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Adventures in Fly Tying... March 2010

The Foxee Red Clouser
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard


"The Foxee Redd Minnow is a version of the Clouser Deep Minnow that has become a staple for many species of fish.  I do not leave home without this one, and I carry it in a variety of sizes.  It has become my favorite fly for trout and carp," says Bob Clouser in his outstanding 2007 book, Fly Fishing For Smallmouth In Rivers And Streams (Stackpole Books, ISBN 0-8117-0713-5).  "The Foxee Redd Minnow is a good imitation of sculpins and crayfish," says Clouser.  "Lefty [Kreh] thinks it looks like a baby carp or rock bass.  I love to fish this pattern for trout in sizes 2 through 8 in coldwater rivers and carp in sizes 2 through 6 on the Susquehanna from late July to September."  Any fly with such a recommendation from two giants of contemporary fly fishing deserves the immediate attention and respect of any serious angler.  I'll even go one farther; this fly is so good at fooling summer smallmouth that I'd happily fish it and it alone.  And I'm not alone in these sentiments!  Bold claim?  Try it yourself and find out!

I tie the Foxee Red Clouser differently that Bob Clouser ties his own Foxee Redd Minnow.  The slight difference in names is very deliberate.  This is a different fly, but it remains such a close cousin that to do other than fully honor the original would be a deep violation of ethics.  You see, this is Bob Clouser's pattern, but simply refined for the slower, shallower and more intimate waters in which I often find myself.  It's proven it's worth, in this incarnation, in flows as diverse as Florida's St. Johns and Econlockhatchee to Minnesota's Pine and Ottertail, from Kentucky's Elkhorn to Michigan's Flat River.  Everywhere I fish this fly, it catches smallmouth bass and rock bass with amazing regularity.  When compared directly with Clouser's original tie, this fly bumps the success factor up a full notch.

The Foxee Red Clouser is different because the main material used in its construction is different.  The original Foxee Redd Minnow was designed using red fox tail fur.  Says Clouser; "My first attempt was a disaster.  I cut a clump of the hair from the tail and tied it onto the hook shank without first removing all of the soft underfur.  Fox tail has a lot of underfur, which makes good dubbing for nymphs and dry flies, but it caused the fly to have a bulky head, look horrible and matte when wet.  One day it dawned on me to remove the underfur and just use the long guard hairs, which have black tips, reddish centers, and creamy brown bases. With all the underfur removed, the guard hairs of the red fox tail makes a small, neat-looking Clouser Minnow, don't tangle or mat, and have the right consistency for the size so that they look just like deer tail going through the water."  I suggest that Mr. Clouser went in the wrong direction. The tail guard hairs do look excellent and make for a streamlined minnow pattern.  But the softer red fox body fur, complete with underfur in place a la Eric Leiser's Llama, makes for an even more translucent and lively fly that imitates a crayfish. Crayfish make up nearly 80% of a smallmouth bass' summer diet.

In 2001 I was fishing a local creek.  I regularly parked in the lot of a bait shop on the banks of the creek, and as a token of my appreciation for parking privileges I always went in to buy a soft drink and snack and whatever tackle looked like it might work on a fly rod or fit into my small collection of spinning gear.  On this particular occasion they had soft-craws available for bait - and they were expensive.  I asked about the $8/dozen crawdads and I was told that there's nothing else like it.  The owner explained that soft craws will take fish when nothing else will.  Because of the difficulty in obtaining and keeping these delicate creatures - and as a direct result of their effectiveness - they sold for prices that seemed astonishing.  I bought a dozen on my way out and put them into a small aquarium in my office to study their action, color and behavior.

I discovered quite a bit about crayfish from that experiment.  First, when they are in the soft-shell phase (crayfish molt their exoskeleton in order to grow - this happens several times every season to each individual, so soft-shell-phase crayfish are nearly always in the environment) these mudbugs are highly gelatinous and almost incapable of movement; they tumble and twist with any current. This, of course, explains their penchant for holing up under a rock or log for the shedding process.  They are also very translucent.  Immediately after shedding the crayfish are primarily cream, tan and gray.  The new shell hardens over a two or three day period,  During this time the colors gradually get darker and gain opacity.  The spectrum of colors I observed was amazingly similar to the colors in a red fox tail I had in my tying supplies.

The specific crayfish patterns in I researched various books and magazine articles all focused on the chelae (claws) and were far too dark and without the flowing motions I'd seen in the real thing.  Several tries at complex designs left me unimpressed. The straight Clouser recipe seemed logical, so my first ties were simple Clousers tied with the red fox tail. They worked a little better than accepted crayfish imitations, but the micro-motion and translucency was still missing.  I needed something like marabou, but with mottled coloring and a different, finer texture.  Happenstance delivered a piece of red fox body fur in a materials swap.

The light creamy pink of the fox flanks captured the colors of the soft-shell almost perfectly.  The gray underfur, a useful dubbing, added bulk.  One experiment lead to another and the technique of leaving in the underfur, learned from the Llama, brought the effort to a successful conclusion.  The Foxee Red Clouser, tied in a way I'd truly stumbled upon, exhibited the squared profile, graduated translucency and spectrum of colors that provided the effect I wanted,  And the fish approved!

