Perfect Combo: Bill Miller's Crayfish & Bright Butt Leaders

By: Joel Anderson


Cedar waxwings were working diligently over the river tonight, with the object of their attention being caddis flies that were trying desperately to make to the safety of nearby trees after hatching off the water. Because of the golden bird’s incredible aerial prowess, not a single insect made it to refuge. Often two birds would race for the same bug. While it was fascinating to watch, I was there to fish.


Unfortunately, the trout didn’t share the same interest in the caddis as the cedar waxwings. Like many trout rivers in Southern Maine, my home trout river becomes bass water in August; at least until cooling nights begin later in the month. With Montana now a distinct memory, it was time to get down to business with the only game left in town for a guy who needs to really fish, smallmouth bass.

My experience with smallmouth has taught me if you want sizeable fish, the best approach is fishing slow and deep, and the smallmouth favorite forage is, of course, crayfish. Last night I tied up a few Bill Miller’s Crayfish fly for the first time, a pattern that was popularized by Missouri retail fly shop, Feather-Craft. I’d often admired the fly in their catalog, but lacking the pattern, I typically stuck to Dave Whitlock’s Near-Nuff Crayfish pattern. Through the miracle of an Internet search, I was able to locate an excellent tutorial on how to tie the pattern, and it turns out, it’s a relatively simple fly to tie.

My favorite method of fishing deep flies in rivers for smallmouth is to utilize one of Harry Murray’s “Bright Butt Leaders”, which incorporates five feet of fluorescent red Amnesia for a butt and three strategically placed ¾” fluorescent orange hollow fly line sections. Although the Czech are often given credit for developing bright mono leaders for strike detection, West Virginian, Harry Murray, was touting their advantages, especially for smallmouth bass, way back in the 70’s and early 80’s when I began fly fishing.

Casting the weighted fly, with no additional splitshot, straight up into deep pockets, line control is immediately gained and then a tight connection is maintained between fly and rod tip. The fly is allowed to dead-drift along the bottom, with an occasional twitch imparted to give the fly life and to help maintain a tight connection between fly and rod tip. Watching the indicator closest to the fly that can be easily seen, any hesitation or movement usually indicates a strike. In this case, the strike from the bass is typically seen long before it is felt. Floating indicators, such as Thingamabobbers, would simply be ineffective for this type of tight line fishing.

By the way, this method of presentation is also deadly for fall run landlocked salmon, utilizing weighted patterns like the Golden Retriever.

The Bill’s Crayfish pattern and Bright Butt leader turned out to be a deadly combo, with the action almost non-stop, and many sizeable bass brought to hand. Interestingly, later in the evening, I swapped over to a top water fly and although the action continued, the fish that were willing to chase a floating bug on the surface were much smaller.

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