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York Molted Crayfish
Text and photos by Rob Knisely

When I was a kid living on Sandusky Bay of Lake Erie, one of my favorite fishing activities was to collect crayfish at sunset among the rip-rap around the old coal docks. I'd keep them alive in an aquarium and take them back down to the bay just before dawn. A few feet below a bobber, hooked through the tail, and I had one of the deadliest methods for catching the bay's smallmouth bass. The bronzebacks would chase the crayfish in a circle, dragging the bobber behind, which would soon disappear, indicating the crustacean's demise...and my good fortune.

So I've always been fascinated by crayfish, and I've always known their effectiveness. There are several good crayfish patterns for the fly fishermen, but to suit my own fishing style and preferences, I spent two years developing the following. It can be used for large trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappie, and other species.

Fans of Dave Whitlock will notice the resemblance to his Soft-shell Crayfish. Also a good pattern, and Dave deserves much credit for developing many effective imitations. He has been an inspiration to me for years and I recommend researching his fishing techniques and tying methods.

The following pattern is meant to imitate a crayfish which has just shed its exoskeleton, making it lighter in shade than normal. This takes place most frequently in the warmer months of the year, as the crayfish grows into a new set of armor. At this time, it is softer, and the fish know this. The lighter shades indicate a softer meal, and the fish are all for it.

Additionally, I wanted the pattern to get down quick for fishing in stronger currents, deeper rivers, or from a drift boat. The hook point rides up for less snag, the tail tucks under, and the pincers fold up beyond the head but still maintain their basic shape.

Materials List:

    Hook:   Mustad 3665A, #4-8.

    Thread:   Uni-Thread 6/0, olive.

    Weight:   Brass dumbbell eyes, 3/16" for size 4.

    Body Foundation:   Trimmed leather lace.

    Mouthparts:   Deer hair tips.

    Antennae:   Dark gray goose wing quill fibers.

    Eyes:   Melted monofilament.

    Shellback:   Raffia & thick clear plastic.

    Dubbing:   Coarse, bulky blend (see below).

    Pincers:   Hen saddle feather section, olive grizzly.

    Ribbing:   32 gauge gold wire (medium).

    Thoracic legs:   Hen saddle feathers.

    Tail:   Soft, webby saddle hackle fibers.

Instructions - York Molted Crayfish:

    1. Secure the thread to the hook shank and cover the front one fourth behind the eye. Lash the dumbbell eyes to the top of the shank, leaving one and a half hook-eye widths between the dumbbell and hook eye. To do this, take three wraps diagonally one way, then the other way to straighten. Wind the thread three times around the wraps clockwise (between the dumbbell and shank) to tighten the wraps. Check the position of the dumbbell to make sure it's sitting right, then repeat the thread wraps a couple more times. Wind the thread back along the shank to directly above the hook point, then forward again to the dumbbell. This gives us a foundation for lashing on the leather lace underbody. From a spool of 1/8" leather lace, cut two sections about 3/4 inch long for size 4 (or a length equal to, from just in front of the hook point to slightly behind the dumbbell eyes). Hold it up so the wide side faces you and it appears as a rectangle. From one end, trim the top corner off at about a 40 degree angle to the bottom. From the other end, trim the top corner off at about a 25-30 degree angle to the bottom. Do the same for the other section. A section will go on each side of the shank to form a wide, flat underbody. Place one section on the far side, the longer-tapered end near the dumbbell eyes, the sharper angled end terminating just in front of the hook point. Pinch the leather between thumb and finger, and spiral wrap the thread over it toward the bend, taking loose turns, pulling on each turn toward you, parallel to the wide side of the leather to prevent it from twisting or moving around the shank. Reverse direction and spiral back to the dumbbell eyes. Attach the other side in the same manner. Once the other side is attached, carefully wind the thread back and forth along the leather to further secure it. End with the thread just behind the dumbbell eyes, tie a small whip finish knot, and clip the thread. Coat the thread wraps on the dumbbell eyes and leather lace with several drops of Zap-A-Gap. Let this dry, then paint the dumbbell eyes if desired. For the fly pictured, I used Testors enamel, mixing colors until I got a shade that roughly matched the raffia I'll be using for the shellback. Go ahead and prepare four or six underbodies up to this point now if you like.

