The Remarkable Clouser Deep Minnow
Originally designed to fool smallmouth bass, the clouser is equally at home in the surf, inshore, offshore, and in the backcountry.
I recently asked Captain Robby Barradale of the Bayshore Saltwater Flyrodders what he thought about the Clouser Deep Minnow, and he replied fondly, “Ah, the Clouser; it’s a must-have pattern in any fly box because it catches fish so well.” Originally designed to fool smallmouth bass, it’s equally at home in the surf, inshore, offshore, and in the back country. Simply put, the Clouser has caught just about every gamefish that swims.
Captain Brian Horsley of Outer Banks Fly Fishing summed up the fly’s popularity this way. “Bob Clouser’s Deep Minnow opened new worlds for fly-fishermen all over the world. This fly is simple to tie and is the first fly that most saltwater fly-fishermen learn to tie. It is easy to adjust colors and sizes so the angler can target a wide variety of fish. In the saltwater world, fish from croakers to roosterfish have all fallen to Bob’s fly.”
How the Clouser Deep Minnow came to be is an interesting story. Back in the mid 1980s, Tom Schmuecker of the Wapsi Fly Company, and Bob Clouser, a Susquehanna River guide and tackle shop owner, were traveling on parallel courses, trying to get streamer flies to run deeper; Schmuecker for big trout, Clouser for his beloved smallmouth bass. Tom started with bead chain for eyes, but found them to be too light, so he added lead to the hollow beads. He then realized that was too time-consuming and eventually developed a mold to cast lead dumbbell-shaped eyes that could be lashed to a hook shank. Meanwhile, Bob had been experimenting with small lead split-shot weights, but found them hard to keep tied to the hook. When Bob saw Tom’s lead eyes, he knew they were the answer he was looking for, and after some further fooling around and experimentation, the Clouser Deep Minnow was born. It’s become a must-have fly all around the world and is popularly known as “the Clouser.”
The Deep Minnow is a great spring opener. Peter Jenkins of The Saltwater Edge in Rhode Island starts off the early summer window for striped bass with a standard chartreuse Clouser tied in a thin sand eel-style profile. He fishes it close to a sandy bottom, and says, “It’s a great flats fly, and I bounce the bottom for a very realistic retrieve that imitates the natural movement of a live sand eel.”
I also consider the Deep Minnow one of the most versatile flies for back-country fishing in mid-Atlantic marshes, creeks and bays, and even down south in Florida’s mangroves and grass flats. I have one fly box on my skiff dedicated just to Clousers in many combinations of colors and eye (weight) sizes, tied both full and sparse.
It would be a tough job to find a fly-tyer, salt or fresh, who doesn’t know how to tie a basic Deep Minnow, but surprisingly many of us don’t tie the Clouser correctly. Professional fly-tyer Brad Buzzi of BuzzFly Products offers this advice, “The eyes should be set at one-third of the hook length, about midway between the eye and hook point. It’s a key part of Bob Clouser’s design, and it helps the fly run flatter. It’s also important to correctly make the “sled” on the underside of the fly, which helps it bounce over rough bottom and still remain relatively weedless.”
“When you attach your top and bottom bucktail in front of the dumbbell eyes, your thread should be tied on from half way between the hook eye and the front of the dumbbell eye. This forces you to form a gap that looks somewhat like what I call the ‘sled.’ It also keeps the head space small and tapered.”
For durability, Brad suggests that the front thread wraps and the bottom of the fly (including the open space created by the sled) be coated with head cement, epoxy or UV glue like Solarez. “This will add durability to your fly and help the front of the fly bounce over any potential snags,” he says.
Most professional tyers (and the best guides and captains) prefer tying the Clouser very sparse, and a thinly tied Deep Minnow is a go-to fly for many albie addicts. As Brad Buzzi says, “Less is more,” and tens of thousands of albie flyrodders from Cape Fear to Cape Cod agree, and so do many flyrodders that ply the surf.
Perhaps more so than any other fly, Bob Clouser’s ubiquitous fly pattern has been tweaked, tuned and “improved” by a legion of freshwater and saltwater fly-fishers, and there are several modifications that can be employed to tune a Clouser to specific fishing situations. In cloudy back-bay waters of spring and early summer, I like to tie a much fuller top wing because the added bulk offers greater visibility and pushes more water. I also move the eye position to get different actions. I tie most of my Clousers with the eye positioned about midway between the hook point and the hook eye, but I also tie some with the hook very close to the eye, leaving just enough space to lash the bucktail and make a neat head shape. This alters the swimming motion to create a more enhanced up-and-down diving and jigging action that works really well around docks and bridges, and along channel edges. I prefer the standard hook position for shallow areas and grass flats.
Robby Barradale uses a unique modification when he’s fishing the quick currents found in the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers for fluke, striped bass and weakies. He ties a Clouser in tan-and-brown over white on a 2/0 to 1/0 hook, and adds a wrap or two of root-beer chenille in front of the eyes. He says, “The overall tie is short, only about 2 to 3 inches. I think it resembles a weird crab or shrimp, and the chenille head pushes water, sending out vibrations to draw fish in. I’m not sure if there’s scientific reasoning behind this, but it works!”
