Fly fishing and fly tying has greatly advanced in that past few years. New fly tying materials have opened the door for fly tiers to take their imaginations to the next level. Fly tiers have taken on a Dr. Frankenstein role when creating these new flies, rubber fins sutured onto the skeleton of multiple hook shanks followed by a mix of body fibers and UV flash all capped by a fish skull to give you the bait fish of your dreams. I am not here today to discuss the validity of these techniques but rather to remind us of the easily forgotten path that we walk every day that has paved our way to where we are now.
What I am talking about of course is the Clouser Minnow. Not the first baitfish pattern ever created but the ease and versatility of this pattern has kept it around year after year. There is no fancy silhouette to this fly, no bulked up head tapering to the back like many bait fish patterns you see today, no 3d eyes or UV fibers. But rather two clumps of buck tail a hook and some barbell eyes (flash optional). The targeted species.....fish, yup pretty much any type you'd like to catch can be caught with a clouser. Bass, trout, salmon, steelhead, crappie, bream, redfish, stripers these can all easily be caught with this one pattern, simply alter the color combo or size and that's it.
Here are a few of our catches using just the very classic clouser minnow. This first catch is from a few winters back,
in one of our favorite holes to fish for WNY Steelhead. If I can remember correctly the color combo used was a red over white coloration and only took one or two casts to hook into this beauty. Many people forget that when fishing the Great Lakes Tributaries for Steelhead that there are bait fish in the water. Even in such cold conditions you will regularly see little shiners floating around. So all you have to do is tie a clouser the same size and color as the bait you see, usually a size 10 streamer hook will match that size perfectly.
Another great catch with a clouser minnow was from this summer. While fishing our favorite spot just down the road from us in our new Old Town Canoe I was able to paddle Jess up into a perfect situation, a little bay made by two fallen trees on either side.
She was able to chuck a perch colored clouser up into the structure and pull out a slab of a crappie. A perk to the clouser minnow is that having the weighted eyes tied on the top of the hook causes the fly to swim hook point up. That means less snagging when fishing close to the bottom, which means you're able to chuck these flies into some pretty primo spots. One magical thing about the clouser minnow is you never know what you're going to catch. That day were were going after bass on the fly but to our surprise we pulled up that pig instead. If there are multiple predator species in an area and you're fishing a clouser minnow be prepared to catch multiple species!
Now lets talk about the ease of tying this fly. It doesn't get more simple it's a one or two material fly. Tie on your eyes, tie in your top clump of deer hair, tie in your bottom clump, add flash if wanted and finish it off. There is no reason that you couldn't sit down in an hour and come out with a dozen or two of these bad boys.
If you're looking to tie your own clouser minnows check out our step by step tutorial on tying them. The image on the right is linked right to it! Don't be afraid to experiment with material variations as well. Using craft fur is a very popular material variation which will give the fly a bit more motion in the water, but will be more prone to wrapping and tangling on the hook. Various furs and feathers such as marabou work great and will also give a bit more motion and dimension to the fly compared to bucktail. However my favorite is still the classic clouser minnow with bucktail. It just plain works and is a very durable fly if tied correctly.
Versatility of this fly pattern is key and runs along the same line with material experimentation.
Most people do not realize that a majority of bonefish flies are merely variations of the clouser minnow. Take for example the very simple yet effective bonefish puff. The belly material is crystal flash instead of a light colored buck tail, the top is craft fur instead of dark colored buck tail and instead of flash we have used some rubber legs. An even simpler variation it to take a regular clouser throw some shrimp eyes out the back of the hook and extend the crystal flash a bit longer and you have a perfect shrimp pattern.
Two other variations of the clouser that we like to tie here involve swapping out the buck tail for other natural hairs.
In the first case we have what we call the opossum puff, where we obviously switched the buck tail for opossum hair, this pattern is great for bone fish as well as sheepshead convicts who are usually very picky eaters. By shrinking down the hook size we are using and picking a smaller more delicate and buggy looking hair we are able to create a great micro shrimp pattern.
The other pattern that we like to tie is simply called the Yotee Shrimp and by its name its fairly simple to figure out the main material, psssst (its coyote fur).
Tan and copper have long been a favorite for redfish up and down the east coast and that is exactly what we were trying to target with this pattern. A great perk to utilizing other natural furs is the natural color gradation you will get. You can see in the Yotee shrimp the wonderful gradation from grey to tan to black which gives this shrimp pattern a very realistic life like look when in the water.
So next time you're looking through your fly box, sitting at the vise, or shopping for some new fancy flies remember the clouser minnow. It may be a little plain, it may be a little dated, it may not use the newest flashiest of materials. But guess what, the fish don't care, and if the fish don't care you shouldn't either. So fill your box up with multiple sizes colors and variations and you will be happily surprised next time you are out on the water!