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Fly Patterns

Original Saltwater Fly Patterns

I began tying flies about 27 years ago. Is that a long history? Well, yes and no. I believe one could explore the art and science of fly tying for several lifetimes and still have more to know . . . more to learn. It is an immensely creative activity.

          Every tyer has a style. Some develop theirs all on their own, but most – myself included – develop a style based on what others have done and follow the paths that others have taken till they fully establish their own personalized brand of tying and pattern creation. For me it was – without question – Jack Gartside and Bob Popovics, two of the most prolific fly creators of our time. We are profoundly lucky to have had them fishing among us in this lifetime.

          I began fly tying not as a hobby or means to kill time as a young adult, Instead, for me it was an urgent exploration (and need) soon after I had embarked on saltwater fly fishing. I say “urgent” as at that time we were at the early stages of mainstream bonito and false albacore fishing and there was lots of work to be done at the vise to support that burgeoning chapter of the sport. At that same time I was feverishly discovering and deciphering the sport we today call sight-fishing for striped bass – it was the proverbial “blank piece of paper” when I dug into it. A lucky way to begin fly tying, as I see it – the sky was the limit and creativity was a necessity. Do I ever follow prescription and tie mainstream patterns? Of course . . . But the demand for thinking out of the box and free-flowing creativity in my early development forever shaped my approach to continuously explore and be unafraid of trying new materials, techniques, and pattern styles. I encourage all new tyers to boldly do the same.

          A note regarding disclosure of new fly patterns: I will not publish or demonstrate a pattern until it has been amply  tested in the field, modified as required, and proven to be an effective, quality design. This can take (and has with certain patterns) years. Sometimes a fly concept just doesn’t work for whatever reasons and the idea is abandoned. I’ve had more than a few of those . . . The fly patterns presented on this page have “passed the test” – they’re all based on the five considerations noted below and have proven to be consistently consistent on the water for many years.

  • Inherent action – The more “life” a fly possesses on its own, the more believable it will be to the fish and ultimately the more consistently successful it will be in fooling them. I strive to instill this powerful attribute in the flies I develop. This is particularly important with crab patterns, which are often paused and left momentarily motionless during the retrieve. A crab fly with life of its own while resting on the bottom is a powerful asset for sight-fishers the world over.
  • Simplicity – I strive for simple designs. Why? I personally like quick ties at the vise – less nerve wracking and painful detail makes tying fun and leaves more time for fishing : ) As a former guide, I know that professionals go through some flies on the water – some given to the fish, some to clients, and some just plain destroyed. Quick and effective pattern ties are a guide’s dream-come-true.
  • Versatility – Though this is not something I have in mind at the onset of a creative endeavor (usually, my motivation is focused and specific, like fooling a tautog on the flats, or an albacore with a surface fly, etc.)  But if I sense a pattern concept has the potential to be a winner with several species, or in a variety of environments, I certainly consider that and strive to strengthen that attribute during a fly’s development. The Diablo crab and the Magic Squid are two of my own designs that are extremely versatile fly patterns.
  • Adaptability – I really like fly designs that lend themselves to variation and adaptability, including their size, coloration, and weighting among other attributes. Such patterns are convenient and once mastered they enable tyer-anglers a powerful tool both on the water and at the vise. Lefty’s Deceiver and the Wooly Bugger are two well-known examples of “adaptable” pattern designs.
  • Cast-ability – To the extent possible, I strive to produce fly patterns that are relatively easy to cast. That is, they do not absorb and hold water when lifted for recasting (this can make them impossibly heavy to launch), they are not stiff and wind resistant, and full-body patterns collapse and become streamlined when wet and out of the water making them easy to shoot through the air.

Magic Squid (1995)

Magic Squid

The Magic Squid is my first original pattern. It is an impressionistic squid that entices game fish with its abundant lifelike movement, but it looks pretty squid-like even when motionless in the vise. This is a lightweight and delicate fly that’s intended for calm, shallow inshore waters, rather than deep fast waters, such as rips. Throughout estuaries, bays, and inlets, and over rocks and along sandy ocean beaches, the Magic Squid produces consistently throughout the season . . .

