During the winter months many fly-fishers head south to pursue bonefish. Destinations such as Cuba, Christmas Island, the Yucatan, Belize, Florida, the Bahamas and even Hawaii are popular haunts to introduce yourself to a fish known affectionately as the, “Ghost of the Flats”.
Crazy Charlie style patterns suggesting small crustaceans such as crab and shrimp are popular choices for the saltwater fly box. The basic Crazy Charlie style has spawned countless variations. One of the best is Kenzie Cuthbert’s Eyes-n-Tubes Bone Collector, a simple pattern that possesses a critical quality. Like a falling cat, Kenzie’s Bone Collector always lands on its feet or, perhaps more accurately, its eyes. No matter the depth, Kenzie’s pattern flips over in an instant providing a perfect presentation, even on skinny shallow flats. The materials Kenzie blends into his simple, yet deadly, pattern breathe and move in even the most subtle of currents, suggesting life and convincing the wiliest of bonefish they are staring at the juiciest crab or shrimp they have seen in a while.
The eyes on bonefish patterns serve two primary purposes: suggestion of the stalk mounted eyes common on many shrimp and crab species and the weight to get the fly on the bottom where bonefish root out and hunt their prey. There must be a balance of eye choice and weight for the conditions. Patterns must sink quickly while landing with an element of stealth. Heavy patterns in the shallows, for example, sink quickly but can announce their arrival with a fish-spooking splash. Conversely, a fly with smaller lightweight eyes may take too long to sink in deeper water for a cruising bonefish to see and intercept. Most saltwater fly boxes feature a simple selection of pattern types tied in a variety of colors using two or three different weight classes to match all potential presentation challenges.
Dumbbell or bead chain eyes have been a saltwater pattern staples for years. These eye styles sink fast and look the part. Their drawback is they don’t always allow the fly to right itself in time to land properly and realistically on the bottom, particularly if the eyes haven’t been mounted properly. Patterns landing on their sides often require a quick tug to assume the correct posture, an action that might appear unnatural and spook a large wary bonefish or permit.
It is important to secure bead chain or dumbbell eyes correctly. Mounting the eyes on top of the shank is critical to how the fly behaves and performs in the water. As the eyes now form the heaviest point on the fly, offsetting the mass of the hook bend and point, gravity takes over and flips the fly on its back.
Begin by lashing the eyes in place on top of the shank using figure-eight wraps. Once the eyes are figure-eight wrapped into position. Adding a number of horizontal circular thread turns between the eyes and the hook shank further tightens the initial wraps. A drop of superglue provides final reinforcement. Prior to applying the final adhesive, tune the eyed hook by placing it upside down on a smooth surface. Apply pressure to ensure the eyes are mounted square and perpendicular to the hook shank. This practice keeps the pattern landing true more often than not.
Designed by Cowichan River Guide Kenzie Cuthburt, Eyes-n-Tubes are an excellent eye choice for saltwater patterns, either barbell or the more realistic looking Y-style. The Y-style Eyes-n-Tubes are my preferred choice for patterns intended to skip and scurry across the bottom, be it a sandy bonefish flat or marl bottom on a favorite lake. The tungsten-based eyes are smaller for the same weight than their bead chain or dumbbell counterparts. Mounted on a pair of clear plastic stems, Y-style Eyes-n-Tubes are a perfect blend of function and imitation. Available in three colors, black, red and gunmetal grey, Y-style Eyes-n-Tubes compliment the natural look our flies are often designed to represent.
As with dumbbell or bead chain eyes, Eyes-n-Tubes are placed onto the hook during the initial phases of fly construction, prior to attaching the thread. They can be mounted in either direction, aft for shrimp or crab imitations, facing forward for dragon or stonefly nymphs. Mounted on a jig hook, Eyes-n-Tubes can also be used for balanced flies. Once the eyes have been slid onto the shank, secure them in place as the tying sequence for the pattern dictates. Y-style Eyes-n-Tubes have an acute angle to them and this angle is critical to bottom crawling flies rolling over and landing properly. Taking into account that the tungsten eyes of the Eyes-n-Tubes invert the fly, the acute angle must run away or hang the eyes down from the hook shank, opposite to the hook bend and point, forming a tripod effect with the hook eye.
Although you might not have the opportunity to fly fish tropical flats, the concept behind Kenzie’s Eyes-n-Tubes Bone Collector is unique. Consider blending Kenzie’s tying practices and products into other pattern styles, dragonfly or stonefly nymphs in particular. Crawling a dragonfly nymph across the path of a foraging trout may not have the same warm atmosphere of tropical fishing but watching a large stillwater trout engulf your fly right before your eyes does have its own charm and excitement.
Hook: Standard Shank, Stainless Steel Saltwater #4 – #6 Thread: Olive 6/0 or 8/0 Antenna: Root Beer Crystal Flash Legs: Olive/Black Sili Legs Butt: Gold Mylar Eyes: Black, Size 2.4 gr, 20mm length, Eyes-n-Tubes “Y” Tube Eyes Body: Olive Polar Chenille Wing: Tan Pseudo Hair or Craft Fur
Tying Note: This pattern also works well in white and pink
Slide the Eyes-n-Tubes “Y” tube onto the hook and push them forward to the hook eye. Place the hook into the vise. Attach the tying thread in front of the hook bend and secure back down approximately one quarter into the bend. Use neat thread wraps to form a flat foundation. Return the tying thread to the original tie-in point.
Tie in two strands of Crystal Flash to represent antenna, on top of the shank down into the bend. Secure in two strands of Sili Legs down the sides of the hook into the bend so they splay out and up from the hook and that there is at least a shank length of material protruding forward out over the hook eye. Trim the Sili Legs trailing behind the hook so they are approximately twice the shank length. Leave the tag ends protruding forward of the tie-in point. They will be trimmed later. Return the tying thread to the original tie-in point at the rear of the shank. Form a neat thread base using even wraps when securing the Crystal Flash and Sili Legs.
Tie in a length of Mylar at the rear of the shank. Wind the Mylar down into the bend covering the thread wraps so the gold side faces out. Once the thread wraps are covered wind the Mylar back up to the original tie-in point. Tie off and remove the excess.
Tuck the Sili Legs that are pointing forward down and secure them in place on either side of the hook shank. Push the Eyes-n-Tubes back tight against the Mylar butt the forward pointing Sili Legs. Make sure the tungsten eyes rise up above the hook shank so the pattern lands correctly, hook point up. Remember the fly fishes inverted. Secure the Eyes-n-Tubes in place at the rear of the shank. Form a slender tapered thread base to the hook eye. Cover the thread wraps with super glue for added durability and to further secure the Eyes-n-Tubes in place. Tie in the Polar Chenille directly in front of the eyes.
Form the body by winding the Polar Chenille forward using touching turns. Stroke the fibers back after each wrap so they flow back. Tie off the Polar Chenille roughly two hook-eye widths back from the hook eye and remove the excess.
Tie in the wing at the hook eye. Trim the butts at the tie-in point on an angle to aid the formation of a neat tapered head. The finished wing should be roughly twice the shank length. For maximum motion in the water keep the wing sparse.
Cover the wing butts with thread to form a neat tapered head. Whip finish and apply head cement. Use a permanent marker to bar the wing. Trim the tag ends of the Sili Legs to length, no more than shank length.