Permit are without a doubt one of the hardest fish to catch on a fly. I have fished for permit about forty days in the last eight years and have landed five of the little bastards. Del Brown has over five hundred permit to his name, most of them on his Merkin. His fly, also known as Del’s Permit Fly, has accounted for more fly caught permit than any other pattern. The design and fishing technique developed with this fly revolutionized fly fishing for permit over the past fifteen years or so. While the Merkin is not the most realistic crab pattern available, what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in action. The Merkin doesn’t so much look like a crab as it ACTS like a crab. The lead eye placement and soft yarn body allow the fly to drop to the bottom much like the real thing. I have never personally had a permit pick a fly up off the bottom but instead have had the fly instantly inhaled as it droppped through the water by several of the permit I’ve caught. The attitude of the Merkin as it drops through the water column must look very ‘crabby’ to the fish, as they attack it with gusto. At least, sometimes…
I believe the Merkin profile also crosses over for a Mantis Shrimp as well in some instances.
The Merkin is not a hard fly to tie. It can be a bit time consuming, but basic tying skills are all that are required. I tie most of my Merkins with an all tan yarn body, but also tie some up with alternating bands of brown and tan, olive and brown or even cream and tan, depending on the bottom coloration of the area I’m fishing. I also freely change the colors of the tail feathers with whatever is handy or most available. I like furnace brown, cree and barred ginger but have also used dyed grizzly feathers and plain white on light colored patterns. Pay close attention to how the legs are tied in. A true square knot is required to position the legs at right angles to the hook shank. Sometimes I will simply tie a single overhand knot in the legs around the hook shank and pull it down tight. I then add a drop of superglue to the knot and call it good. This little cheater method may save you a few headaches.
There are many variations on the Merkin body shape. It seems Del liked to use a Colorado spinner blade as a pattern to trim his flies. Dels flies have a definite wedge shape to them and are quite long. I tend to trim mine slightly more roundish but I try not to stray too far from the Original, I mean, the guy has caught five hundred permit for Pete’s
Hook: TMC 811S #1/0-6
Thread: Chartreuse Flat Waxed Nylon
Eyes: Plated Lead Eyes
Tail: Cree, Brown or Barred Ginger Neck Hackle
Flash: Pearl Flashabou
Body: Tan Craft Yarn
Legs: Square White Rubber Legs, tips colored with red marker
Attach thread behind eye and wrap a thread base back to the bend. Return thread to about two eye lengths behind the eye and tie in a set of plated lead eyes.
Start by wrapping over the hook and eyes from back to front with six or eight turns.
Continue attaching the eyes by making six or eight more turns going from front to back. Try to spread the wraps across the span between the eyes to really secure them.
Post around the bottom of the eyes as you would post a parachute style wing. Wrap around the base of the eyes only, not around the hook. Make six or eight tight wraps here also.
Detail of Posting, step 2.
Detail of posting, step 3.
Detail of posting, step 4.
Move the thread back to the hook point.
Prepare four neck hackle feathers and match them for length and width. Oppose the curve of the feathers so they are two on a side and outside to outside.
Measure the feathers against the shank so they are just slightly longer than the hook. Cut the feathers to this length.
Strip the butts of all four feathers exposing the quill for about one hook eye length. Lay the feathers against the shank directly above the hook point.
Tie the feathers in on the top of the shank. Try to keep the quills laying four across the top of the shank. That is, each quill should be parallel to and touching the next with no crossing or twisting.
Pull up on the tail assembly as you wrap back over the stripped quills. Hold the feathers slightly to the near side of the hook as you wrap to let the thread center the feathers on top of the shank. Wrap over the feathers all the way back to the hook bend. Make sure the tails are both centered on the top of the hook and evenly splayed.
Attach in three strands of pearl flashabou by tying them in, with a couple turns of thread at the center of their length, in front of the tail.
Pull the front end of the flash back over the tail…
…and tie it all down to the base of the tails.
Trim the flash in irregular lengths near the end of the tails.
Move the thread to the base of the tails. Cut several pieces of craft yarn to a length of about two inches. Tie in one piece at the base of the tails like you would with a spinner wing. Wrap two turns directly over the top of one another from the back to the front…
…then make two more turns from the front to the back, forming an X.
Make one turn to move the thread to the front edge of the yarn strand and repeat the process with another strand.
Continue tying in strands of yarn all the way up the shank to just behind the lead eyes.
Bring the thread to the front of the lead eyes by crossing them on the bottom. Build a smooth thread head and whip finish.
Remove the fly from the vise and hold it in your fingers for trimming. Make one cut up each side from the edges of the lead eyes toward the tails, forming a wedge shape.
Make another cut on each side, rounding the back end of the body toward the tails.
Round the sharp corners off the body.
Place the hook back in the vise with the hook point up.
Stretch a piece of rubber leg material across the top of the fly between the yarn strands near the bend.
Slide the rubber leg under the hook taking care not to trap any yarn fibers as you go.
Tie an overhand knot in the rubber leg and pull it down tight to the hook.
Tie another overhand knot in the same strand, forming a square knot. This is not a double overhand, but a true square knot. Double overhand knots cause the legs to lie parallel to the hook shank. A square knot will position the legs at right angles to the shank. Pay close attention to the pictures for the directions of the knot. Youll see that the first overhand brings the strand from the left under the strand on the right when viewed from the back of the hook. The second overhand brings the right strand under the left. It seems confusing and is quite counterintuitive but is necessary to position the legs correctly.
Continue knotting strands of rubber legs up the shank in evenly spaced intervals.
Color a wide red band on the rubber legs about a half-inch out from the edge of the body. Stretch the legs as you apply the marker and roll the marker tip along the legs.
Cut the rubber legs in the middle of the colored band so their tips are red. This method is much easier than trying to cut them first and color the loose end.
Finished fly, top view. Notice the length and spacing of the legs, the length of the tail and the overall shape of the body.
Finished fly, side view. Notice how thin the body is.