Published Apr 23. 2024 - 3 weeks ago
Updated or edited Apr 23. 2024

Chain Gang Crayfish

We should fish crayfish imitations more than we do. Crayfish can be used to target trout, bass, carp and other species

Bead Chain Crayfish
Bead Chain Crayfish
Nick Thomas

In the UK the white-clawed crayfish is our only native species. Sadly, numbers have declined by 90% following the introduction of signal crayfish from the US in the 1970s to be farmed for food. Accidental and deliberate releases spread them to many rivers and lakes.

Signal crayfish carry the oomycete responsible for crayfish plague, which is lethal to the white-clawed natives. They have proved to be a successful invader producing large numbers of offspring and devouring pretty much anything, from aquatic plants to small invertebrates, fish and other crayfish. Our native fish eat the invaders with gusto and in some rivers and lakes the size and weight of fish has increased significantly. There’s a lot more calories in a crayfish than in native nymphs and shrimps. I guess we should fish crayfish imitations more than we do. Elsewhere in the world, particularly in the US, crayfish flies are more popular and there are many named patterns which are deployed for trout, bass, carp and other species.

Bead chain skeleton
Bead chain skeleton
Nick Thomas
Looped bead chain
Looped bead chain
Nick Thomas

The Chain Gang Crayfish gets its name from the internal armature of metal bead chain that gives shape and weight to the body. While bead chain is flexible, the individual links will only bend so far and if the chain is bent and the ends secured it forms a rigid loop. I came across this way of making chain body shapes in Jay Fullum’s book ‘Fishy’s Flies’ where he describes using a loop of chain on one side of a hook to form a crab shell.

Big claws, big eyes
Nick Thomas

To form the bead armature cut off a length of chain with an even number of beads. Place it over the hook and secure with figure of eight thread wraps around the mid-point. Bend the ends into the hook shank, tie in to form rigid loops on either side of the hook and then add further cross wraps between the beads. Tie in the eyes, whip finish and coat the thread wraps with varnish or superglue. If you want more weight in your crayfish, you can add a tungsten bead to the hook before bending the bead chain around it. I prefer to use 8/0 or thicker thread to tie in the bead chain as there can be sharp edges, particularly on the ends where it has been cut. The trick is to use soft wraps at the ends of the chain to form a cushion before adding tight wraps.

Many crayfish imitations are tied using rabbit or squirrel fur zonker strips to give an approximation of claws, the open claws of the Chain Gang are tied using knotted ribbon. To make them cut a length of organza ribbon, fold in half and tie an overhand knot. Trim the ends to equal lengths, cut a V shaped notch in each and melt the ends near a flame to stop them fraying.

The finished fly
The finished fly
Nick Thomas
Chain Gang Crayfish
Pattern type: 
Bass bug
Nick Thomas

The Chain Gang Crayfish gets its name from the internal armature of metal bead chain that gives shape and weight to the body.

Dohiku HDR #8
8/0 orange and 12/0 brown
Black plastic bead chain
1.5mm stainless bead chain
Semperfli caddis brown dirty bug yarn
Get Slotted red silli- legs
3mm brown organza ribbon
Get Slotted brown silli- legs
3mm brown organza ribbon
12mm tan organza ribbon
Skill level/difficulty: 
A little difficult
  1. Fix the hook fitted out with the chain armature and eyes in the vice and run on the brown thread behind the eyes.
  2. Tie in a length of yarn and make figure of eight wraps between the eyes and around the hook behind the eyes to form the head.
  3. Fold a length of red silli-leg around the thread and tie in behind the yarn underneath the hook.
  4. Pull the antennae forward and cover with more wraps of yarn.
  5. Tie in the yarn against the bead chain armature and remove the waste.
  6. Tie in a length of 3mm ribbon on top of the yarn just in front of the bead chain and hang it out of the way over the vice body.
  7. Wind the thread down to the hook eye.
  8. Cut a length of 12mm ribbon and melt one end near a flame.
  9. Wrap the ribbon around the hook shank, tie it in under the hook covering the hook eye to form the tail and trim away the waste.
  10. Bring the thread back up to the widest part of the body, tie in the claws on either side and trim off the waste ends.
  11. Take the thread halfway down towards the tail and tie in four strands of brown silli-legs across the top of the hook with figure of eight wraps.
  12. Pull the claws back and wind the 3mm ribbon around the head and the body in touching turns.
  13. Pull the claws and two legs on each side forward and add more overlapping wraps of ribbon.
  14. Continue wrapping the ribbon towards the tail lifting the remaining four legs and wrapping underneath.
  15. Tie in the ribbon at the base of the tail, trim off the waste, whip finish and varnish the thread wraps.

Six centimetres of crunchy crustacean
A crayfish on guard
Ready to go
Nick Thomas

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