Hannie’s Flats Crab

It looks so real you’d think it could crawl away, but it’s a fly. Tie this amazingly real crab imitation using only a handful of common fly tying materials.

[by Fred Hannie]

THERE ARE MANY GOOD IMPRESSIONISTIC CRAB PATTERNS, and just about all of them catch flats fish. When referring to flats fish, I am talking about the species of inland saltwater game fish common to the Central Gulf Coast, especially redfish, sheepshead, and black drum. If you live on the eastern Gulf Coast, you might add permit, bonefish, and tarpon to the list. Although I have caught many of each of these species using this pattern, I have the most experience with redfish.

Redfish are kind of our saltwater default species down here in Louisiana. If you want to hook someone on fly fishing in the salt, take them to the marsh and let them play with the reds; it’s like taking a child to a pond to catch big bluegills.

Redfish are competitive, voracious feeders that are easy to find. They can also be some of the most exasperating fish you will ever cast a fly to. There are days when you can drop a seat cushion into the boat and easily spook a school of feeding redfish, but sometimes the fish will follow your fly all the way to the boat and then just turn up their noses and swim away.

To be successful fishing the marsh flats, you should be adept at reading the water. You need to know which pools are best, and at which tides. It takes skilled, stealthy boat control and the ability to make a good cast and presentation. And, most importantly, you’ll want several fly patterns that mimic the prey the fish are eating. Some days you can be fishing less than mediocre and still bring a lot of redfish to hand. The most endearing quality of redfish is that they usually feed eagerly, but for those days when they are being picky, it’s nice to have a lot of patterns options.

Hannie’s Flats Crab

HOOK: Mustad S71SZ or 34007, size 2.
THREAD: White 8/0 (70 denier).
LEAD WIRE: .025 inch.
MONOFILAMENT: 40-pound test.
MORE STUFF: Permanent markers in your choice of colors

Starting Hannie’s Flats Crab
Go Prepared

A prepared flats fisherman carries flies that mimic crabs, shrimp, and baitfish, and at a bare minimum a few Spoon Flies, eel imitations, and small surface poppers. If you’re really serious, you can expand your fly selection to include imitations of the numerous species of real crabs that vary in size, shape, and color. Some patterns are not species specific, such as the Merkin Crab; others, like the Bauer’s Flats Crab, do mimic a specific species. Most crab patterns, however, are more impressionistic.

A short list of the species of crabs inhabiting the coastal marshes includes swimming crabs (blue crabs, lady, and pass crabs), fiddler crabs, and mud crabs. Adapt the imitative pattern I will show you to match any of these species. Imitative patterns just might give you an edge in two foot of gin-clear water when the fish are feeding selectively.

This pattern is comprised of a hook, lead wire for weight, monofilament for the body, legs, and claws, and thread. I use white thread and color the fly using permanent markers. The length of the hook shank determines the overall size of the finished fly; adjust the hook size to match the dimensions of the fly you wish to tie.

The basic idea is to build the body of the fly using stacked pieces of monofilament tied to the hook. The legs and claws are also monofilament, which makes the fly very durable. Most of the species of fish we target with crab imitations are not going to be gentle and you need a sturdy fly that can take abuse.

Making the Claws
Completing the Crab

Fred Hannie has contributed many great articles to our magazine. He is a master at tying realistic patterns. Fred lives in Louisiana.


Though it is a much larger blue crab, note at the 30-second mark, how it swims with one claw extended. This is a good reason for Hannie’s Flats Crab’s specific claw design.