Mantis Shrimp Fly

Tie a buggy-profile mantis shrimp imitation to fool big bonefish.

I grew up devouring fly-fishing books and was especially fond of the flies created by Roderick Haig Brown, Letcher Lambuth, Wes Drain, Syd Glasso, Polly Rosborough, Walt Johnson, Harry Lemire, Les Johnson and most everything in the templates in any of Trey Combs’ all-encompassing steelhead books. Even though I spend my time now chasing and guiding for monster Hawaiian bonefish, I grew up in steelhead country. What does steelheading have to do with bonefishing? Well, in fly development, I gravitated early to the great steelhead tiers of Washington, British Columbia and Oregon. I was really drawn to those “buggy” looking flies, flies tied with natural materials that pulsated and breathed. I love palmered hackles, egg sack splashes and tails with segmentation. This love of natural materials kept me away from Krystal flash and other shiny stuff. I still sneak in a strand here or there on some patterns, but for big Hawaiian bonefish I try to stay close to the colors of nature, the colors of our flats.

Mantis Inspiration

As many tiers have mentioned, most flies we see today are directly related to something someone else tied. We change some color, we move the legs around, and we might even flip the fly upside down so it rides point up. But its base is in another fly that caught our eye, and we modified and or copied it with our own flair. That is where we must “man up” and be honest with those around us and give credit where credit is due.

Through stomach samples, I realized that 90 percent of our giant Hawaiian bonefish’s (Albula glossodonta, Hawaiian record is 18.4 pounds) diet was mantis shrimp, and I became real serious about developing an imitation. Using input from Tim Borski, Enrico Puglisi and Aaron Adams on silhouette and movement, borrowing ideas like the orange butt on the Chico Fernandez snapping shrimp and the rubber leg concepts used by Clayton Yee, and influenced by the book Tying and Fishing the Fuzzy Nymphs by Oregon’s legendary Polly Rosborough, I had the base for a hell of a mantis shrimp pattern. After a few different versions, I ended up with what you see here, the Spam and Eggs, a fly that I call my own and hand to my clients daily here in Hawaii.

Savage Stomatopod

Now, for those of you who don’t know what a mantis shrimp is, do yourself a favor and do a little research on the critter. Mantis shrimp are faster than lightning, meaner than a rattlesnake, tougher than woodpecker lips and smarter than the bonefish that eats them, and they have the best eyesight on planet Earth. This member of the stomatopod (lobster) family is hell on wheels, a killing machine with intelligence. If these guys got any bigger we’d never stick a big toe in the ocean. They are segmented, have numerous legs and come in every color imaginable. There are 17 species in Hawaiian waters, with only three being endemic; the ciliated mantis and Philippine mantis (stabber and puncher, respectfully) are probably the most common.

You can tie the Spam and Eggs fly in a variety of colors for various situations. For me, I use it in tan, dark brown and EP Backcountry depending on the bottom. The one pictured here is deadly on sandy bottoms. Fish this fly with long, slow strips — doing so will allow the fly to move just like the mantis shrimp does. When a bonefish wants to eat it, it will rush the fly and there will be no question on whether or not the fish ate it.

MATERIALS:

HOOK: Gamakatsu SL11-3H hook

THREAD: Danville .006 fine monofilament tying thread

TAIL: Tan EP Fibers

BODY: Tan Hareline Dubbin Polar Dub; Howard saddle hackle

EGG SACK: Burnt orange Finnish Raccoon

LEGS: Sand Hareline Dubbin Loco Legs

EYES: Tungsten predator eyes

WEED GUARD: 30-pound mono

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Editor's Note: I've always believed that the best flies for big bonefish are those that have some kind of rubber legs and, most importantly, are super buggy.
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1) Start the thread at the eye of the hook and wrap mono thread to the bend of the hook. Grab a pencil-diameter bunch of tan EP Fibers and tie in as the tail. Bar the tail with a brown Sharpie and move toward the eye two turns. Turn the fly upside down with hook point up. Select a small clump of burnt orange Finnish Raccoon and pull out guard hairs. Tie in the clump at the bend of the hook to represent the egg sack.
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2) Tie in the tip of a Howard Hackle saddle dyed tan, and wrap the thread all the way to the eye of the hook.
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3) Apply a small bit of dubbing wax to the thread and take a small clump of tan Hareline Dubbin Polar Dub and lightly and evenly apply it to the thread. Wrap the dubbed thread toward the hook point and stop at the bend in front of the egg sack. Wind the thread back down the shank in order to segment the body.
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4) Grab the bottom of the feather and palmer it forward all the way up the body. Without crowding the eye, bring the thread back and tie off the hackle.
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5) Take three rubber legs and lay them over the top of the hook. Tie the legs in using figure-eight wraps, and leave equal lengths of legs hanging over each side.
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6) Take a small set of tungsten predator eyes (or bead chain for lighter variations) and tie in the eyes using figure-eight wraps on top of the rubber legs. Flip the hook over, and trim the legs so they splay out like a spider, which will give the fly great action in current. Take one small length of 30-pound mono with the curve bending toward the hook point, and tie it in using figure-eight wraps to form a spike-style weed guard. Trim the guard to match the height of the hook point.