Besides tying Clousers with different-size eyes to vary the weight – the lightest being bead chain eyes for small bonefish, shad and panfish size flies, and lead, tungsten or brass eyes in several diameters and weights being the heaviest—Harold Eckett of NJ Saltwater Flies has been using a method he picked up from Theo Bakelaar, an internationally-acclaimed tyer from the Netherlands. Theo was visiting the U.S. and attended the Atlantic Saltwater Flyrodders Fall Classic at Island Beach State Park, where he demonstrated his designs and tying skills.
Eckett ties in a piece of mono along the hook shank facing aft and continues to tie the Clouser tail and wings as usual. His final step is to add beads to the mono, then he bends this forward and lashes it to the head of the fly. Harold says, “When tying smaller Clousers on size 2/0 hooks, the beads not only add weight, but the fly has some extra flash. On the retrieve, when the fly stops at the end of each line strip, the beads collide together and make a clicking sound, just like live shrimp do.”
He began using the bead-clicking Clousers in the surf at Sandy Hook as a way to go deeper and get in the strike zone. “On a few occasions fishing the back of Barnegat Bay,” he says, “I tied up Clousers in olive over white on Mustad 34007 1/0 hooks with blood-red beads, and this stirred up a lot of action.” The color of the beads can be varied to gold, silver, or any other color to enhance the visual appeal of the fly.
Like most any fly, the Deep Minnow can be retrieved in a limitless dance of steady or wildly erratic styles—whatever it takes to get a bite is what works. Bob Clouser’s original retrieve method is based on a snappy little tweak at the end of the strip that he calls the Susquehanna Strip. In his book Clouser’s Flies he writes, “This technique accelerates and pauses the fly during the retrieve so that when stripped back, it darts like a fleeing baitfish. With this technique, strikes increase tenfold over a steady stripping retrieve. Cast, and when the fly hits the water, drop the rod tip down to 6 inches from the water and make a long strip of 3 to 4 feet. As you start the strip, bring your arm back along your side. When your hand reaches your leg, quickly turn your thumb rearward to accelerate the strip. Ending the strip with a speed-up-and-stop maneuver portrays the erratic escaping movements of a scared baitfish. It’s important to remember that even when the strip action stops, the fly doesn’t. The weight of the eyes causes the fly to dive downward. The strike usually comes at the end of the dive just as the next strip begins.”
Rick Ferrin of Long Island is a switch-hitter and uses either a two-handed rapid strip or a long and quick single-hand pull. “For albies, however, I use only short pulls of about a foot. At Montauk, I often don’t add much action at all to the fly. The most important thing is to get it into the surface-crashing bass or albies. If you’re in the mass of fish, they’ll hit it and you don’t need a lot of retrieve action.”
When fishing a Clouser tight to structure, a short twitch retrieve of only six inches or so on every pull may be best because it keeps the fly in the visual feeding zone of the fish for a longer time compared to a long pull that quickly darts the fly out of sight of the bass.
Speaking of visual appearance, Bob Clouser’s original tying recipe calls for a few strands of flash beneath the bucktail of the top wing. Robby Barradale goes a step further and ties some Clousers with Steve Farrar’s Flashbend material, and this lights up the fly. There are many other flashy materials to choose from, although traditional bucktail is always in style.
While the Deep Minnow can be tied in color and length combinations to imitate a wide field of baits, its ability to represent a sand eel is essential to many fly guys. Barradale likes all-white as his basic color, followed by olive over white for sand eels and gray over white for spearing.
No discussion of the Clouser Deep Minnow would be complete without a mention of the Half and Half fly, a partnership of materials and design qualities that marries a Lefty’s Deceiver with the Deep Minnow. It’s a dependable fly all along the coast, especially to represent bigger baits. Peter Jenkins says, “In bigger water, I use a bigger and heavier Half and Half version of the Clouser and tie the hackles splayed like a Keys tarpon fly, which enhances the profile and movement. In June, I use a rusty tan color to imitate squid; otherwise, it’s a big chartreuse on a 3/0 for chuck-and-duck casting in the rips.”
Versatility, a proven reputation, and simple to tie. It’s no wonder Bob Clouser’s Deep Minnow is so popular.
4 on “The Remarkable Clouser Deep Minnow”
Capt Vinny Catalano
Good Morning Pete, Very nice article on the clouser… I just wanted to bring to your attention and anyone else that is reading this piece that the photo at the headline of your article was taken by me on the pointy end of my skiff, I see you mention some guides/fly fisherman but zero credit to a very awesome fish that we caught and released that day on Fly.
Capt Vinny Catalano
Great article, Pete. Pretty sure we both were members of the Atlantic Saltwater Flyrodders, along with Steve Farrar and Brad Buzzi ( mentioned in your article) , where Bob Clouser had demonstrated tying his Deep Minnow sometime back in the 90’s. It bares mentioning that my first introduction to saltwater fly fishing was attending a seminar you hosted with Bob Orrok at the Kings Grant Inn in Point Pleasant NJ ( 1980 ?). I believe it was seminar speaker John Kay who spoke of catching small makos on fly. The next day I went down to Mike Trailes and the original location of the Mud Hole rodbuilding supply house in Toms River and built my first fly rod. Thanks for the article and thanks for the kick start to a long relationship with the salt whip !
If you plan to buy from Brad Buzzi of Buzzfly be prepared to wait forever to get your order fulfilled. Also he does not respond to phone calls or e-mails promptly. That being said his toys are well made & really in-expensive! Best advice buy at a show.
Correction Flys not toys. Sorry
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