Danger Muffin Crab Fly Tying Recipe:
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Hook: #2 Umpqua XS506
Thread: Light Olive UTC 140
Eyes: Small or Medium Lead Eyes
Weight: .020 Lead Wire
Shell Body: Olive and Natural Deer Hair - Olive Variant Rabbit Strip
Under Body: Light Olive Furry Foam
Legs: Olive Ultra Chenille
Eyes: Black Ultra Chenille
Claws: Cohen's Crab Claws
There are a lot of ways to make a good permit crab fly these days. Those of us who’ve been around a while recall the days when there was pretty much only one effective permit fly: Del’s Merkin. Slowly, others crept onto the permit scene with a variety of sometimes successful but oftentimes failing patterns. George Anderson’s McCrab, Drew Chicone’s McFlyFoam Crab, the RagHead Crab, and most recently the Strong Arm Merkin are a few winners, but many others have come and gone over the years. All were made with specific situations and strategies in mind, for instance light or dark bottoms, tailing permit, traveling permit, and even “floaters.” In fly tying there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Now Montanan Doug McKnight—an Umpqua Signature Tyer and the creator of a bunch of other great salt- and freshwater patterns like the ER Crab, Rasta Puff, Thundergrass Hopper, and the Home Invader—dazzles us with the latest iteration of a small green reef crab for permit in places like southern Belize, Guanaja, and elsewhere in Honduras. Of course, McKnight’s pattern can be tied in any color you like, and he mixes them up in a variety of combinations to replicate any given substrate.
In speaking with McKnight, he claims that he spends as much time on a permit flat looking at what’s in the water as he does fishing. While it is common for us trout anglers to flip a few river rocks during the course of the day, I don’t know that anyone has ever mentioned to me that they actually dig around in the bottom of a saltwater flat. McKnight does. And he’s found crabs in every shade from basic black all the way to orange, and his innovative Danger Muffin can easily be tied to match any of them.
The pieces that set McKnight’s pattern off from so many others are the hook itself and the way in which he constructs a shell using a bit of deer hair for shape, mixed with a bit of soft rabbit fur to counteract the buoyancy of the deer and soften the fly landing.
Mixing the colors of the deer hair and rabbit allows you to create mottled, camouflage effects that can’t be matched with any other conventional method. With a little practice, the fly actually becomes fun to tie, too.
McKnight starts off with an Umpqua XS506 BN jig hook as the undercarriage. This 60-degree jig hook eliminates the issue of hoping the fly will land hook point up, and its needle-sharp point makes sure it stays stuck when it’s supposed to. McKnight ties the Danger Muffin in sizes 2 through 8 and uses either small or extra-small lead eyes to begin the weighting process, then adds lead wire to the shank to assure the fly plummets to the bottom like a real crab. Once a nicely weighted base is established, the magic starts to happen.
McKnight stumbled onto mixing deer hair and rabbit fur to create a soft, lively, and mottled carapace for his crab pattern. He likely got the idea from a pile of waste material on his desk (that’s my theory, not his). He likes a 60:40 proportion of rabbit fur to deer hair. McKnight clips the fur and hair from the skin and mixes them by hand. I used my old canned air trick to mix my batch together and it worked beautifully. Simply place the components in a large Ziploc bag, poke several holes in the bag, and close the zipper around the nozzle tube on a can of compressed air. Give the mix a few blasts of air and you have a very nicely mixed batch of material ready and waiting for a trip to the tropics, but first you need to twist up a few bodies and get into a bit of arts and crafts.
Once the fur/hair mix is complete, McKnight hand stacks a neat bundle and flares it on the point side of the jig hook. While the finished product may at first resemble a spun hair body, its texture and shape are confined to only the point side of the hook. McKnight repeats the flaring process up the shank all the way to the eyes, leaving a one-sided fluff ball just waiting to be carved into a crab sculpture.
After spending a ridiculous amount of time trimming every hair into a perfectly shaped crab shell, you’re ready for the arts and crafts portion of your endeavor. Using a bit of olive and black micro Velvet Chenille, a precut set of Cohen’s Crab Claws, and a healthy gob of Zap Goo to create the legs, eyes, and claws, McKnight’s pattern takes shape quickly. You finish it off with a thin piece of Furry Foam to cover the guts of the construction and better replicate the lighter underbelly of the crab, then get out your markers and add some color and mottling to the claws and legs.
The pattern I’ve tied here uses natural and dyed olive spinning deer hair mixed with the fur from an olive variant rabbit strip. I can easily see how simple it’d be to throw in a bit of blue or orange as a speckling highlight or mix up a nice batch of natural, tan, white, and even yellow deer and rabbit to create a pattern more at home in Mexico. This technique provides endless options for variations, and creates a need for this fly in a rainbow of colors and a range of sizes . . . along with a plane ticket and some casting practice.