by Fox Statler
Smallmouth Bass, Spotted Bass, and Shadow
Bass are my three favorite specie to catch when flyfishing. I haven't decided if it is
because of their voracious fighting ability or the niche in nature they choose to occupy.
Which ever it is, even a bad day fishing for them is a wonderful day. One of my favorite
flies I use to catch these miniature monsters are my Mudbugs. Mudbugs are the most
effective large crawfish patterns I have ever used.
Crawfish are undoubtedly one of the
preferred dietary delights of Bass, Walleye, Musky, Trout and other marauding species.
They are high in protein and are often abundant in most streams, rivers and lakes.
Crawfish are somewhat tolerant of pollution. They can be found in fast moving to stagnant
waters, from highlands to lowlands, in bedrock to mud, and occur worldwide--even in grassy
pastures during the wet seasons of the year. Crawfish are omnivorous, eating everything
that doesnt move--bacon, dead fish, live fish, dead animals, weeds, grass, etc.
Nothing organic is deleted from their diet. All species are physically similar having a
head with several antennae and bulging or stalked eyes, a thorax with ten legs ( the
forward pair enlarged), a segmented tail section with broad tail fan , and a hard shell
over the entire body. They are related to spiders and they molt periodically regenerating
lost limbs and a fresh, larger exoskeleton.
Depending upon the time of the year,
crayfish range in size from a fraction of an inch to several inches in length. The
Longpincered Crayfish, Orconectes longidigitus, is the largest species that I know of.
This species inhabits the upland rivers and streams of the White River System in Arkansas
and Missouri. The males of this species often grow to lengths of more than ten inches and
weight nearly two pounds. As their name suggests, they have extremely long, sharp-pointed
pinchers. Rare is the bass or trout that will try to make a meal of one of these large
Many crawdads mate in the fall of the
year, but the female does not generate the fertilized eggs until the following spring. The
eggs are super glued to the under surface of her abdomen and carried there even after
hatching. In most species, the young crawfish remain attached to their mother until two
molts are accomplished. Then they swim free. Some species grow to adulthood and reproduce
in their first year, but the majority reproduces in their second year.
The colors of crawfish differ from
drab--brown, tan, olive, or gray--to brilliant or uniquely vibrant patterns of orange,
blue-green, black, yellow, golden, and red. Some are striped, some spotted, some saddled,
and still others are freckled. Cave species are nearly white or unpigmented. A few have
small pinchers, more have fat pinchers, and all have long, sharp pinchers. Biologists
state that predator fish favor the smaller pincered crayfish.
My Mudbugs are tied Clouser style so the
hook point rides up. I use large Spirit River I-Balz eyes and six to ten wraps of large
lead wire to keep them on the bottom. My favorite tactic is casting the Mudbug near the
edge of the bank. I drop my line in the water, and let the current slowly pull the Mudbug
along the bottom. Patience is the key to catching the Shadow Bass. They are crevice
creatures that will not move far from the bottom during the daylight hours. Shadows,
Smallies, and Spots all love crawfish for supper.
What makes this pattern so effective is
the clamor created by the large eyes as they bump into the rocks, gravel, and bedrock of
the bottom. The clicking sounds get the predator's attention well before the pattern is
within striking range. One day in the clear Ozark stream near my home, I watched a Smallie
charge a Mudbug from twenty to thirty feet as it came clicking across the rubble rock
Mudbugs are marvelous in muddy water
also. Again the commotion created by the eyes guides the predator to the pattern even
though the visibility is reduced. I fish these patterns with a nine foot six inch, seven
weight, fast action rod, a Rio Clouser Line, and ten pound Climax Bass Leader---in case I
become entangled in debris or snag the bottom. I have created several color combinations
and the variations are infinite. For the purpose of the tying instruction we will use my
Chocolate Brown Mudbug recipe.
Mudbug Chocolate Brown
Hook: Daiichi #1750,
Body Lead: For #4 hook use 6 wraps of .035 lead wire, #6 hook use 6 wraps
of .030 lead wire, #8 hook use 6 wraps of .025 lead wire.
Thread: Fluorescent Orange 8/0 Uni-Thread.
Back & Tail: Chocolate Brown Swiss Straw.
Antennae: 2 Mini (#0), Speckled Brown or Brown, Centipede Legs by Montana
Fly Co. about 3-inches long or one strand cut in half.
Pinchers: 2 made from feathers from the same general area of a Natural
Eyes: Gold, I-Balz by Spirit River, Inc. for #4 hooks use 1/4 inch size,
#6 hook use 3/16 inch size, #8 hook use size 5/32 inch.
Dubbing Yarn: Tan, Sparkle Yarn by Spirit River, Inc.
Legs: 4 Medium (#2), Speckled Brown or Brown, Centipede Legs by Montana
Fly Co. about 3-inches long or two strands cut in half.
Other flies in this serie:
Sowbug Olive Mudbug
Dark Pearl Gray Mudbug
Medium Olive Mudbug
Silver Gray Mudbug
Tying Instructions for
I often make one set of pinchers
before I start putting together the Mudbug. This gives them time to dry before they are
needed for the pattern. I make the pinchers for the next Mudbug while the super glue on
the eyes is drying.
The pinchers are cut from feathers of a
Pheasant Skin. It really doesnt matter which pheasant feathers are used as long as
they both come from the same general area of the skin. Use two neck feathers, two
church-window feathers, two breast feather, or two back feathers. It is also not important
that the two pinchers are matched; in fact I construct mine different sizes on purpose.