I now have a "system" for fishing Foxee Red Clousers.  In the early part of the year, from mid May until late June, I use a size 4 or 6 fly tied with painted red dumbbell eyes. The spot of red imitates the eggs carried by the female (at least it does in my imagination). Female crayfish "in berry" are highly sought by game fish because of their additional nutrition value and ease of capture.  From late June through late July I use the Foxee Red in sizes 10 and 12 tied with unpainted lead dumbbells to imitate young-of-the-year crayfish.  In August and September I like to fish sizes 8 and 6 with unpainted dumbbells, in keeping with the theory of the inverted bell-curve for size.  Finally in late September and through October I switch over to the flashier and larger Mixed Media to imitate the adults during the autumn mating season.

I like to fish the Foxee Red Clouser with a floating fly line and long, fluorocarbon leader.  Leader lengths vary from 10-feet to 14-feet depending on water depth, water clarity and fly size.  I almost always use a non-slip mono loop knot to attach the fly to the tippet. For a size 4 or 6 I like 3X, for 8 and 10 I'll go to 4X.  Under low, clear water conditions I'll even go to a size 12 on 5X tippet.  This last version is also a killer size for brown trout that act like they've seen everything.

I prefer to cast up and across with a quartering presentation and fish the fly on a tight line, high-sticking the fly back to my position just barely faster than the current.  It's important to keep the fly low in the water column, crayfish will rarely swim more than a foot off the bed of the stream, and in the soft-shell phase they really can't swim at all. Takes are never subtle, smallmouth bass and rock bass eat this fly. The take is firm and positive.  Using a light wire hook and keeping the point sharp ensures positive hook placement in the mouth or lip.

Tie a few of these and take them to the river on your next smallmouth bass outing.  Try them in the lakes along rocky bottoms where large numbers of crayfish find themselves a frequent target of marauding largemouth.  Try them the next time those wily brown trout turn up their noses at your best-presented nymph.  Finally, cast this one in front of a tailing carp and hold on!


Hook: Mustad 33903 Kink-shank popper hook in sizes 4 through 12.
Thread: Rusty orange, cream or brown 70 denier 6/0.

Belly: Cream or pink body fur from a red fox with the underfur removed.

Back: Dark mottled red fur from the back or shoulders of a red fox with the underfur left in. Tie the back shorter than the belly, not extending much behind the bend of the hook.

FlashSparse copper, mottled copper or rust-colored Flashabou.  2 strands for size 12, 4 strands for 10 and 8, 6 to 8 strands for size 6 and 4. Let the flash extend about 1/4-inch beyond the belly fur.

Eyes: Lead dumbbells

Windows Media Video  QuickTime Video 


New High Definition - 720p!

High Definition Windows Media File



The hook we'll use for this fly is the same hook we used for the Twisted Little Fox and for the Mixed Media.  It's a Mustad 33903 Kink Shank Popper Hook.  I like this hook for Clouser-style flies because it makes placing the lead eyes easy and ensure proper proportions for every size fly from size 12 to size 4. The proportions start to wonder from size 2 and up, so I use different hook styles for very large versions of this fly. Day in and day out the number 1 size to carry is a size 6 - that's the magic size for this fly.

Start by laying down a smooth thread base that covers both of the kinks in the kink-shank hook.

The lead dumbbell eyes will fit right into that first kink just perfectly. And ever time  you tie the fly you'll have the same distance from the front of the lead eyes to the eye of the hook.  Good, thin wire and a great price - this hook only needs to have its barb pinched and its point sharpened with a stone to make it perfect.

The crayfish has a bilateral coloring with the dorsal surface dark and the ventral surface light in color. The bottom of a crayfish is often closer to cream in tone. To imitate this color and translucency, use the pinkish fur from the sides of a red fox pelt.

Select a good clump of fox fur and clear out all the underfur, leaving only the soft, creamy guard hairs. Tie them in front of the lead eyes.. Move the thread behind the eyes.

Bind the belly down behind the eyes and put a whip finish into the thread to lock it. Move the thread to the front of the hook.

Tie in two to eight strands of copper or rusty brown crystal flash so that it is just a bit longer than the belly.

Select the fur for the back of the fly from the dark, well marked fur from the shoulders or back of the red fox pelt.  Clip a thick bunch and leave the underfur in.

Clean and square the clump and tie it in in front of the lead eyes.

Form a neat thread head and whip finish.

Cement the head with Sally Hansens or tying laquer..

Fortunately this is an easy fly to tie. You'll want a lot of them once you find out how effective they are on smallmouth bass!


The YouTube video embedded below is a slightly truncated version of the full video offered for download.  To see the full video, please select the standard definition or high-definition 720p files offered in the links above.  Please note, the HD version is a BIG file and download times may be considerable if you're on a slow Internet connection.  It's worth the wait!



Tight lines and smallmouth jumps...

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