The 4 Flats Flies You Must Tie

Enjoy fast action for bonefish and permit with these easy-to-tie flies.

Article & Photography by DAVID KLAUSMEYER


We want flies that are guaranteed to catch fish. It’s easy to get hung up looking for the latest, greatest patterns, but sometimes the old standards work best. This is especially true when pursuing challenging species such as bonefish and permit: We want flies that will give us an edge over these wary fish. And for most of us, the pressure to have the right flies is intensified because we live so far from prime flats habitat; we don’t want to blow an expensive and time-consuming trip because we tied the wrong patterns in the wrong sizes. Let me share with you four perfect flies for fishing the flats, especially when casting to bonefish. The first two are classics: the Gotcha and the Crazy Charlie. These are the ideal flies for new tiers because they require very basic materials and tying techniques. You could fill a fly box full of these flies tied in different colors and enjoy a successful fishing trip.

After the second or third day of fishing, however, you might feel like trying a different pattern. The Bonefish Bitters is quickly becoming one of the most popular flies on the tropical flats. I’ve even met a couple of experienced bonefish guides who carry only the Bitters.

Finally, we’ll tie the Christmas Island Special. I’d like to visit that far-flung Pacific paradise some day, but until then, I’ll tie and fish this fly. The heavier lead dumbbell eyes
add a little more weight to this pattern. The extra heft gives you an option when fishing a little deeper; the other flies, weighted only with bead-chain eyes, may not sink quickly enough.

These are the four flats flies you MUST tie.

David Klausmeyer is the editor of this magazine. David is also the author of several books, including Tying Contemporary Saltwater Flies, and Striped Bass Flies: Patterns of the Pros. (Both published by Countryman Press.)

 The Crazy Charlie

Hook: Regular saltwater hook, sizes 8 to 4.
Thread: Size 6/0 (140 denier), color to complement the wing.
Body: Silver, gold, or pearl tinsel, and clear medium D-Rib.
Eyes: Small bead chain.
Wing: White, tan, pink, or chartreuse calftail.


Every flats angler should carry a collection of Crazy Charlies. Lord knows what the fish think they represent; at most, these ungainly flies imitate shrimps. Tie Crazy Charlies in white, pink, tan, and chartreuse. Because these flies are so little, the small dumbbell eyes and calftail wings cause the hooks to flip over so they do not snag on shells and coral.

The Crazy Charlie will teach you all the tying techniques you’ll need to make the other flies in this article.

 Get the Gotcha

Hook: Regular saltwater hook, sizes 8 to 4.
Thread: Size 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Pearl, silver, or gold Mylar tubing.
Body: Pearl, silver, or gold Mylar braid.
Eyes: Small bead chain.
Wing: White, tan, pink, or chartreuse craft fur, and pearl Krystal Flash.
The Gotcha is another pattern that populates the fly boxes of most flats anglers. It’s a close cousin to the Crazy Charlie, and is superb for catching bonefish and permit. Popular colors are tan, white, and chartreuse, and I’ve had especially good luck using pink Gotchas.

Try tying the Gotcha to your leader with a loop knot. This knot accentuates the swimming and bobbing action when you’re stripping the fly through the water.
On this example, I am tying the wing using craft fur. Craft fur gives the fly a fluttering action even when it’s dropping.

The Bonefish Bitters Rules!

Image Materials
Hook: Regular saltwater hook, sizes 8 and 6.
Thread: Tan or olive 6/0 (140 denier).
Head: Small bead chain coated with epoxy or fabric paint.
Legs: Tan or olive rubber or Sili Legs.
Wing: Pearl Krystal Flash and deer or elk hair.

Ever since Craig Mathews developed the Bonefish Bitters for fishing Belize’s Turneffe Island, it has become one of the most popular flats flies in the world. It’s very easy to tie, and catches fish even when it’s at rest; the bonefish see this stylized crab sitting on the sand or coral, and they snatch it.

Tie on the bead-chain eyes first, and then clip the thread. Coat the eyes with tan or olive fabric paint, or add a drop of model paint to a dab of epoxy. Allow the paint or epoxy to dry, and then finish the fly. Because of this drying time, it’s best to tie the Bonefish Bitters in batches.

Christmas Island Special


Hook: Regular saltwater hook, sizes 8 to 4.
Thread: Orange or yellow 3/0 (210 denier).
Eyes: Small lead dumbbell.
Tail: Krystal Flash.
Body: Krystal Flash.
Wing: Craft fur and Krystal Flash.
Note: Popular colors are yellow, pearl, orange, and pink. Some tiers use materials in matching colors, but I prefer slightly contrasting colors because few things in nature are one solid color.

Christmas Island, which is located 1,335 miles from Honolulu, is the largest coral atoll in the world. This Pacific island encompasses 248 square miles, of which 125-square- miles island and the remainder lagoon. Since anglers began fly fishing there in the 1970s, Christmas Island has become a dream destination.

Can’t go to Christmas Island? Then tie and fish the Christmas Island Special closer to home. This pattern features small weighted dumbbell eyes, and is perfect for fishing slightly deeper water, especially to unseen “mudding” bonefish that are digging in the bottom in search of tiny baitfish, crabs, and other crustaceans.


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