Crabs make up an important part of the diet of many species of fish, yet surprisingly, there are few crab pattern flies and even fewer lures that resemble this tasty crustacean.
This month’s pattern, the Merkin Crab, is a derivative of the popular Del’s Merkin fly that was initially tied by Del Brown for targeting bonefish in the Florida Keys area. It has also proven its worth in our country with a long list of species to its credit including golden trevally, permit, cod, tuskfish (parrot) and many others.
Crab patterns are very useful for a broad array of species as crabs make up the food source for many estuarine and offshore demersal species. The Del’s Merkin Crab pattern was initially tied for use in the shallows of the Florida Keys flats and was generally fished on a floating line. It can however, be delivered on a fast sinking line if you wish to fish it in deeper water. I used Merkin Crabs along the walls in the Nerang River for estuary cod a few years ago and found them a very successful presentation. I know of anglers who have fished them on the flats around Fraser Island for golden trevally and north of Weipa for permit. Other crab eating species such as tuskfish, cobia, bream and flathead would also be worthy targets.
Materials used in this pattern are fairly simple and should be readily available at most stockists of quality fly tying materials.
The hook is the popular SL12S Gamakatsu but most O’Shaunessy patterns will suffice. I like the SL12S as it is still a relatively thin gauge hook for easy penetration in the hard mouths of species used to crushing the shells of crabs, yet it is still very strong.
The material that the body is tied from is Tiewell’s sparkle crab yarn but many stiffer acrylic yarns including the popular, yet hard to source, Aunt Lydia’s Rug yarn can be used. I like Golden Pheasant Tippet feathers for the swimmer legs at the rear of the fly but any shorter hackle could be used. The other legs can be of any colour, however I prefer orange as it accentuates the movement of the legs when the fly is stripped. Colours for this fly can vary, depending on the hues of the various crabs in your area. The three most popular are the two-toned tan/brown, plain tan and plain black. The weighted eyes can be varied in size and style, depending on the weight needed for the particular depth and current strength of the water in which you wish to fish this fly.
There are really only two main stripping patterns required for fishing the Merkin.
The first is the most common and consists of one or two very short and sharp strips and then a sizeable pause to allow the fly to again sink to the bottom. This stripping technique is often used on the shallow flats. When the fly is cast well ahead of spooky fish cruising the flats in their eternal search for food, this stripping technique is often used once the fish is near the fly to get its attention. The fish will usually pounce upon it quickly and usually a solid hook-up is forthcoming. It is also the technique I have used when working the fly along the rock walls in the Nerang River system and in the various canals of Southern Queensland.
The second technique is sometimes used in deeper water but can also be employed on the flats. It consists of a slow, gradual strip that sees the fly staying close to the bottom, stirring up puffs of mud and sand as it meanders.
1. Place the hook in the vice and attach the thread with a jamb knot (or similar). Strip away the barbs of the hackle section of the golden pheasant collar tippet and tie in a small amount as shown, so that they are in a V formation and face slightly downwards.
2. Cut about a 3cm length of the brown sparkle crab yarn and tie it across the hook shank as shown with a series of figure-of-eight wraps. Next, tie in a similar piece of the tan sparkle crab yarn in the same manner as shown.
3. Cut a section of the rubber legs approximately around 5cm long. This is then tied in the same as the yarn, across the hook shank with a series of figure-of-eight wraps.
4. Repeat this pattern along the hook shank as shown until you are just a few millimetres away from the eye of the hook. You should have tied in three sections of the rubber legs as shown.
5. Pull the rubber legs through the yarn so they are now visible on the bottom as shown. Next place your eye on the top of the hook shank and bind it on securely with a series of figure-of-eight wraps. Hold the legs up out of the way and then trim the sparkle crab yarn into a circular or oval shape with your scissors.
6. Your Merkin Crab should now look like this as you look down from the top with the hook point closest to you. Tie a knot in the end of each leg to make it appear more realistic. This also helps the legs to move in the water. When fished like this the legs will appear to be on top of the crab instead of below, which makes them more prominent. You can pull them back through the sparkle crab yarn to get them correctly back on the bottom if you wish but I have found the Merkin Crab too work better when presented in the aforementioned profile. Perhaps to a hungry fish it looks like a wounded crab drifting along upside down. Use a toothpick or similar to apply a little vinyl cement to the visible areas of threadwork on both sides of the fly, especially where the eyes are tied in.
The Merkin Crab is now ready for use.
HOOK: Gamakatsu SL12S #2/0
THREAD: Flat waxed nylon- black
TAIL: Golden pheasant collar tippet feathers.
LEGS: Tiewell rubber legs- orange
EYE: Real eyes plus- Medium nickel with yellow pupil
BODY: Tiewell sparkle crab yarn tan and brown
FINISH: Vinyl cement