The Clouser Minnow was a gateway fly for me. When I was just starting my fly fishing and tying journey way back in the day of 2009, this was one of the first flies that I tied to terrorize the local smallmouth. The fly was simple and quick to tie and it sank really well. It also forced me to learn how to cast a fly that was nearly heavy enough to be thrown on an ultra-light spinning rod. The classic bucktail version was what I fished for many many moons and still do, but I have, over the years, changed up what materials I used and how to tie them.
The first thing I’ll say is get Bob Clouser’s books. Both of them. The first one for the angling point of view is Fly Fishing for Smallmouth and for the tying portion Clouser Flies is terrific. As the developer of the clouser fly, what all slender lead eyed flies are based on, his perspective is invaluable. So if you haven’t picked up either book I recommend both whole heartedly. They were instrumental to my fly fishing and tying journey.
So let’s break down what a Clouser Minnow is made out of. Simply the fly could be tied with 4 materials if need be. That would be hook, eyes, thread, and a wing/body material. You can add flash or tinsel, you can add rubber or silicone legs, and you could add extra materials for tails and wings or mix and match different colors. The most popular material by a long shot would be bucktail. This is what the classic and the classic variants used. The reason why it was used to begin with was at the time of development of the fly quality bucktail wasn’t as hard to get as it is now, the synthetic materials available weren’t as plentiful, and bucktail looks really really good wet. When wet, the fibers soften up and flow like long hair in a swimming pool. It really blows people’s minds when they see it in action either on the water or when it’s in a demo tank at a show or fly shop.
The next most popular material would be some kind of synthetic. There are dozens of different fibers out there, but some just differ by name, not in actual material. For me craft fur is most used after bucktail when talking about freshwater clousers. Craft fur is much softer than bucktail and has a tendency to foul around the bend of the hook. So if you use craft fur or any other synthetic bring a small comb with you to help realign the fibers. The benefit to craft fur or any other synthetic is the wide range of color options you have and the consistency of those colors. Bucktails are a natural product so technically every time you dye a tail you could have a different result as far as texture or color is concerned. My other favorite material is SF Blend. It comes in about 50ish different colors. The colors are vibrant and hold their saturation in the water. The other reason I like this material is the fact that it has flash already blended into the fiber. So adding flash to the fly isn’t really necessary. The last material I use often would be some kind of ploy yarn like EP Fiber or Congo Hair. There are tons of poly fiber out there and they all come in different blends and colors, with and without flash. This stuff is durable and looks great. It comes in some crazy long hanks if you want to tie big flies as well. Poly fiber doesn’t really flow like anything else mentioned above, but it does hold its shape well. The biggest issue with any poly fiber, for me, is the knotting. The fibers will tangle and knot so badly especially if you encounter a tooth fish. A comb in a must with this material.
Now why has this fly become ubiquitous with saltwater fly fishing and smallmouth fly fishing? I think for a couple of reasons in particular. First the fact that this fly rides hook point up. The eyes, if heavy enough relative to the hook weight, will flip the hook to ride hook point up. This creates a weed/snag resistant fly that still allows lots of hook ups. Another reason that this fly has swept through the fly fishing world is the jigging action it gives when retrieved. The jig is the single number one producing lure in the world so it makes sense the clouser is stealing a little bit of that thunder. Lastly, I think the silhouette is a huge factor. It has a perfect bite size baitfish profile. It’s slim, and flowy. It has big eyes and a hook by the head. It has all the factors of a good baitfish fly.
Bob Clouser developed this fly to specifically fish the deep ancient bedrock channels and pools in his local Pennsylvania rivers for smallmouth. The heavy eyes and even using a sinking line helped get this fly where most fly anglers could never before. His go to colors are the classics: white and chartreuse, yellow and chartreuse, white and olive, all white, and brown and orange. For me those colors are staples as well, but I have a few stand out colors for smallmouth: white and chartreuse, yellow and chartreuse, white and olive, chartreuse and orange, yellow and brown, and gray and purple. And for rockfish and lingcod I like white and chartreuse, yellow and chartreuse, white and olive, all white, black and white, white and purple, white and brown, white and blue, orange and olive, gray and black, and many more.
If you weren’t already tying or fishing clousers I hope I could convince you with this article. The fly is a perfect beginner streamer for guys just getting into salt or warmwater fishing. Bass love them, they can be tyed to look like shrimp, they can be mega sized for pike, coho and chinook crush them, and people catch browns and bows on them all the time. Don’t turn your nose up to the humble “simple” clouser, it’s a great fly that deserves way more fan fare than it gets.
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