From FlyFisherman Magazine-
I’ve said before that the saltwater fly tying arena could use a shot in the creative arm. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of great saltwater fly patterns out there, but it has seemed to me that we, as anglers and tyers, often settle for “good enough” in saltwater applications where we’d all immediately go straight to the vise to do “better” in freshwater. While I do believe in presentation, I also believe that having a solid pattern that more accurately mimics the prey, casts and sinks well and maybe even breaks from the norm a bit can be a deciding factor in salty success.
More recently, a slew of great tyers have been doing just this and 35 year old Drew Chicone is quickly making his way to the forefront of the fight. Originally from upstate New York, and now Arizona, via Florida, Chicone grew up with two fly tying parents who took classes to combat the long winters. Starting his tying career at the ripe old age of six, Drew took to the vise with a fervor and is today creating some of the most incredibly simple to tie and creatively designed patterns I’ve seen. As a longtime commercial tyer, certified casting instructor and photographer, Chicone was in prime position to launch his ideas with the 2013 release of his book, Feather Brain, a compendium of his tips and tricks to develop, test and improve fly patterns. His approach is tying and teaching is compellingly well thought out and his level of attention to detail borders on fanatical. My kind of tyer…
The fly we’ll talk about here, Chicone’s McFly Crab pattern is, at first glance, “just” an incredibly realistic copy of the fodder you might find a bonefish, permit or redfish chasing down. Upon closer inspection, you’d also find that it has a compelling design that is both well thought out and easily replicated. When I asked Drew about his thoughts on this pattern, the first thing he mentioned was how easy it was for kids to tie. I like that. It’s not just simple…it’s darn right easy and to kick it up a notch, even an inexperienced tyer can knock out great looking copies with basic tying skills.
Contrary to most conventional crab patterns, Chicone starts his pattern with lengths of non-lead wire lashed to the shank in place of the ubiquitous lead eyes. I asked him about this and his reasoning was that the fly sinks more evenly rather than plunging sidelong to the bottom as well as the option to tailor the amount of weight to fly. Instead of being bound to two or three different sizes of lead eyes that may be slightly too much or too little weight, the weighted wire foundation can be tweaked for varying applications and water depths.
The next step in the design process came at the legs and claws. While rubber-leg strands do indeed create tons of movement, the inherent fragility made them a no-go. Chicone opted for micro ultra-chenille for the appendages commenting that they hold markered color extremely well and create both a more realistic profile and a surprising amount of movement on their own. I can’t argue with him there…this fly looks like it’s about to crawl off my desk! Drew mentioned that he likes to carry a few of this pattern in a basic tan blank canvas color along with several permanent markers to customize their coloration and create more accurate matches. Pretty crafty.
As the final piece of the puzzle, Drew imaginatively used McFlyFoam, a spongy yarn type product typically used to tie egg patterns as the carapace for his crabby creation. After watching a video on tying egg patterns, the light went on in his head and he made the (perfect) association that both the material and the technique would make a textbook crab body. As it turns out, it does, and his use of two mixed colors to mottle the shell is near genius. Finishing off the fly with remarkably well planned eye mounting technique and a light coat of fabric paint across the belly, Drew ended up with a pattern that is not only super simple to tie but is also a dead ringer for the real deal. Easily modified in weight and coloration, the McFly Crab is easily transposed to smaller sizes, something that can’t be said for many more complicated patterns.
The McFly Crab is but one of several of Drew’s unusual patterns, many more of which are detailed in his book. I found his methods for spinning peacock herl and even foam strips like deer hair to be fascinating and inventive and the book is loaded with lots of subtle tips, details and tricks only a Feather Brain could come up with. The good old days of saltwater tying are back again.