Crawfish molt and grow new appendages when they are lost, so quite often the pinchers are
of different sizes. The most important thing about pinchers is to create them small enough
not to frighten away the fish. No sense hurting yourself eating your dinner.
These patterns are tied Clouser style
with the eyes on the back of the hook shank. Put the hook in the vise; be sure to hide the
hook point in the vises jaws making the tying process easier and safer. Start the
thread at the beginning of the hook bend. Tie in the Swiss Straw on the inside of the hook
bend in the center with the excess straw away from the hook eye.
On the back of the hook, tie in the two
strands of centipede legs used for the antennae. Letting them hang off the hook bend away
from the hook eye. Tie in these strands about two inches from one end making four
antennae; two antennae two inches long and two antennae one inch long.
On the back of the hook, tie in the two
pinchers so that they hang off the hook bend angling away from the hook on each side.
Wrap six wraps of the appropriate size
lead wire on to the hook shank. This is the body portion of the pattern. Slide the lead
down to the hook eye out of the way for the moment.
Tie in the appropriate size I-Balz at the
base of the pinchers. Be sure to use the suggested size eye or one size larger for the
hook that is being used. This will insure the upright stability of the fly. Use a
"Xing pattern when securing the eyes. Before super gluing the eyes, move the lead
wire up against the eyes and secure in position with several wraps of thread. Remove the
pattern from the vise, lay it on a flat surface with the hook point up and adjust the hook
so that it is perpendicular to the eyes. Return the pattern to the vise. This little
adjustment will insure that the pattern runs hook point up.
Super-glue the eyes and lead wire into
position. While the super-glue is drying make another set of pinchers for the next Mudbug.
I often use two vises and begin another pattern while the first one is drying.
Tie in the Sparkle Yarn just behind the
lead wire, then wrap the thread to the hook eye.
Tie in the tail on the back of the hook
at the hook eye. I use the dangling end of the swiss straw that is tied in at the hook
bend or a separate piece.
Wrap the Sparkle Yarn over the lead wire,
around the eyes, the base of the pinchers, then reverse directions and wrap the yarn to
the hook eye. Tie off and trim.
Wrap the thread forward until just in
front of the eyes of the pattern. Rotate the vise so that the hook point is on top. Tie in
the four medium strands of Centipede Leg material centered over the eyes. Use a
"Xing" pattern to secure the legs making four legs of equal lengths on each side
of the hook. The thread should end up just behind the eyes of the pattern.
Open the Swiss Straw so that it will
cover the back of the pattern completely making the outside shell of the Mudbug. Bring the
straw over the back of the pattern place the first wrap of thread over the straw just
behind the eyes of the Mudbug. Advance the thread so the second wrap of the thread over
the straw is at the end of the lead wire. Then continue wrapping the thread over the straw
segmenting the remainder of the body and tail of the Mudbug. Trim the straw off at the
hook eye and whip finish between the tail and the hook eye.
Open the tail of the Mudbug forming a
wide flapper tail. Coat all of the straw with a good coat of glue, dont forget the
The I-Balz eyes plus the lead wire on
these patterns make them extremely heavy. I suggest a seven weight or larger rod to cast
the 1/4-inch eyed patterns. The Rio Clouser Line is a must for handling these patterns
with perfection. The 1/4-inch eyed patterns can easily be cast with a spinning rig and the
3/16-inch eyed patterns can be cast with an Ultra-light spinning rig. Spirit River also
makes a much heavier, Silver, 5/16-inch I-Balz which I didn't include a pattern for. A
Mudbug tied with this eye could easily be cast with any rig.
Mudbugs excel when fished slowly on rocky
to gravel bottoms. They rarely hang up, because they rarely invert. In large rocks--larger
than a basketball--Mudbugs will climb over these with ease. Patience is the key to fishing
them, let them slowly climb up the rocks and fall down the other side. Most strikes are
easily detected because they are so violent.
When drifting downstream in moving water
try these tactics. Position the canoe or boat so that you are facing upriver, this seems
awkward at first--especially in a canoe. If you are in a boat with a motor, don't turn the
motor off. Running into a "dead-head" backwards in fast current can be a
disaster--the motor will hang up and the boat will barrel-roll as it turns sideways. Hang
about two feet of log-chain on three foot of rope from the bow. This slows the canoe and
boat slightly in the fast water and keeps them facing upstream. You will find that one
person paddling in the back of the canoe can negotiate the most treacherous current with
this method. Now that you are facing the correct direction, cast toward the bank behind
boulders, logs, and other objects. Don't work the Mudbug; let the drifting boat pull it
slowly from behind the object. Let the Mudbug ride the bottom and follow its contour. Your
job is to feel every move the Mudbug makes--trying to detect the strike. I have caught
three Smallmouth Bass over six pounds--in the Ozarks that's a monster--all were caught
using this tactic.
Next, in fast gravel raceways and runs,
cast the Mudbug well upstream of the boat and let it ride the gravel bottom. Feel for the
strike. The chain banging on the bottom scares the crawfish from their hiding places. They
begin to escape from the approaching hullabaloo. When they begin to swim, the current
catches them and washes them downstream. The bass will be waiting in the deeper pockets
and the drop-off at the end of the run. At the end of the run, move the boat into the eddy
on the side of the fast water. Cast up into the current and let the Mudbug ride the bottom
over the drop-off several times. I have often caught as many as ten bass from one raceway
using this trick. A few bass will be laying at the drop-off; others will come to
investigate the sudden rush of crawfish.
Fishin' What They See
Text and photo by Fox Statler, "Mr.
Sowbug" © 2004