    2. Replace the hook in the vise, leaving plenty of room to work around the hook gap, where the head is tied. Start the thread just behind the dumbbell eyes and wrap back and forth over the underbody a couple times, criss-crossing where necessary, to cover the "slippery" cemented portions. Bring the thread to across from the hook point, then continue into the bend with smooth touching wraps to directly above the hook barb. As we're tying the head, think small and minimal. Try to ignore the big body foundation and tie as though the head is the entire fly. The head itself is only as long as from the hook point to the hook barb, the antennae and mouthparts extending out beyond that. Not to worry, though...if you can tie a size 14 or 16 nymph, you can do this!

    3. Clip a bundle of deer hair slightly less than a matchstick in diameter (for sizes smaller than 4, use a bit less). Remove the underfur and align the tips in a stacker. This will be the mouthparts of the crayfish, and will extend from the hook barb where the thread is hanging now, to slightly beyond the back edge of the bend. So hold the bundle rather close to the tips and trim off the butt ends so you're left with an even-tipped bundle about half an inch long...this just gives us less excess to work around. Straddle the hook shank with the bundle, take two loose turns of thread, then pull down to tighten while pinching the bundle to keep it from spinning. Check the length and the distribution of the fibers. Length has been discussed, and there should be about as many fibers on the far side as the near side. If it's not quite right, simply pinch the bundle, loosen the thread, and reposition. If it's right, take one more tight turn of thread, then spiral forward to lash down the butt ends. Trim any strays.

    4. Clip two fibers from a dark gray goose wing quill. These should be about as long as the hook. If you don't have the goose, ringneck pheasant tail fibers will suffice. Spiral the thread all the way back to the mouthparts (the first turn of thread tying in the deer hair) and lash one fiber to the near side of the shank. Take another turn in front of the first. Position the fiber to point downward. Now lash the other fiber to the far side, taking one turn of thread, then another just behind that one, directly on top of the rearmost thread wraps. Spiral the thread forward one turn, then take another tight turn to anchor all in place. Turn the fly over so the hook point is on top.

    5. We'll be using raffia, or Swiss Straw, for the shellback, but if you've ever used this material, you know that once it's wet, it is very nice trout will shred it. So we're going to cover it with a protective layer of a clear, more durable material. Plastic like that which a freezer storage bag is made from will work well, or use other clear, flexible durable materials. Trim a small piece of this about an inch long and roughly as wide as the hook eye. We'll tie this in like a nymph's wingcase, so lay it at an angle against what is now the top of the shank, and take one loose turn of thread around it. Use your thumb and index finger to center it on top, then gently pull back on it as you tighten the thread. Take another tight turn of thread behind the first, which should be against the deer hair mouthparts. The excess to be pulled over later should now be extending beyond the bend of the hook. Take another couple tight turns to secure.

    6. Now for the raffia. Cut a section about an inch long, unfold it, and cut it lengthwise into three equal sections. Take one and tie it in directly on top of the plastic in the same manner. It helps to crimp the end being tied in, then the thread is "laid" in the crease to keep it from slipping off. Make sure the first turn of thread is over the rearmost thread wraps, then take another turn directly in front of the first. Now tie in another raffia section on the near side of the hook the same way, two wraps of thread only. Repeat for the far side. The first tied-in section of raffia should be centered on top, with the two tied in directly on top of that, but angled out to either side. Spiral the thread forward to lash down the excess and bring the thread to just behind the hook point.

    7. Prepare the eyes. Clip a 3/4 inch section of 8 lb. monofilament (use smaller test for smaller sizes), clip in the middle in metal hackle pliers. Hold near a flame to melt both ends. Be careful not to catch the mono on prepared to blow out any flames quickly. If it burns, it's still usable, but if melted slowly it forms a nicer, more rounded shape. Prepare eyes to go with all the underbodies you made previously. I like to coat my eyes with paint or dark nail polish, and this can be done en masse by cutting slits into 1 mm foam, inserting the mono eyes, then applying the paint to both ends. Allow adequate time for the eyes to dry. When they're ready, lay them against the top of the shank at an angle and take a turn of thread diagonally though the center. Take just two crossing diagonal turns of thread, reposition and center as needed, pull down to tighten, then immediately take two turns just in front to secure.

