The sand crab, also known as the Pacific mole crab (Emerita analoga), is common along the sandy beach environment of the U.S. West Coast. They can be found from Alaska down to the Southern Hemisphere. Sand crabs mostly live in the “swash zone” of the beach, but this area varies with each tidal change and affects the exact locations of their colonies.
Sand crabs are small, and they can range from gray to a sandy color. They don’t have claws or spines. They do molt during the year, and their empty shells wash up along the beaches. Like all crabs, immediately after molting their new shells are soft, making them a primary target for barred surf perch. Female sand crabs are larger than the males, and at certain times of the year, they also carry a cluster of bright-orange eggs on the undersides of their bodies. When gravid they are most commonly found in the lower section of the tidal zone.
Sand crabs usually occur in large numbers in late spring and early summer. The rippling effect seen on the surface of the sand as the water ebbs identifies their colonies. You will also see a variety of birds feeding on them. Scientists suggest that the sand crab makes up 90 percent of the surf perch’s diet, and it’s a favorite of the California corbina as well. I have also taken bonefish in Belize and Christmas Island with variations of this fly.
Having fished in the surf zone for three decades, I have tied a variety of surf patterns, including several sand crab flies (visit www.fliesunlimited.com for a listing of my preferred patterns). In my early days, I tied most of my sand crabs with deer hair and coated them with a layer of epoxy to form the shell. I’ve been using llama hair for four years now, and I prefer it by far. At first, I tied the hair in a linear form but couldn’t get the results I wanted, so I tried using a llama hair dubbing brush to make the body. After trial and error, I finally came up with this crab pattern.
I use the sand crab as a dropper fly rather than a point fly. I fish it attached to a three-way swivel with a 3-inch piece of stiff monofilament, which keeps the fly from fouling around the leader.
Step 1: Attach the thread at the midpoint on the shank. Tie in the hot-orange cactus chenille and wrap it back to the bend of the hook and then back toward the tie-in point. Tie off and cut excess material. This forms the egg sac.
Step 2:** Tie in the llama hair dubbing brush in front of the egg sac. Before wrapping the brush forward, comb the hair so that it looks like a bottle brush. Start wrapping it forward, combing each wrap backward; this will avoid wrapping the hair on top of itself. Just behind the eye of the hook, tie off and trim. Tip: Use a pair of old scissors when cutting the stainless-steel wire brush.
Step 3:** With the llama brush tied in, make sure that the hair remains flared. Now trim off the bottom section of hair, leaving only the top portion. Reattach the thread with four or five turns at the rear of the fly, just behind the egg sac. Gather the hair together and make it as tight as possible, then pull to the rear of the fly. Tie off with four or five wraps of thread and then whip-finish. Apply a drop of cement to the wrappings.
Step 4:** Attach the thread to the front of the fly and pull the llama hair
forward. Before tying down the hair, take a bodkin and pull out a small tuft to form the tail. Now tie down the material right behind the eye of the hook. Pull the hair up and make four turns at the base of the llama hair in front of the hair, flaring out the tuft of hair at a 45-degree angle.
Step 5:** To form the legs, use a bodkin to pick out two tufts of hair on each side of the body. Wrap thread several times behind the tufts and then in front of them, then secure and whip-finish. Apply a drop of cement to the thread wrappings. Trim the front portion of the hair with a straight cut and cut the legs to about 1¼2 inch in length.
|Hook: #6 up to 1/0 Gamakatsu SC 15 Thread: Hot-orange prewaxed Danville’s Egg Case: Hot-orange cactus chenille Underbody: Gray llama hair dubbing brush Carapace: Gray llama hair dubbing brush