HOOK: Mustad 34011 long shank, size 1 – 1/0
THREAD: White Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
TAIL: Two narrow pink hackle feathers, two silver Krystal Flash
HEAD: Two pale pink and one pale blue curved hackle splayed outward on each side
EYES: Large black bead-chain
BODY: Wide pale pink schlappen, palmered

Green Diablo (1996)

green diablo fly pattern - image
Green Diablo

I developed the Green Diablo to address the stark need for effective crab imitations for northern sight-fishing for striped bass – there were none specifically intended for stripers when I began exploring this emergent fishery circa 1990. Early trial patterns were surprisingly similar to the final design, but they were bland and much simpler (I still have them). I knew from a life of striper fishing how important crabs and other crustaceans are to stripers, so I set out to design a fly that was easy to tie, easy to cast, and would fool the fish consistently – especially in estuarine environments. The Diablo was a radical departure in crab fly design in that it was soft impressionistic pattern with inherent lifelike action, which was quite unlike other, stiffer, crab pattern “sculptures” in that era. Not by intent, but in hindsight the Diablo design is remarkably similar to the Wooly Bugger, a freshwater pattern that I now acknowledge as the parent of the Diablo crab design.

HOOK: Daiichi 2546 or TMC 811S, size 4 – 2
THREAD: Olive Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
EYES: Large (1/16 oz) lead dumbbells with bronze coating
TAIL: Olive grizzly schlappen; four mixed Sili-Legs – olive, variegated, lime, black
BODY: Olive or black/olive variegated chenille; olive grizzly schlappen
LEGS: Four Sili-Legs that match tail legs

Mini Diablo (1998)

mini diablo fly pattern - image

The Mini Diablo is just what its name says it is – a miniature version of the larger Diablo crab design that is intended for larger game fish such as striped bass, permit, snook and redfish. The fly is just as simple to tie and just as potent as the full-size parent pattern, it’s merely intended for game that favors smaller crabs, such as bonefish, sheepshead, summer flounder, tautog, pompano, snappers and small permit. Myriad color combinations and options are open to tyer creativity and game fish preference. I generally stick to a tan, brown or green theme and spice up the appearance with the limitless section of rubber and silicone legs on the market today.

HOOK: Daiichi 2546 or TMC 811S, size 6 – 4
THREAD: Tan or brown Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
EYES: Medium bead-chain with bronze coating
BODY: Brown or tan medium chenille; brown or tan schlappen
TAIL: Soft brown saddle; two motor oil or white Sili-Legs

Pink Lady (1995)

pink lady fly pattern - image
Pink Lady

The Pink Lady is another unique design in the realm of crab patterns – this is a swimming crab that’s designed to be retrieved steadily (at times quickly) to mimic the fleeing behavior of crabs capable of fast and agile swimming, such as lady (or calico) crabs and blue crabs. Presentation is much more like the steady retrieve of a weighted baitfish fly, such as a Clouser Minnow, than the tentative, stop-n-go approach used with traditional crab flies. The Pink Lady was developed to address a unique and difficult challenge – fooling large striped bass along open ocean sand beaches throughout the Northeast. It is a successful design that netted both the 2- and 4-pound-test IGFA tippet records in the summer of 1997.

HOOK: Daiich 2546 or TMC 811S, size 2 – 1/0
THREAD: Shell Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
EYES: Large lead barbells painted pink with purple flecks
BODY: Bill’s Body-Braid; ginger grizzly hackles; pink schlappen
TAIL: Four ginger grizzly hackles, splayed, two per side

Sole Merkin (1997)

sole merkin fly pattern - image
Sole Merkin

The Sole Merkin is another unique pattern that was developed to meet the challenges of the emerging Northeast sight-fishing sport that was discovered and explored in the ‘90’s . . . that miracle decade for striped bass fishing on the Atlantic seaboard. As its name and appearance clearly suggest, this pattern is a juvenile flounder imitation that was immediately successful in duping stripers feeding on baby flounder in estuaries and bays throughout the Northeast. Well aware of the importance of baby flounder in the striper’s diet and anxious to capitalize on this opportunity, I jumped to a quick solution – simply modify the late Del Brown’s fantastic permit fly – the Merkin – by removing its rubber legs, eliminating the bright tail flash, and substituting soft sweater yarn rather than carpet yarn for the body construction, and the Sole Merkin emerged and was an instant hit.

HOOK: Daiich 2546 or TMC 811S, size 4 – 1
THREAD: White Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
EYES: Medium (1/24 oz) lead dumbbells with bronze coating
TAIL: Two curved, splayed narrow crème hackles; crème aftershaft feather, palmered
BODY: Soft crème or tan sweater yarn shaped to flounder profile

Bahia Bug (2007)

bahia bug fly pattern - image
Bahia Bug

This pattern is an evolution of a smaller version of my incredibly effective Pink Lady swimming crab imitation. The original “small” Pink Lady utilized two stubby saddles tied flat on the top of the fly to create the carapace and it was an effective pattern to mimic young-of-the-year calico crabs. This part of the fly was replaced with a spun schlappen feather at the eye of the hook with some marabou tucked in underneath. This modification added a great deal more inherent “life” to the pattern (an element of crab fly design that I consider extremely important for all successful crab patterns). This, along with the addition of silicone legs to the tail, combined to make this fly pattern a consistently successful imitation of not one, but two crab species – small calico crabs and mole crabs – which frequently cohabit-ate the inter-tidal zone along sandy beaches. This “duel imitation” give this crab fly a one-two punch along Northeast ocean beaches.

