McFly Crab Fly Tying Pattern
January 08, 2015
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.