Learning about the history of a fly and its originator gives the fly its soul. In the case of the Toad, probably one of the most significant tarpon flies to come along in the past 50 years, I’ve looked back at its roots and have attempted to uncover its pedigree.
Before we can begin, we must look back at two gentlemen who provided the inspiration that allowed the Toad to come into being, Del Brown and Capt. Harry Spear. The late Del Brown was a famous permit angler from California, spending the majority of his guided days pursuing these wary game fish. Del designed a fly called the Merkin, which was originally tied from rug yarn, feathers, rubber bands and lead eyes. The Merkin was designed sink hook point up, straight to the bottom resembling a crab. Del’s technique of tying single pieces of yarn one at a time, perpendicular to the shank, and trimming the yarn to resemble a crab body was an innovative concept that opened the door to many flies.
Well-known Florida guide, fly tier and boatbuilder Capt. Harry Spear began altering his Merkins to be more of a swimming fly than a diving one. While reviewing the stomach contents of a large bonefish one day, Harry noticed toadfish inside. He attempted to mimic this small fish by elongating a Merkin, eliminating its legs and tying the lead eyes on the underside of the shank so it would swim hook down. Harry appropriately named the fly the Tasty Toad. It was much slimmer than the wider-bodied Merkin and attracted the attention of many hungry bonefish. Harry’s clients used Tasty Toads on a daily basis. Gary Merriman was one such client who took a particular interest in his guide’s creation.
Gary is an avid saltwater angler who resides in Atlanta and owns the Fish Hawk fly shop. Well aware of how deadly Del’s Merkin was on permit and how irresistible bonefish found Harry’s Tasty Toad, Gary began experimenting.
One evening, out of boredom, Gary was watching an old 3M VHS tape depicting the late Billy Pate fly-fishing for tarpon. He was drawn to some footage in the video of a traditional Stu Apte-style tarpon fly swimming underwater. He noticed that the fly bounced up and down as it swam. It was at that moment that a light went off in his head — baitfish don’t bounce. Using the Merkin and the Tasty Toad as inspiration, Gary began working on his new pattern. He wanted this fly to swim, but not sink. His original had an inverted yellow rabbit-strip tail. He then added a chartreuse marabou collar, built a flat, wide body with tan and chartreuse poly yarn, and used black plastic eyes. This fly would swim, plane, suspend like a real baitfish high in the water column and sink slowly. The fly would land soft and move naturally in the water. But would a tarpon react favorably to it?