As I sit here staring at the screen trying to conjure up another blog post, I have to admit that my life has become increasingly complex. My 40th is birthday is looming weeks away, and I'm in full on child raising, middle aged family man mode. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad thing. I love this stage of my life with all it's highs and lows, and there are plenty of both. What it has caused me to do is reprioritize in many areas. One of those areas is my fly tying. I no longer have hours to sit at the vise watching videos and dreaming up new creations. Most of the time, if I can make it to my desk at all, I have about 15-20 minutes before two handsome boys are arguing over whose turn it is to sit in my lap and help me tie flies. I wouldn't trade it for anything. What this phase of life really boils down to from a fly tying standpoint, is that I have to work quickly to bang out a handful of simple, effective patterns. My time at the vise is limited, and my time on the water even more so. This has driven me to focus on time tested patterns developed by master craftsman. I need flies with no more than three materials that are quick to tie, and slay fish. When considering some of the most effective patterns ever developed, there is no argument that the clouser minnow is certainly at the top of the list. The clouser minnow, by all accounts, probably has more species of fish to its name that any other pattern. My purpose here, however, isn't to start a debate. My purpose is to arm you with some down and dirty tips for tying the clouser minnow. Both Bob Clouser, and good friend Lefty Kreh, have some subtle slight of hand that not only makes the fly faster and easier to tie, it gives the fly the action and profile that make it so deadly.
The clouser was originally developed as a smallmouth bass pattern. Bob Clouser needed a fly that would get down to the fish, and have a darting erratic action. Before painted dumbbell eyes were available, a split shot was placed on the leader, or pinched directly to the shank of the hook. One of the most important aspects of tying the clouser is placing your dumbell eyes 1/3 of the way back on the hook shank. This allows the fly to swim the way it was designed, as well as allowing the for a nice tapered head. Seat your eyes firmly with cross wraps, and apply glue to your wraps to lock it all in.
Hair selection is vitally important on two fronts. The first is selecting the right type of hair from your buck tail. The hair in the first photo is from the base of the tail. This is NOT the hair you want. The hair at the base of a buck tail is more course and hollow. This causes it to be more stiff, thereby reducing the action of the fly. It also flares horribly, disrupting the intended profile of the fly. The hair halfway down the sides, and near the tip of the tail, is more fine and much softer. This gives the fly great movement as the angler strips the fly through the water.
The next step is to select the proper amount of hair for the bottom wing. Remember, less is more here. The consensus is about half the thickness of a pencil. Once cut, hold the fibers 2/3 of the way back from the base, squeezing them firmly.
Gently pull the shorter fibers and fluff from the hair bundle. This is critical to both the profile of the fly, as well as a clean tapered head.
Measure your buck tail against the length of the shank. Bob and Lefty both agree on two to two and a half times the length of the shank.
Next, squeeze the bundle into a more oval shape, and trim back on angle. This provides for a nice taper once you start to cover the hair with thread wraps.
Before tying in the wing, Lefty Kreh dabs the butt ends with glue. This is a step Bob Clouser omits. I'd have to agree with Lefty on this one. In my opinion, the glue really helps make the fly ultra durable.
Tying buck tail down neatly can be a real struggle. Bob offers a tip here that has revolutionized my clousers. He takes two loose wraps to gather the hair, and then pulls straight up with thread tightly to seat it firmly in place. This is hard to demonstrate and photograph by yourself. However, you can see how neatly the hair is tied in here. Also, notice how it tapers toward the hook eye.
When you cover everything with thread wraps it creates a nice slender cone. Remember to use firm pressure here, but don't pull so hard as to flare the hair. The idea is to create a nice vertical profile with the wings to give the illusion of a baitfish.
This next tip is vital to that aspect of the fly. After moving your thread behind the eyes, take a few firm wraps while holding slight upward pressure with the hair pinched between your fingers.
Make open spiral wraps, stopping short of the bend of the hook, and then wrap back forward in front of the eyes. You can see in this picture how the buck tail is fanned vertically, and all of the hair is on top of the shank.
Rotate or invert the fly in your vise, and repeat the same steps as described before.
You'll notice I added some flash to the fly. I didn't describe this step as my intent here isn't a "How To" article. There are lots of videos out there on how to tie a clouser. The point i'm trying to drive home is that there are specific techniques that won't be found in much of the information you will find. Again, notice in this photo how all of the tips I have described have culminated in a nice vertical profile, and tapered head. Build up a nice tapered head to your liking and then whip finish or throw in a couple of half hitches.
Apply Salley Hansens along the bottom of the hook shank, over the eyes, and then to the head of the fly. Rotate the fly slowly for 20-30 seconds to even out the glue as it cures.
The finished fly is sparse, has a nice vertical profile, and looks great. That's really an important note. A fly that has a nice, clean, fishy look inspires confidence. If you have confidence in your fly, you stay sharp, and you fish better. It's a simple fact.
Something you will often see both Bob and Lefty do is run a fly through their mouth to wet it out and expose its true profile. This is a size 2 clouser I have tied and in my opinion has a great minnow profile. I will readily admit many of my attempts at clousers over the years haven't turned out nearly as well. That was mostly because I didn't really understand the design of the fly. Furthermore, I didn't know any of these tips. It's amazing to me how many of these new patterns are nothing more than material on a hook. It may look good. It may even catch some fish, but when you listen to someone like Bob Clouser describe how his fly was developed, you begin to understand that every little step plays a very important roll in the design and functionality of the fly. It's track record is indisputable. I have personally caught smallmouth on this color combination, and tied a purple and black version that redfish can't resist. By varying the weight, and color combination, you can tie a fly that you can fish in almost any situation. For a busy man like myself that's a winner all day. Thank you, Bob Clouser, for sharing your Clouser Minnow.