    8. Dub the head. Use a blend of dubbing to match the locals, and one which has bulk, but can be dubbed fine with the aid of wax. Here I've used a blend of 60% olive rabbit, 30% olive poly yarn, and 10% orange Angora goat dubbing. Start the dubbing behind the eyes and wind back to the mouthparts. At the very front of the head, lay down one fine layer of dubbing, then dub forward to the back of the head. In other words, the head should be dubbed to taper sharply from front to back. Take a couple extra turns of dubbing at the back of the head, directly below the hook point.

    9. Grasp the raffia strip on the near side of the hook and pull it back along the side of the head. Use the edge of the raffia to push up on the mono eyes, and secure with two tight wraps of thread. Do the same for the other side.

    10. Now pull the center strip of raffia over the top of the head, working it between the mono eyes. Tie down with two tight turns of thread. Clip the excess raffia, leaving a little to help build bulk in the "neck" area. Finally, pull the plastic down over the center of the head, again between the mono eyes, and tie down with three tight turns of thread. Clip the excess, take a couple extra tight turns to secure, then coat the thread wraps with cement. Take a small break and let the cement soak into the thread. I think the head is probably the hardest part of this fly to tie, so the rest should be a piece of cake, right?

    11. Put a small piece of scrap foam on the hook point, both to protect your fingers, and to prevent the plastic from being impaled. We'll tie this in next, but first, you have to trim it to shape. Use a marker (not permanent) to draw on the plastic, a simple bowling pin shape...keep in mind it will cover a wider, rounded thorax, then taper slightly toward the crayfish's tail. Make it extra long beyond the tail for ease of handling and draw in a "notched" section to tie in near the head. (See pattern outline at right.) Hold this over the fly to check the size...your outline should be slightly larger than the edges of the underbody. If it's the right size, cut it out with regular scissors, and wipe away any traces of the marker outline. It's a good idea to use this first one and trace it on an index card, to be used as a template for more flies. Lay this shape on top of the shank and bring the thread over it in the notches. The notches will catch the thread and you can position the very first thread wrap right against the back of the head, and centered on top. Excess should extend to the rear to be pulled over later.

    12. Cut two, two-inch sections of the raffia, and tie these in together directly on top of the plastic, a section angled slightly out to either side. Apply dubbing over this to fill in the "neck" area, until it is about as wide as the underbody.

    13. Prepare the pincers by selecting two wide, webby saddle hackles. These can be hen or rooster, or you can use other birds such as pheasant, providing the feathers and fibers are long enough. The fibers should be about as long as half the hook shank. Clip the butt end holding all the marabou-like fluff, and hold the feathers so the "tops" are facing you, tips pointing up. Take one feather and carefully strip the fibers from the left side. On the other feather, strip the fibers from the right side. On each feather, from the fibers remaining on the one side, trim off about half an inch from the bottom with scissors. This clipped portion will be tied in. Measure against the hook, and trim each feather so the stems are half as long as the hook shank. Use you fingernail to crimp the stem of one feather just below the lowest fiber, and use this to tie it in on the corresponding side of the illustrate this, hold your hands out in front of you, relaxed. Notice the hands are slightly angled. Position/tie-in the pincers in a manner that the fibers point inward toward each other and up, as your thumbs are, and the stem sides are on the outside and down a little, like the "pinky" side of your hands. Tie one in at a time and make loose turns of thread directly in front of the "neck" dubbing, positioning each feather before tightening down. Once they're both positioned and tied in, lash over the excess butt ends along the sides to secure, then bring the thread back to the tie-in point.

    14. Apply dubbing over the tie-in area of the pincers to blend with the dubbing in the "neck" area, and about as wide. Select two webby saddles with fibers which, when stroked to stand out straight from the stem are a little more the half the hook shank long on each side. Trim away the fibers from the butt end for about half an inch on both sides, and tie this in on top of the shank, "shiny" (or bottom) side up, extended back toward the bend. This will be pulled over later. Repeat for a second feather directly on top. TIP: since we'll be folding this over and tying it down, I find it helpful to measure out the section that will be over the thorax, then clip out a couple fibers on both sides where I anticipate the tie-in area will be. This helps you maneuver the thread though the feathers to tie them down (see photo).

    15. Apply dubbing to the thorax area, terminating about half the distance from the back of the head to the dumbbell eyes. Pull one saddle over the top and tie down with three or four thread wraps, then do the same with the other. Clip the excess from the saddles and take a few more extra turns to secure. Apply a drop of cement and allow some time for it to soak into the thread wraps.

