January 05, 2022
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 There are so many good, but somewhat outdated, flies out there that this “remodel” idea really struck a chord with me.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
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).