I’ll start this series of fly tying patterns with a classic fly that’s regarded as the most successful saltwater pattern ever tied: the Clouser Minnow.
This pattern was originally tied by American flyfisherman Bob Clouser. Although it doesn’t imitate any aquatic species too closely, it does partially resemble several food sources, including baitfish and prawns – and this is probably why the Closer is so appealing to so many fish species. Renowned flyfisherman and tier Lefty Kreh boasts of having caught over 70 species of fish while using Clouser Minnows on the waters of the world. If any flyfisher was told he could use only one fly pattern for the rest of his life, chances are he’d choose the Clouser Minnow.
The Clouser Minnow can be tied on many hooks from a size 6 to a 5/0 and a never-ending array of colours. The winging material is traditionally bucktail but, as with all flies, there are no rules. Materials such as Polar Fibre, deer hair, hi-vis, streamer hair, fish hair, Mega Hair and Kinky Fibre are useful substitutes, especially when toothy critters are the target.
The size and type of eyes can also be varied depending on the sink rate required and the overall size of the fly. Some popular types of eyes used include dumbbell, Real Eyes, I-Balz, hourglass eyes and even large bead chain. Many tiers even paint pupils on the eyes, or coat them with glow-in-the-dark paint, to increase the appeal (although sometimes the appeal has a bigger effect on humans than on fish).
Some anglers tie the Clouser Minnow on a long shank hook but I find that a standard O’Shaunessy pattern works a treat. With the eyes affixed to the back of the hook shank, the Clouser minnow will swim with the hook point upright, making it reasonably snag-proof.
A Clouser should be tied sparsely for best effect and it will usually have a lighter belly and darker back, as most baitfish do. This contrast might be as bold as black over white or as subtle as yellow over lemon.
There is no right or wrong way to fish any fly but there are a few classic retrieves that continue to catch fish while using Clouser Minnows.
The first consists of two or three short sharps strips and then a long pause while the fly sinks again. It’s a great one for targeting golden trevally on the flats or flathead, bream, barramundi and jacks in the estuaries.
The second consists of one or two long, fast strips and then a pause. Tailor, salmon, trevally, mackerel, kingfish and tuna usually find this Clouser retrieve too hard to resist.
The third retrieve consists of small, continuous, yet slow retrieves which sees the fly moving across the bottom in a shuffling motion while stirring up puffs of mud and silt, just like a prawn or baitfish feeding along the bottom. This is great for catching flathead in dirty water as the fly stays in contact with the bottom a lot and the flathead can easily home in on the fly by picking up the vibrations with their lateral line.
Various combinations of strips, pauses and speeds can be used to fish the Clouser, and all will work in the appropriate situation.
Step 1. Place your hook in the vice with the shank facing upwards. Attach the thread with a jam knot or similar about 3mm to 5mm behind the eye of the hook (distance will vary with size of hook used). Lay down a bed of thread for a few millimetres either side of this point. Get your eye (we will assume a dumbbell) and manually hold it in position while you do a series of figure eight style binds to hold it evenly in position on top of the hook shank. Put a little headset or vinyl cement on the thread to strengthen the bind.
Step 2. Cut a small amount of the lighter coloured bucktail (roughly 1 1/2 to 2 times the length of the hook shank) which is to be your underwing (belly) and secure it onto the back of the hook shank between the eye of the fly and the eye of the hook. Choose nice soft bucktail that is not too coarse (usually towards the tip of the tail) as it will make tying easier and will move more freely in the water. Cutting the bucktail with a small taper will allow it to be easily tied on. This avoids the thread continually falling off the end of the cut hair and creates a nice tapered finish. Bind right back to the eye of the fly but don’t make the wraps too tight.
Step 3. Advance your thread to the area behind the dumbbell eye. Fold the bucktail underwing over the middle of the fly eye and secure it to the hook shank with several light wraps of thread. Bring the thread back under the eye, to the area between the dumbbell and hook eye.
Step 4. Turn the hook over in the vice so that the point is now facing upwards. Cut about 6 to 8 strands of Krystal Flash and tie them in at the front of the fly. Krystal Flash (and all other flash materials for that matter) are best used sparsely, as they are a highlight material only, not a structural material.
Step 5. Choose your overwing (generally a darker colour than your underwing) and cut a small amount, making sure it is roughly the same length as the underwing. Make sure once again that the cut is tapered to allow for a smooth tie in of the materials. Tie the overwing on and bind the entire tapered area between the eye of the hook and the dumbbell with thread. Finish off with a whip finish or series of half-hitches. Lighter wraps will be required close to the dumbbell eye at times to avoid the bucktail splaying out.
Finish off with a little head cement at all the places where there is visible thread. You can add stick-on pupils to the dumbbells if you want to dress your Clouser up a bit.
You can have a lot of fun tying Clousers as there is a huge variation in the colours, sizes and materials that can be used in them. There is also a slightly different variation of the Clouser pattern where the underwing is not secured to the back of the hook shank, and we’ll likely cover that in a future article.
The Clouser is one of the most universal and productive saltwater patterns ever, and it’s also often used in darker colours for deepwater bass fishing in impoundments. Tie some in brighter colours such as chartreuse, pink or orange over white for dirty water, and olive, yellow, white or tan over white for cleaner water. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more universal fly to have in your box.
Hook: O'Shaughnessy pattern (such as Mustad 34007)
Size: 8 to 5/0 but 2, 1 and 1/0 are most popular sizes
Thread: Flat-waxed nylon, usually white
Eye: Dumbbell, real eye, hourglass or I-Balz
Flash: Krystal Flash (usually pearl)