December 18, 2019
There are very few gaps in my fly arsenal. I have boxes of flies for every stage of every insect I will encounter on my home waters, and about 30 more pounds of flies for insects I only might encounter.
I feel well armed no matter where I am headed, so it was to my chagrin that my buddy Blake Clark from Wyoming Trout Guides in Cody mentioned we'd need to dead-drift crayfish patterns on an upcoming trip.
I already had a box full of John Barr's famous Meat Whistles, but Blake suggested something slightly smaller and more animated for dead drifting in the waters around Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Matt McCannel Hell Razor Craw
Hook: Tiemco 403BL-J #12.
Weight: 1/8" black DAZL-Eyes.
Thread: Black 70-denier UTC Ultra Thread.
Tail & Body: Black Prism SLF Dubbing.
Antennae & Legs: Pumpkin green fleck Sili Legs.
Collar: Pine squirrel fur in a dubbing loop.
Claws/Carapace: Pine squirrel Zonker strip, split.
While these trout focus mostly on tiny tailwater morsels, they also sometimes fall for a dead-drifted McCannel's Hell Razor Craw. In my "research" I was able to finagle some samples from a friend, and was immediately enthralled with the simple, smart design of the pattern.
Matt started with a Tiemco 403BLJ jig hook, a sticky sharp black nickel hook that hurts to even look at. To this, he added 1/8" brass DAZL-Eyes in place of a conventional slotted bead to keep the fly down along the bottom and riding hook point up. Too many folks go to great lengths to get a pattern to ride hook point up, while Matt just went straight to a jig hook and brass eyes, which virtually assures the pattern rides correctly.
Once the hook and weight were in place, Matt created a pattern using three easily obtained materials: pine squirrel Zonker strips, Sili Legs, and a bit of SLF Prism Dubbing.
Matt splits the squirrel strip for part of its length to create the claws and the carapace in one strip, eliminating the need to pile more water-absorbing squirrel leather on the fly. These materials flow exquisitely in the water, but the leather portion of the hide absorbs a lot of water and makes the fly heavy to cast. Squirrel leather is much thinner than rabbit, and the fur is shorter and denser, producing a lighter fly with better movement.
One of my favorite features of the Hell Razor Craw, aside from the name, is the simplicity. There is no paper doll-style leather carapace to cut out, nor any melted mono eyes or individual mouthparts. Matt created an effective representation of the food source without overcomplicating it. My achy rotator cuff applauds him for it.
The Hell Razor Craw is fairly simple to tie, but my patience was tested the first few times I tried to form a neat head behind the eye. Trimming the squirrel strip in the tight space between the DAZL-Eyes and 60-degree hook eye left too much bulk in too little space and made for an ugly and disheveled head. I finally stumbled upon a crafty way to solve this problem that results in a beautiful, small, and proportioned head, but not until I had worked my way through the better part of my vocabulary.
Matt fishes this pattern under an indicator in most instances, but also tethers it with a loop knot under a buoyant foam hopper pattern when the time is right. He often instructs clients to throw overly aggressive mends to jump the top indicator fly around a bit, with this action mirrored on the crayfish hanging below.
Blake says the Hell Razor Craw is one of his favorite patterns for inexperienced clients who don't quite have the hang of a gentle mend because "sometimes the more it moves, the better."
Strikes most often come quickly and violently when the presentation is just right, even in water that looks like dry-fly water. I can't help but reason that this pattern would be murderous on warmwater species as well, with carp and bass being high on the list of intended victims.
The Hell Razor has an evil twin in McCannel's Hell Razor Leech, virtually the same pattern but without the split tail. Both of these patterns could be your saving grace the next time you're out, and from the looks of the fish Matt and Blake have caught on these flies, I'm not taking any chances. I already have a pound of them in my box.
Tying the Hell Razor Craw
1. Wrap a thread base on the shank all the way up to the eye. Fix the DAZL-Eyes on the underside of the shank with X-wraps and a drop of Zap-A-Gap. Wrap the thread to the hook bend, then forward to above the hook point. Tie in a clump of SLF Dubbing at the center of its length just above the hook point.
2. Pull the front-facing fibers to the rear and bind them in place as you wrap toward the bend of the hook. Tear the tips of the dubbing to form a short, ragged tail about a shank length long. Tie in a strand of Sili Legs at the base of the tail, simultaneously pulling both ends back along opposite sides of the hook.
3. Use scissors or a razor blade to split the squirrel strip for about 2 inches. At the base of the split, separate the fur to expose the hide. Place the strip on the far side of the shank with the separation point as close to the bend as possible. Make a couple of tight wraps of thread at that point and use the thread torque to roll the strip to the underside of the shank with the fur facing down.
4. Fold the remaining squirrel strip back and dub a thin body using the black SLF Prism Dubbing, stopping well short of the eyes. Tie in three long strands of Sili Legs on top of the shank. I try to get one leg on each side and one down the center. Trim the excess Sili Legs and wrap over the stubs to create a smooth base.
5. Pinch and trim a clump of squirrel fur from a strip and place the fibers in a dubbing loop. Close and spin the loop to create the fur noodle shown here. Wrap the dubbing loop two or three turns forward to the eye, sweeping the fibers back with wetted fingers as you go. Tie the loop off just behind the eyes and clip the excess. Move the thread to the front of the eyes.
6. Turn the hook/vise over and with wetted fingers, sweep the collar fur down and to the sides, clearing the path for the carapace. Pull the squirrel strip forward over the hook eye, and trim the hide square where it butts up to the hook eye. Grab the fur at the tip of the hide, stretching the hide up to the hook eye and use a few tight turns of thread to capture it cleanly.
7. Once you've trapped the hide tight against the hook behind the eye, wet your fingers and sweep the small bunch of fur you used to position the carapace back over the top of the fly. Shorten your working thread so your bobbin tip stays close to the hook, and build a clean, tight thread head over the fur and hide.
8. Whip-finish and clip the thread. Add a drop of head cement. Trim the antennae and claws to about three shank lengths long, and the legs just slightly shorter.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie's Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado. His latest book is Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books/Headwater Books, 2016).