When I was 12 years old, the Betts Popper, and foam spiders were the only flies in the world as far as I was concerned. Kmart was my fly shop, and the black water of the Chowan River was my Yellowstone National Park.
A dozen years later my love of fly fishing was re-ignited with an 8wt and a dose of salt.
Coastal Fly Fishing was a completely new game to me. I jumped on eBay and typed in "saltwater streamers" and ordered a 12 pack of large colorful flies.
These flies came in two tone colors of bucktail with lead dumbbell eyes, and were called "Clouser Minnows".
The original Clouser Deep Minnow tied by Bob.
I got my first chance to fish them a week later, on a trip offshore with some friends. During the trip, we got into a group of Mahi while trolling a weed line, so I pulled out the fly rod and made a cast. Two minutes later I was hooked up with a green and yellow acrobat dancing across the water's surface.
That Mahi was my first saltwater fish on fly, and my first introduction to the fishability of Bob Clouser's Deep Minnow. It only took a few months of saltwater fly fishing to realize I would be broke, if I kept purchasing enough flies to feed the masses of hungry Bluefish and Spanish Mackerel along our coast. Within a month or two of fly fishing the salt, I purchased my first vise and was stocking up on buck tails and dumbbell eyes.
It also didn't take long to figure out that basically anything swimming in the waters around Coastal NC could be caught on this fly.
Mahi was my first.
I'm pretty sure my next saltwater fish on fly, were a couple Flounder caught on those same Clousers that I initially purchased from eBay.
Probably followed by Spanish Mackerel, and Bluefish caught on smaller Clousers that I tied myself.
By fall I was targeting the massive schools of Speckled Trout with Clouser Minnows, and having great success.
I caught my first Albacore that November off the Western Beach of Cape Lookout on a sparsely tied version of the fly.
The following spring, we chased Hickory Shad on tiny Clousers on the Roanoke River.
A month later, we caught Striped Bass on big Clousers on 400 gr sinking lines along the depths of that same river.
That summer, I added Redfish and Black drum to the list.
Not to mention all the "trash fish" along the way...black sea bass, pinfish, sea robins, lizard fish...the list goes on.
In more recent years I've been able to catch exotics such as Peacock Bass, Oscars, and Cichlids on the fly. Modified versions of the fly have brought Bonefish and other tropical species to hand in the Bahamas. I've even used it to fool educated Rainbow Trout in heavily fished rivers that had seen every "trout fly" ever made.
All in all, I've been able to catch around 40 species on the Clouser Minnow.
What makes this fly so effective?
Partly, because it's much more of a style than a specific pattern. Although it represents a bait fish, you can tweak it and make modifications to suit the species and locations you are fishing.
Big or small, flash or no flash, heavy lead eyes or bead chain, high tie or half n half. The options are endless.
To really understand the fly, we need to go back to the original, and the man who invented it.
In Pennsylvania in the 1980's, fly fishing guide Bob Clouser had been working on different sinking streamer patterns for smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna. He was trying to mimic the baitfish and their darting motions that triggered a Smallmouth's feeding response.
His initial bucktail patterns were similar to the now famous Deep Minnow, except they were missing one thing. The lead dumbbell eyes. Once Bob discovered those, he added them to the pattern and the rest is history.
Why is a pattern developed for smallmouth, so effective at landing hundreds of other species?
Two reasons. It's motion, and it's variability.
Before the recent invention of flies like Blane Chocklett's Game Changer, the Clouser was one of the most actively swimming bait fish pattern available. The placement of the dumbbell eyes causes the fly to dart around, then drop during pauses between strips, and then rise on the next strip. It basically screams, "Hey I'm injured, take advantage of my misfortune!" This is the reason this fly has the ability to grab the attention of fish such as False Albacore and Stripers when stripped through a bait balls of several thousand minnows.
Speaking of eyes. The fact that the fly rides hook up due to eye and material placement is a great advantage when fishing around snags.
The second reason this fly is so effective, is its variability. The basic steps of a Clouser Minnow are hook up, dumbbell eyes below, bottom wing of bucktail, flash, then top wing of bucktail. Beyond that you can modify the pattern in so many ways.
Need a shad dart imitation...tiny Clousers in bright colors do the trick.
Need a shrimp pattern...add a rattle and body wrap to the hook shank, then tie in all your materials high-tie style.
Need a giant bait fish pattern for pelagics...add in the saddle hackles of a Deceiver and make big half and halfs.
Need a bait fish pattern for toothy fish...tie the entire fly using synthetic materials.
The options go on forever.
They are the best search pattern fly ever. I may have a big box of shrimp and crab patterns when guiding for Redfish, but if we are prospecting for fish, I always go for my stash of Clouser Minnows.
Maybe it's because I use them more often than any other pattern, but over the last decade or so, these "smallmouth bass flies" have earned the top spot in my fly boxes.
And speaking of these flies, Bob Clouser is a really cool guy. He's a great fisherman, great caster, takes his fly tying very seriously, and loves to give back to the sport.
One other thing. If you tie Clouser Minnows and haven't had the opportunity to sit down and watch Bob tie one, you are probably doing it wrong. 30 years of tying and fishing the Deep Minnow and Bob's got it down to a science.
If you run into him at a show and he's giving a tying demo, I'd highly recommend you grab a seat.