Permit are without a doubt one of the hardest fish to catch on a fly. I have fished for permit about forty days in the last eight years and have landed five of the little bastards. Del Brown has over five hundred permit to his name, most of them on his Merkin. His fly, also known as Del’s Permit Fly, has accounted for more fly caught permit than any other pattern. The design and fishing technique developed with this fly revolutionized fly fishing for permit over the past fifteen years or so. While the Merkin is not the most realistic crab pattern available, what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in action. The Merkin doesn’t so much look like a crab as it ACTS like a crab. The lead eye placement and soft yarn body allow the fly to drop to the bottom much like the real thing. I have never personally had a permit pick a fly up off the bottom but instead have had the fly instantly inhaled as it droppped through the water by several of the permit I’ve caught. The attitude of the Merkin as it drops through the water column must look very ‘crabby’ to the fish, as they attack it with gusto. At least, sometimes…
I believe the Merkin profile also crosses over for a Mantis Shrimp as well in some instances.
The Merkin is not a hard fly to tie. It can be a bit time consuming, but basic tying skills are all that are required. I tie most of my Merkins with an all tan yarn body, but also tie some up with alternating bands of brown and tan, olive and brown or even cream and tan, depending on the bottom coloration of the area I’m fishing. I also freely change the colors of the tail feathers with whatever is handy or most available. I like furnace brown, cree and barred ginger but have also used dyed grizzly feathers and plain white on light colored patterns. Pay close attention to how the legs are tied in. A true square knot is required to position the legs at right angles to the hook shank. Sometimes I will simply tie a single overhand knot in the legs around the hook shank and pull it down tight. I then add a drop of superglue to the knot and call it good. This little cheater method may save you a few headaches.
There are many variations on the Merkin body shape. It seems Del liked to use a Colorado spinner blade as a pattern to trim his flies. Dels flies have a definite wedge shape to them and are quite long. I tend to trim mine slightly more roundish but I try not to stray too far from the Original, I mean, the guy has caught five hundred permit for Pete’s