys like Elk-hair Caddis and Woolly Buggers.
Drew Chicone of Florida, just might be the creative pioneer we've been waiting for to spice up the saltwater world. Originally from upstate New York, Chicone grew up with two enthusiastic parents who took fly-tying classes to combat the long winters. Starting his tying career at the ripe old age of six, Chicone grew up with a vise and is today creating some of the most simple-to-tie and creative patterns I've seen.
As a longtime commercial tier, certified casting instructor, and photographer, Chicone was in prime position to launch his ideas with the release of his book Feather Brain (Stackpole Books, 2013) a compendium of his tips and tricks to develop, test, and improve fly patterns. His approach to tying and teaching is compelling, and his level of attention to detail borders on fanatical. My kind of tier.
Chicone's McFly Crab is, at first glance, just an incredibly realistic copy of the fodder you might find a bonefish, permit, or redfish chasing down. On closer inspection, however, you'll see it's the result of intelligent design — and it's easily replicated. When I asked Chicone about his thoughts on this pattern, the first thing he mentioned was how easy it was for kids to tie. It's not just simple, even an inexperienced tier can knock out great-looking copies with rudimentary tying skills.
Contrary to most conventional crab patterns, Chicone starts his pattern with lengths of non-lead wire lashed to the shank in place of the ubiquitous lead eyes. I asked him about this, and his reasoning was that he wanted the fly to sink uniformly like a real crab, rather than plunging sidelong to the bottom. The weight inside the body also gives you greater ability to tailor the amount of weight to the size of the fly. Instead of being bound to two or three different sizes of lead eyes that may be slightly too much or too little weight, the weighted wire foundation can be endlessly tweaked for varying water depths.
The next step in the design process came at the legs and claws. While rubber legs do indeed create tons of movement, their inherent fragility made them a no-go for Chicone's sensibilities. Instead, he opted for micro Ultra Chenille for the appendages, saying they hold marker color extremely well and create both a more realistic profile and a surprising amount of movement on their own. I can't argue with him there . . . this fly looks like it's about to crawl off my desk!
Chicone carries a few of these patterns in a "blank canvas" tan color, along with several permanent markers, and customizes them on-site to create more accurate matches to the surrounding sandy or grassy flats. Pretty crafty.
As the final piece of the puzzle, he imaginatively used McFlyfoam, a spongy yarn-type product typically used to tie egg patterns, as the carapace for his crabby creation. After he watched a video on tying egg patterns, the light went on in his head and he made the (perfect) association that both the material and the technique would make a textbook crab body.
As it turns out, it does, and his use of two mixed colors to mottle the shell is near genius.
Finishing off the fly with a well-planned eye mounting technique and a light coat of fabric paint across the belly, Chicone ended up with a pattern that is not only super simple, but is also a dead ringer for the real deal whether it is swimming or just sitting on the bottom. Easily modified in weight and coloration, the McFly Crab translates easily to smaller sizes, something that can't be said for many more complicated patterns.
The McFly Crab is just one of Chicone's unusual patterns, many more of which are detailed in his book. I found his methods for spinning peacock herl and even spinning foam strips like deer hair to be both fascinating and inventive, and the book is loaded with lots of subtle tips, details, and tricks only a Feather Brain could come up with. The good old days of saltwater tying are back again.
Fly Tying Chicone's McFly Crab
Name: Chicone's McFly Crab
Hook: #1/0 Gamakatsu SC-15.
Thread: Tan 140-denier UTC.
Weight: .025" non-lead wire.
Legs and Claws: Tan micro Ultra Chenille.
Eyes: Melted nylon monofilament or large EP Crab/Shrimp Eyes.
Body: Tan and brown McFlyfoam.
Extras: Clear Cure Goo and tan fabric paint.
Photos: Charlie Craven
Chicone's McFly Crab Step 1 of 8
Begin with a thread base from the eye of the hook to the bend and back. Double a length of wire and lash it to the top of the shank. Cut six, 11„2 -inch sections of micro Ultra Chenille, and tie an overhand knot in the center of each. Group three legs together with the knots aligned, and tie them in starting at the center of the shank with about a quarter inch of the material showing between the knots and the shank.
Chicone's McFly Crab Step 2 of 8
Tie in three more pieces of Ultra Chenille on the other end of the shank in the same manner. For the claws, double over a 4-inch length of Ultra Chenille and tie an overhand knot in both strands, resulting in the knotted loop seen here.
Chicone's McFly Crab Step 3 of 8
Clip the ends of the loops to form claws. Tie in two sets of claws, leaving only about a quarter inch of material between the knots and the hook shank. Tie in the eyes using figure-eight wraps around the stalks, making sure they are spaced evenly and equidistant from each end of the hook. Leave the thread hanging squarely between the eyes.
Chicone's McFly Crab Step 4 of 8
Invert the hook in the vise. Peel several smaller strands of tan and brown McFlyfoam from the main clump, and mix them to create a mottled rope as seen here.
Chicone's McFly Crab Step 5 of 8
Tie the McFlyfoam clump down at the center of the hook with six or seven tightly stacked wraps of thread. Once the McFlyfoam is anchored, move the thread forward to the hook eye and whip-finish and clip.
Chicone's McFly Crab Step 6 of 8
Lift the McFlyfoam up and stretch it just slightly. With your sharpest scissors, make one clean cut parallel to the hook shank across the top of the clump.
Chicone's McFly Crab Step 7 of 8
What magically appears is a perfectly domed and mottled crab shell. Use forceps or pliers to pull the eye stalks, and adjust the eye bulbs, so they just peek out of the front of the body, then clip the monofilament stubs so they are hidden under the shell.
Chicone's McFly Crab Step 8 of 8
Apply a thin coat of Clear Cure Goo over the tie-down area and cure it with a UV light. Spread a thin coat of tan fabric paint over the Clear Cure Goo. Drew uses a combination of light blue and tan markers for the leg mottling, and red for the tips of the claws. I used a cigarette lighter to taper the ends of the legs and claws.