From Flyfisherman Magazine, 2017
I’ve always felt like there are very few gaps in my fly arsenal. I have boxes and boxes of flies for every stage of every insect I may encounter on my home waters and about thirty pounds of patterns for bugs I just might encounter. I generally feel pretty well armed no matter where I am headed, so it was to my chagrin, while setting up a trip to Wyoming this summer, that my buddy Blake Clark from Wyoming Trout Guides in Cody mentioned dead drifted crawdad patterns while discussing what I would need for my trip. Now I have a boxful of John Barr’s famous Meat Whistle pattern, but Blake wanted something slightly smaller and more animated for dead drifting. It seems, in the waters around Thermopolis, Wyoming, dead drifting a crawdad pattern can be a deadly serious affair.
Enter Matt McCannel. Matt is the head guide for RIGS Fly Shop in Ridgeway, Colorado on the Uncompahgre River, specializing in the tail water section known as the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk. This stretch of water is home to trout of startlingly large proportions and Matt has them wired. My search for a compelling dead drift craw pattern involved several of my industry friends pointing me to Matt’s recent Umpqua Feather Merchants Signature pattern, the Hell Razor Craw.
In my pattern “research”, I was able to finagle a couple sample patterns from a friend, and was immediately enthralled with the simple, but clearly well thought out design of the pattern.
Matt started with a Tiemco 403BL-J jig hook, a sticky sharp black nickel hook that hurts to even look at. To this, he added 1/8” brass Dazzle Eyes in place of a conventional slotted bead to get and keep the fly down along the bottom and riding hook point up. This hook selection in and of itself struck me as brilliant as so many folks go to such lengths to get a pattern to ride hook point up and 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 but three other 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 to the fly. As with zonked rabbit hides, the pine squirrel strips are the fur attached to the tanned leather hide cut into slim strips from head to tail with the natural grain of the hide. These materials breathe and flow exquisitely in the water and are magnificently variegated, but the leather portion of the hide does absorb a lot of water and can make the fly heavy to cast. Squirrel leather is much thinner than rabbit skin and the fur is shorter and denser, producing a lighter fly with better movement. They are available in a wide range of colors, most of which lend themselves quite well to matching crawdads.
One of my favorite features of the Hell Razor Craw, aside from the name, is the simplicity of the pattern. There is no paper doll style leather carapace to cut out, nor any melted mono eyes and individual mouthparts. Matt did the right thing and created an effective representation of the food source without overcomplicating it, and for that, I, and my achy rotator cuff, applaud him. Challenge accepted.
The Hell Razor is a fairly simple pattern to tie, but to be completely forthcoming, I’ll admit did run into a bit of a snag tying the pattern the first few times. My patience was tested when trying to form a neat head after trimming the bulky squirrel hide behind the eye. Trimming the squirrel strip in the tight space between the Dazzle 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 with 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. See the tutorial for more details on my epiphany, but I just thought I should mention this in the interest of full disclosure.
Both Matt and Blake like to fish this pattern under an indicator in most instances, but both will tether it with a loop knot under a buoyant foam hopper pattern when the time is right. Matt mentioned instructing clients to throw overly aggressive mends to jump the top fly or indicator around a bit, this action being mirrored on the craw hanging below, and Blake concurred saying that the 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 often come quickly and violently when the presentation is just right. Blake also relayed to me that he loves fishing craws in super shallow stuff where the biggest browns like to hang out. Think; Dry Fly Water. I can’t help but reason that this pattern would be murderous on warm water species as well, with carp and bass being high on the list of intended victims, as well as in Stillwater arenas where sight fishing is possible. 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 both Matt and Blake have caught on these things, I’m not taking any chances. I already have a pound of them in my box.