Around thirty years ago I came into the possession of an old aluminum fly box filled with a particular style of fly tied in different colors and sizes. All of the flies appeared to have tied on dry fly hooks. The bodies were made up of the fibers of a turkey round feather wound around the hook, and they were covered with a shellback of peacock herl. A brown rooster hackle was then palmered over the body. I later discovered that the pattern was called a Crackleback. The original owner of that fly box must have thought very highly of this fly to fill an entire fly box with one pattern. The flies were tied in four or five sizes and at least a half a dozen different colors.
From my research on the Crackleback, it appears to have been developed by Ed Story in 1952. Ed Story was the founder and owner of Feather-Craft Fly Fishing out of St. Louis, he passed away in 2008. By reading the description of the original fly in the Feather-Craft catalog, it is evident that the originator thought very highly of the fly himself when he boldly states “EXPECT NEAR INSTANT SUCCESS”! With an endorsement like that, how can you go wrong?
At some point in time, a Crackleback ended up in a warm water fly box and quickly became one of my favorites for panfish. The Crackleback is a versatile fly with the ability to be fished as a dry or under the surface. The fly was designed to be fished as a dry in moving water. At the end of your drift, the fly is jerked underwater and “skipped or stripped” back to you. Originally that’s is how I fished the pattern as well for panfish. The fly would be cast to a likely spot and presented as a dry fly. If it did not take a fish right away, I would twitch it a few times to elicit a strike. If it still failed to entice a fish, I would pull the fly hard enough to submerge it and let it sink. I then would slowly bring in the fly with a hand twist retrieve.
Although very effective fished as a dry fly I noticed I had, even more, success fishing it wet. Over the years I have modified the original pattern slightly for fishing for panfish. There was nothing wrong with the original version mind you, it caught fish like nobody's business. In my panfish version, I changed the hook from a standard dry fly hook to a 3x long curved nymph hook like a Tiemco 200R. The longer hook makes it easier to remove from the fish's mouth when it is taken deeply. The nymph hook also adds a little more weight and helps the fly to sink. This change is a vast improvement since I now prefer to fish the pattern as a subsurface fly. I have also replaced the biot body with a more durable natural fur dubbed body. The dubbed body is much more durable than the biot body, and the material absorbs water allowing it to sink quicker. The final change was the addition of a small tuft of marabou as a tail. It adds a little bit of contrasting color, and I like the way it looks. If you go with the tail, just remember not to make it too long to avoid short hits. Many will argue that this fly is no longer a Crackleback and they would be right. For me, the pattern has evolved over the years into what it is now. Whatever you decide to call it yourself you will not be able to deny its effectiveness. While I can’t guarantee “near instant success” for you, I will say the pattern works for me most of the time. Give this one a try and while you are at it tie up a few of the original versions as well. You won’t be disappointed.
The Crackleback - you find the pattern recipe here.
The Panfish Crackleback - you can find the pattern recipes here.