HOOK: Daiichi 2546 or TMC 811S, size 4 – 1
THREAD: Shell Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
EYES: Medium (1/24 oz) or large (1/20 oz) lead dumbbells
TAIL: Pale pink schlappen; four clear Sili-Legs with red/black flecks; four gold Krystal Flash strands
BODY: White medium chenille
CARAPACE: Pale pink schlappen, palmered; white or pink marabou

Witch Doctor (2006)

witch doctor fly pattern - image
Witch Doctor

There are many good cinder worm patterns out there and on any given day any or all of them can succeed. So what was the motivation to develop this fly? Simple curiosity . . . could I find a simple and effective design that would succeed most of the time (I don’t know of any worm flies that work all the time). The Witch Doctor is about as simple a pattern as there is and it does work . . . most of the time. The fly derives its delicate worm-like movement through the use of aftershaft feathers – the “junk” feathers along the back base of a hackle neck. Once familiar with the pattern, a fly can be produced in about three minutes. The Witch Doctor may be fished in tandem or alone, but always on a relatively light leader of eight- to ten-pound-test.

HOOK: Gamakatsu SS-15 or Daiichi 2546, size 4 – 1
THREAD: Black Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
WING: Single 1”-wide rust/black grizzly aftershaft feather, flat
COLLAR: Single 1”-wide rust/black aftershaft feather, palmered
HEAD: Black medium sparkle chenille

Beach Bug (2008)

beach bug fly pattern - image
Beach Bug

Yet another crab pattern developed to fill the relative dearth of flies for the emerging striped bass sight-fishery. In the early and mid-90’s there were Clouser Minnows and Half-n-Halfs (essentially a Clouser with a couple of feathers included in the tail . . . half Clouser – half Deceiver). Over the years, several prey-specific designs emerged for shrimp, crabs, and flounder that opened the doors to this fishery and made success on the flats far more common. The unique and obscure mole crab (Emerita talpoida) proved to be a very important food source for stripers, especially along open ocean sand beaches. But as simple as this little creature is in appearance, it is a tyer’s challenge reproduce at the vise in a form that consistently deceives the bass. The Beach Bug has several tying steps, but it is not a difficult pattern to tie . . . and it fools the fish again and again . . .

HOOK: Daiichi 2546 or TMC 811S, size 4 – 2
THREAD: White Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
WEIGHT: 1/30-ounce black lead dumbbells
TAIL: Sili-Legs, four white and four orange with black flake
BODY: Soft olive, gray or tan sweater yarn shaped to oval profile

Assassin Shrimp (2007)

assassin shrimp fly pattern - image
Assassin Shrimp

The Assassin Shrimp is a remarkably versatile shrimp pattern that is effective on many saltwater game fish, including striped bass, tautog, seatrout, weakfish, snappers and bonefish. This lightly-weighted, simple shrimp imitation may be fished on the bottom in shallow water where it’s an ideal choice for sight-casting to stripers, bonefish or tautog, or it may be fished blind at mid-depth where it is a reliable fly choice for striped bass throughout the spring and summer in protected inshore waters, such as estuaries, bays and harbors. The Assassin Shrimp rides hook-point-up, making it somewhat snag-proof and perfect for blind-casting grass beds in morning and evening low-light periods.

HOOK: Daiichi 2546 or TMC 811S, size 4 – 2
THREAD: White Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
ANTENNAE: Pink, peach or yellow Krystal Flash
COLLAR: One soft gray after-shaft feather, palmered
EYES: Medium black bead-chain
BODY: White medium chenille; one ginger grizzly hackle feather, palmered

Tailing Striper Fly (2000)

tailing striper fly pattern - image
Tailing Striper Fly

Like the Witch Doctor, the Tailing Striper Fly (TSF) is about as simple as it gets in saltwater fly tying. Literally, a silicone leg, a short narrow hackle, and small dumbbell eyes are all the material you’ll need to make one. As indicated by its name, the TSF is another pattern intended for sight-fishing stripers on the flats . . . where they do indeed tail like bonefish. Though this is not everyday feeding behavior, it is prevalent in the months of June and July throughout shrimp-rich inshore waters, such as estuaries and bays. Sight-casting to tailing fish (of any species) is one of the hottest thrills of outdoor sports and with the right presentation the TSF will crack the code and get you connected. This is a small weighted shrimp imitation intended to be positioned on the bottom ahead of the fish and played with a very subtle retrieve – twitches, nudges, maybe a short hop . . . and nothing more. The strike is delicate – nothing more than a tap.