    16. Now tie in the tag end of the wire. Here I've used gold, but copper also looks quite nice, just be sure to use medium or about 32 gauge, as we'll be applying quite a bit of force to it later, and this will also help make the fly more durable. Lash the tag end to the bottom of the fly, then fold the excess back, effectively trapping it in the thread wraps so it doesn't pull out later. Cover the wire with thread wraps, then apply a little more dubbing in front of and behind the tie-in point. Advance the thread to halfway between this tie-in point and the dumbbell eyes.

    17. Unfold the tied-in raffia enough that when it's pulled over, it will cover the back of the thorax and force the thoracic legs (saddle fibers) downward. Pull the raffia sections forward together, and take a turn of the wire around them. Pull the raffia taught, tighten down with the wire, then pull the plastic down and secure with a second wrap of the wire. Keep the wire tight as you move on to step 18.

    18. Pull the raffia and plastic up out of the way and spiral the wire to the tying thread. Tie down with three or four tight turns, but do not clip. Dub the area between this tie-down area and the first ribbing, forming another dubbed section. Finish by dubbing a little behind and in front of the wire. Bring the thread right up to the dumbbell eyes. Pull the raffia over and secure with one turn of the wire, the plastic with the second turn. Lift the excess up out of the way and spiral the wire to the thread, then tie it down. Dub this last section, then bring the thread to in front of the dumbbell eyes. Pull the raffia and plastic forward and tie down as previously, take two extra turns of the wire underneath, then bring the wire diagonally over the top of the dumbbell eyes so the excess is in front on the far side. Take the tying thread diagonally across the top to behind the dumbbell on the far side, take two turns right behind, then two more diagonally across the top from in front on the near side, to behind on the far side. Clip the wire, and bind down any exposed end to the shank in front of the dumbbell eyes.

    19. Select a feather with long, webby fibers for the tail. Trim a section of fibers about an inch wide, even up the tips, and tie this in on what is now the bottom of the hook. If you have a rotary feature, you can simply turn the fly over to do this. Tie this bundle in so the fibers are about half as long as the body. TIP: Hold the bundle in your right hand, pinched at the tie-in point, and drape the tying thread over the bundle. Take another turn in this manner, then pull down to tighten while pushing the bundle "into" the fly with the right hand. To help tighten down with minimal thread wraps, take a turn of thread behind the dumbbell, come up over the bundle in front of the dumbbell, pull to tighten, then take another turn behind to secure. Apply dubbing in two turns diagonally though the dumbbell eyes, first one way, then the other. Do not dub in front of the dumbbell.

    20. Pull the tail fibers back and take several wraps of thread in front to hold them. Make sure the wraps are tight, but try to wind back far enough that the fibers tend to lay back on their own.

    21. Pull the raffia over the dumbbell and tie down with the thread. Be careful not to trap any of the tail fibers. Take four tight turns, then clip the excess close. Do the same with the plastic. Cover any exposed ends and build up an oversized head with the tying thread. This is one case where a great big head is actually desired. Whip finish the thread, clip, then coat well with a good, penetrating cement.


I've used olive for this demonstration, but use colors that resemble local crayfish. Brown is also common, and an all black version is good in murky waters as a general imitation. Experiment with different dubbings and feathers to arrive at the closest match.

How To Fish:

To fish, use a sink-tip or full sinking line. In shallower waters, begin stripping immediately in six-eight inch bursts. Deeper or faster waters, allow some time for the fly to get near the bottom. To cast this heavy pattern, use casting methods similar to those used by Bob Clouser for casting his popular flies.

Questions? Feel free to e-mail me (, or better yet, post them to the Tying Board here and I'll be sure to get back with you.

Happy Tying! ~ Rob Knisely

About Rob:

Rob took up fly-fishing after inheriting his grandfather's flyrod. Disappointed with store-bought flies, he almost immediately began tying his own. Now a commercial tier, Rob uses techniques and materials that suit his artistic preferences and ties patterns that are frequently out of the ordinary. Rob lives in Waynesburg, KY, his website is: If you are planning on fishing this region check out his helpful information on hatches and flies for the area.

For more great flies, check out: Beginning Fly Tying, Intermediate Fly Tying and Advanced Fly Tying.

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