The River Knight
Crayfish are a favorite food 
of larger trout and bass. 
This imitation is perfect for targeting those trophy fish.
by Nadica & Igor Stancev

 Crayfish are an important source of food for many of the freshwater fish we all love to catch. Crayfish inhabit clean, healthy water. The English name crayfish comes from old French word meaning “to crawl.”Crayfish belong to the phylum Arthropoda. Arthropods are invertebrate creatures that feature jointed legs and segmented bodies, and molt to form new skins or exoskeletons as they grow. Arthropods include about 80 percent of all know living organisms, including insects, arachnids, and crustaceans. Freshwater crayfish are close relatives to lobsters, crabs, and freshwater shrimps.

There are 540 species of crayfish. Most crayfish cannot tolerate water pollution, so their presence is a sign of a healthy environment. Almost all live in oxygen-rich water. They live in streams, rivers, and lakes, and are important forage for many species of game fish.

ImageHere’s a crayfish in profile. Use this photo for determining the proportions for the tail, abdomen, thorax, and pinchers of the crayfish imitation you tie.

Crayfish Anatomy
A crayfish has a heavy outer skin so called an exoskeleton. The armorlike exoskeleton protects and supports its body, but it also limits the crustacean’s growth. As a crayfish develops, it periodically sheds its old, tight armor and develops a new one. A crayfish can molt up to eight times during its first year of life; after that, it molts less frequently.

A crayfish’s spear-shaped head and thorax are connected and are properly called the cephalothorax. The crayfish’s abdomen consists of six defined segments. Common body colors are tan, dark brown, and shades of olive.
The head of a crayfish has two long and two short antennae. These antennae are important sensory organs that allow a crayfish to touch and feel, and to detect vibrations. A crayfish has one pair of compound eyes that are mobile and connected to the head by extensions. The mobility of the eyes provides for a wider field of view.

A crayfish belongs to the order Decapods, which are arthropods that have 10 legs. During evolution, the crayfish’s front set of legs developed into pinchers for use as defensive weapons, and for catching and manipulating food. A crayfish moves slowly, except when it is disturbed; then it will use its tail, powered by muscles located along the bottom of the abdomen, to swim backwards and quickly flee from danger. The creature’s strong, broad tail is composed of five distinct segments called uropods.
Crayfish living in small creeks can grow to 7 to 8 centimeters long (up to 3 inches), but those living in bigger streams rich with oxygen can reach 13 centimeters (5 inches) in five years of life. One species of crayfish, which lives in Tasmania, reaches 40 centimeters (almost 16 inches) and weighs 3 kilograms (6½ pounds)!

Crayfish are omnivorous, and feed on plants as well as on animals such as fish, worms, insects, and snails. Crayfish are also scavengers, and feed on the decaying remains of dead fish and animals.

A crayfish faces numerous threats. The most dangerous are humans and water pollution, but natural predators include otters and herons, as well as many species of fish. A crayfish rarely lives longer than two years, so rapid reproduction is vital for crayfish to survive. A crayfish reaches maturity in autumn when it mates, but fertilization of the eggs does not occur until the following spring. During the winter, the female will carry up to 800 dark eggs under its abdomen. The newly hatched crayfish stay attached to their mother for protection until shortly after their second molt. After hatching, the larval crayfish feed on plankton.

Tying the River Knight
This crayfish imitation is heavily weighted and tied so that it swims in the correct backward manner when retrieved. The shining pearl in the belly increases the pattern’s attractiveness to the fish. The elongated and opened pincers are soft and will not interfere with hooking the fish. The epoxy coating on the back creates a realistic appearance.

Tie the fly in colors to match the real crayfish in your local waters; they are probably dark colored if the riverbed is lined with dark rocks and stones, and lighter if they live on a light-colored bottom. The exact color also depends upon how much time has passed since the last molt. During the first few days after molting, the exoskeleton is light colored, but it hardens and darkens as time passes.

Fish this crayfish imitation just like most streamers. Real crayfish live near rocks and logs, so be sure to target these forms of structure. Try imitating the swimming action of a real crayfish with short tugs and strips of the line; observe the real crayfish, and try mimicking their behavior with your fly.

We won the Slovenia Open international fly-tying competition in 1999 in the streamer category with the crayfish imitation we are going to show you how to tie. Although it is sort of fancy, we do tie this pattern for catching trout and grayling throughout Europe. Try using it to catch the larger trout and bass in your favorite waters.

Nadica and Igor Stancev are two of our favorite fly tiers. In addition to creating terrific realistic patterns, they are two of the best fly-tying and entomological photographers. Nadica and Igor live in Macedonia.

River Knight

Hook: Tiemco 5263 or 200R, sizes 8 and 6.
Thread: Cream 6/0 (140 denier).
Weight: Lead wire—medium for size 6 hook and
 narrow for size 8.
Antennae: A bunch of fibers from a cock hackle
 and two stripped cock hackle quills.
Underbody: Pearl dubbing.
Pinchers: A pair of symmetrical brown feathers
 taken from the body of a male pheasant.
Legs: Fine chenille or a pheasant body feather.
Tail: Pheasant neck feathers or raffia coated 
with epoxy.
Shell back: Rusty brown foam coated with epoxy.
Eyes: 50-pound-test or heavier monofilament.


Starting the River Knight Crayfish
1 Wrap a layer of thread on the hook shank. Wrap lead wire on the shank.

2 Tie a bunch of hackle fibers to the end of the hook shank.

3 Strip the fibers from two hackles. Tie the stripped quills to the end of the shank to form the antennae.

4 Clip the excess butt ends of the stripped quills. Spin a pinch of pearl dubbing on the thread.

5 Wrap a small ball of dubbing at the end of the hook shank. This dubbing will help lock the pinchers into the proper position.

6 Select two symmetrical pheasant breast feathers. Coat the feathers with cement. Allow the cement to dry, and clip the pinchers to shape.





Tying the 
& Legs
Tie a pincher to each side of the fly.

2 Spin more dubbing on the thread. Wrap the dubbing over the base of the claws. Cut four pieces of chenille. Melt and seal the ends of the chenille over a flame, as seen in the inset photo.

Tie one piece of chenille to the hook to create the first set of legs.

4 Tie on the remaining three pieces of chenille to form all the legs.
5 Wrap the thread back to the head of the crayfish. Spin more dubbing on the thread. Wrap the dubbing up the shank to cover the bases of the legs and form the underbody of the crayfish.

6 You may wish to substitute a pheasant body feather for the chenille legs, like the authors did on this fly.





Completing the 
River Knight
1 Coat the tips of three small pheasant neck feathers with cement. Tie the feathers to the front end of the hook shank to form the tail of the crayfish. Tie off and clip the excess pieces of feather.

2 Cut a piece of brown foam into the shape of the shell back of the crayfish.

3 Tie the front end of the foam back to the fly.

4 Raise the foam and spiral-wrap the thread down the body to where you wish to create the first body segment. Wrap the thread over the foam to lock the back to the underbody and make the segment. Continue working down the body to create six body segments. Finally, tie off and clip the thread; place the knot on top of the back so that it will be covered with the epoxy. (We’ll apply the epoxy in the last step.)

5 Make the melted eyes. Punch two small holes in the foam using your bodkin. Place an eye in each hole. The epoxy, which we will apply in a moment, will lock the eyes in place. Color the back using permanent markers.

6 Coat the back and tail with a thin layer of epoxy. Allow the epoxy to dry, and cut the tail to shape.

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