Fishing Crab Patterns – Part 1

I have been fascinated by crab patterns since my first Seychelles trip way back in 2002. It was a long time ago and as ‘green behind the ears’, fresh out of school youngster I had very little idea about the diversity that come with fly tying – I tied good old trout and bass patterns and cottoned on very quickly to the basic saltwater patterns – those easy to tie formulas with a million and-one variations. Clousers, Charlies, Gotchas, Candies, Poppers, and even Deceivers.

But something about the pictures and step-by-steps of the saltwater crab patterns made it seem out of my reach. Crabs were just becoming a major talking point then (at least in the circles I listened in on) and I remember discovering through books and, less so back then, the internet names such as the Apple Crab, Velcro and Tan Crabs. Obviously Merkin was the household name, and even if I didn’t know what a real merkin was, I was wary of fishing the few Merkin Crabs that had been given to me. Permit, I was told, ate crabs; but I saw very few big Perms and the little ones ate my Bonefish flies with aplomb!

Original Merkin Crab.
Examples of Del Brown’s original Merkin Crab Flies. Tied with dumbell eyes, wool body (that is tied onto the ‘bottom’ of the shank) and tied in rubber legs. No eyes or mouth parts.

As the years went by I experimented now and then with crabs, I think hesitance led to low numbers of hookups and thus a low confidence in them. That all changed one trout fishing day on a stillwater in the Western Cape. The fish had been difficult but I had seen quite a few crabs on the banks, so I tied a small Merkin on that for some reason had found its way into my freshwater box and BANG; first, third and ninth casts (I remember it clearly) I was on.

That was the ebb to flow change in my attitude towards crab flies. A couple of years later I found myself living in the Seychelles. I had a smorgasbord of experimental situations to play with and while the bones were mostly taken on traditional type flies there was the odd one (and generally bigger) fish that ate a crab – this was normally when I was targeting tailing Golden Trevally.

My own version of the Merkin Crab slowly grew into the Ugly Crab. I tried to take what I felt were the best features from the many crab flies I had seen and fished with over the years. Drawing on inspiring from Del Brown’s Merkin Crab, a couple of photos from Jono Shales’ facebook page, the eyes off James Christmas’ sand prawn superceeded my plain red eyes and the Avalon weighting keel using tungsten beads, I threw them together a crab that could be described as ‘ugly’! Unbeknown to me at the time, Pete (coauthor of feathersandfluoro) was coming up with own yet very similar K-Crab at the same time.

On a previous Farquhar trip, I decided I would only fish crab patterns to Bonefish. I didn’t quite stick to the plan and the little bit of Bonefishing I did (I was chasing Geets mostly) was split between Charlies and crabs. The crabs, however, did account for my biggest fish. And I also caught a variety of Snapper, Emperors and of course Triggerfish on crabs.

Older flats box, a few crabs but an overwhelming presence of more traditional flats flies and even a couple of Avalons.
Older flats box, a few crabs but an overwhelming presence of more traditional flats flies and even a couple of Avalons. Most of the crabs in this box are experimental (note the different legs and tungsten weighting) although the idea of red eyes and method of tying was pretty much set for good!
My current flats box. Minimal Charlies and lots of crabs - there were even more in the big box at base.
An example of my current flats box. Minimal Charlies and lots of crabs – there were even more in the big box at base.

Triggerfish cannot say no to well presented crab flies and these are considered THE most effective fly with which to target these awesome fish.

I also dream of catching a GT on a crab pattern – I was armed with a 6/0 Ugly Crab on this last Farqs trip but didn’t find myself close enough to a feeding ray with GTs on its back.

This past trip to Farquhar I fished only Crab Flies to almost all the flats species and it was rare that I got turned down. Bones would change direction by several metres in order to eat a crab and often fish were caught on an unmoved crab – this did prove MOST frustrating when targeting the few fat Permit of South Island! But more on stationary crabs in the next post.

I truly believed that when fished correctly – and here’s the catch; a crab needs to be fished properly – a good crab is one of the most effective and diverse flies available to both fresh and saltwater  flyfisherman.

In saying so, I have a personal mission to catch as many species as possible on a version of the Ugly Crab.

2 thoughts on “Fishing Crab Patterns – Part 1”

  1. leonardflemming says:

    Wow, how’s that trigger boet! Tying a bunch of crab patterns for Socotra at the mo…Will make a post with some of my flies and tying styles – and give feedback on their durability after I get back of course (to me a fly must not only work like a charm, it must survive quite a few fish!:)

  2. fdavis says:

    Shot, that Titan was a bus! Pulled bloody hard!
    If the flies survive triggers, I’ll be impressed… And be buying you beers for secrets!

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