HOOK: Daiichi 2546 or TMC 811S, size 6 – 2
THREAD: Tan Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
WEIGHT: Medium bead-chain or small lead dumbbells with bronze coating
TAIL: Two motor oil Sili-Legs, long and splayed
BODY: Motor oil Sili-Leg (wrapped); narrow ginger hackle palmered
ANTENNAE: Two motor oil Sili-Legs, short and splayed

Flying Monkey (2008)

flying monkey fly pattern - image
Flying Monkey

The Flying Monkey is probably the most unusual and innovative fly I’ve concocted to date. This is a crab imitation and it is unique. It’s another swimming crab pattern that mimics both the fleeing behavior and stationary defensive posture of these crab species remarkably well. The pattern is heavily weighted at the eye of the hook while the body is composed of buoyant spun deer or elk hair toward the rear of the fly (back toward the hook point and bend). When the fly is stripped, it darts away – along the bottom – in a horizontal swimming posture with the two leg/claw feathers fluttering in an enormously lifelike fashion behind the crab. When the fly is paused on the bottom, the buoyant carapace rises upward with the two leg/claw feathers slowly waving with an upward posture while the heavy lead eyes keep the eye of the hook oriented downward and on the bottom – the fly essentially stands vertically on its nose when paused, and suddenly assumes a horizontal position when stripped as it flutters away . . . This fly is nasty. The Flying Monkey has become my go-to pick when I see big bass prowling sand bottoms for lady (or calico) crabs.

HOOK: Daiichi 2546 or TMC 811S, size 2 – 1/0
THREAD: Tan Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
WEIGHT: 1/20-ounce lead dumbbells, with bronze coating
EYES: Burnt 30-pound-test monofilament
BODY: Tan or beige spun deer or elk hair; gold Krystal Flash
CLAWS: Two narrow ginger grizzly hackles, splayed outward

Sparkgler (2017)

sparkgler fly pattern - image
Sparkgler

Straight-up plain truth – this is nothing more than a variant of the late great Jack Gartside’s marvelous surface bug – The Gurgler. The primary twist with this version is its heavy reliance on flash material – pearl flash in particular. What was the motivation for developing this Gurgler variant? I was seeking a simple fly that would entice surface strikes from false albacore . . . anyone who fishes for these small tuna needs no further explanation – the explosive surface strikes I contemplated were enough to get cracking at the vise. In further truth, the crazed visuals the spinning community was experiencing daily with all the new surface lures and techniques emerging for those anglers was driving me nuts . . . I wanted something similar in fly. Well, the Sparkgler succeeded – right off the bat. The strikes, however, were more subtle than explosive, but the experience is addictive, much like Atlantic salmon fishing with a Bomber . . .

HOOK: Daiichi 2546 or TMC 811S, size 2 – 1
THREAD: White Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon
TAIL: Pearl Flashabou
BODY: 1/8”-thick white Fly Foam, ½”-wide; pearl Estaz

Striper Muddler (2018)

stiper mudler fly 2018 - image
Striper Muddler

The Striper Muddler name says it all – this is a Muddler Minnow, a classic and enormously effective fresh water streamer. Trout, largemouth, smallies, and even Atlantic salmon . . . any fish capable of taking this fly will eat it. Modifying the classic design here and there – namely colors and proportions – produced an ideal night fly for finicky and selective striped bass. From mid-August through September, the annual silverside crop that was spawned in May and grew within protected inshore waters throughout spring and summer begins “concentrating” and inching its way seaward. Stripers feed on this very important forage night and day, but after dark they have their way with them; for about eight weeks it’s a reliable nightly event. This regular feeding can drive fly-rodders nuts – incessant and distinctive surface popping (often within calm waters) makes it seem easy that you’ll score with 15- to 30-inch bass. But in reality, it is not. Patient, delicate presentations that retrieve the right flies super slowly are necessary to succeed . . . the Striper Muddler cracks this code. I like fishing this event with a light 7- or 8-weight floating line and a two-fly set-up to avoid spooking fish in very shallow water and to increase the odds of getting my flies noticed amongst 1000’s of silversides. This is night-fishing at its very finest . . .

HOOK: Mustad S74SNP-DT (34011); sizes 4 – 1
THREAD: Danville’s Flat Waxed Nylon, black
HEAD:  Spun black deer hair shaped to a conical head
BODY:  Holographic Flashabou wrapped on hook shank, green
WING:  Bucktail, primarily black over emerald
OPTION:  Insert two narrow black saddles within bucktail wing fibers
TAIL:  Tuft of very soft saddle hackle fibers, black