• Inside look: Designing the Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail.
  • Post author
    Martin Bawden
  • bonefishcarpfly tyingfreshwaterInside lookpermitredfishsaltwatersmallmouth bassspeckled troutstreamer fishingstriped bass

Inside look: Designing the Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail.

Martin Bawden fly fishing Bahamas

Sight fishing for bonefish, permit, or redfish is one of my favorite things in life.

It combines many of the visual pleasures of fly fishing with some of the toughest technical challenges, creating a scenario in which so much needs to come together perfectly to be successful.

Travelling to a beautiful tropical location and searching for an almost invisible, elusive quarry among endless sand flats, palm trees, mangroves and crystal clear water is incredibly relaxing.

Then add the heightened sense of anticipation, the sudden jolt and adrenaline rush as you first sight the fish – heart pounding, panic setting in, and of course the pressure! Pressure from your guide, your buddy, and yourself to put together the perfect cast at the perfect time to deliver your fly to the perfect spot in the hope (or prayer) that you'll be rewarded. 

So much fun!

Martin Bawden fly fishing bonefish

The idea for the Fish-Skull® Shrimp & Cray Tail™ first came to me during one of these trips to the Bahamas in late 2014. Out on a flats boat in the middle of nowhere, but somewhere between my fourth bonefish and third Kalik of the day, the idea formed to create an alternative to the established fly tying method of using bead chain eyes or small dumbbells to weight shrimp or small crayfish patterns.

As I opened my fly box and gazed over my fly selection, which included at least a dozen different shrimp patterns in various sizes and colors, I was struck by two thoughts and realized what had been bugging me:

  1. The flies all looked very, very similar.
  2. They didn’t look as finished and realistic as they could be.

It was then I realized the common denominator was the use of bead chains as a weight on almost every fly!

Not that bead chains are bad; in fact, bead chains or small dumbbells have been one of the most successful and enduring fly tying materials ever since they were first popularized several decades ago.

However, their sole purpose on shrimp or crayfish patterns is purely as a weight. On these flies where we're trying to imitate shrimp and crayfish that typically swim backwards (often assuming a diving, defensive posture), their purpose is purely functional. They simply add weight to the fly, and being tied in underneath the hook shank, they play an important role as a weighted keel, helping to keep the hook oriented upwards.

Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail versus bead chain

So as a weight, they work very well and provide good function, but they simply have no form! As a fly tying material, bead chains and dumbbells don’t actually represent or imitate any part of the shrimp or crayfish! They actually look a little odd and don’t contribute to the aesthetics of the fly.

Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail versus bead chain eye

Think about it  as fly tyers we put a tremendous amount of creativity and innovative use of materials to realistically imitate the appearance of shrimp or crayfish eyes, feelers, mandibles, and other body parts, and then blow it by placing an unnaturally shaped piece of metal in the place where the tail of the fly is supposed to be.

Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail fly

Despite our best efforts, we've been limited by our available materials and fail to finish off our flies as completely as they could be.

I think perhaps the mass adoption over the years of using bead chain or small dumbbells as the de facto weighting system for most shrimp and crayfish patterns has to some extent stifled innovation and progression in designing these types of flies. 

Open your fly box – our flies all tend to look very, very similar, and the fish we target probably agree!

In the process, we may have also unintentionally restricted our thinking by conditioning ourselves to designing and tying shrimp and crayfish patterns in the same way, which usually means starting off the fly with a bead chain and some figure-8 wraps!

Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail fly trout

Thus began the idea to create a fly tying product that would provide both form and function.

In designing it, my key “form” objective was to create a more anatomically correct weighted shrimp and crayfish tail available in some basic colors that would blend well with the typical white, tan, sandy, or brown body colors. Doing so would allow fly tyers to create more realistic and more finished-looking flies.

Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail fly striped bass

Captain Gary Dubiel, owner and operator of Spec Fever Guide Service.

With “functionally,” my key objective was to provide the same or better performance as a bead chain eye. To achieve this, I designed the metal tail in 3 sizes that have the same weight as a small and large size bead chain eye and a small dumbbell. This gives flies the same predictable, proven sink rate we're used to and eliminates the need to redesign proven fly patterns. Fly tyers can simply tie their Gotcha or other favorite shrimp or crayfish pattern in the same way they are used to and go fishing!

Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail fly tying instructions

In addition, I wanted to make the Shrimp & Cray Tail quicker and easier to tie with and eliminate the twisting and durability issues often associated with bead chains. To achieve this, we created a quicker, easier, and stronger method for tying on the tail on directly underneath and along the length of the hook shank. Tied in roughly the same position as a bead chain, the Shrimp & Cray Tail acts as a weighted keel that keeps the hook point riding upward.

After more than a year of intensive product development and field testing in fresh and saltwater environments, we're excited to introduce the Fish-Skull® Shrimp & Cray Tail™ as the newest family member of the Fish-Skull® brand.

Use the Shrimp & Cray Tail on flies to target saltwater and freshwater fish, from bonefish, permit, stripers, speckled trout, and redfish, to carp, smallmouth bass, and other warm-water species.

My hope is this simple, new material will spark your imagination, get your creative juices flowing, and allow you to expand your fly design and fishing possibilities.

Enjoy and catch a few big ones for me!

About Martin Bawden:

Martin Bawden Flymen Fishing Company founder CEOMartin is the founder of Flymen Fishing Company and the head product designer. When not on the water “field testing,” he can be found tying at fly fishing events. Articles on his innovative fly tying products and fly patterns have appeared in various fly fishing publications.

  • Post author
    Martin Bawden
  • bonefishcarpfly tyingfreshwaterInside lookpermitredfishsaltwatersmallmouth bassspeckled troutstreamer fishingstriped bass

Comments on this post (4)

  • Dec 03, 2020


    Thanks for your kinds words about the new product. Much appreciated.

    Nothing available yet, but please watch this space for Crayfish and Shrimp patterns to become available soon.


    — Martin Bawden

  • Dec 03, 2020

    When are ya’ll going to sell some crayfish patterns with these tails? I am not a fly tyer, but I know what I want. These things look awesome! I love the sculpin heads too. You guys are changing the game.

    — Jonathan

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Hello Murray,

    Great to hear from you! Actually planning a trip down to South Africa in the next month or two so let’s get together.

    I did not get your email for some reason, but we can potentially support your fly production business under our Commercial Fly Tier (CFT) program. http://flymenfishingcompany.com/pages/commercial-fly-tyer-program

    Just submit the program application and let’s connect!

    Best Fishing

    — Martin Bawden

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Hi Martin,
    I sent a mail to you requesting bulk supply of some of your products, for production tying. Not repackaging and resale. Pls visit our new co Flyz Inc. on Facebook and Instagram, while the site is being developed, to see our flies etc.

    Would really like to work with you.

    Have closed the retail store Flyfishers Unlimited after 16 years and now into the fly production, wholesale and travel, school of Flyfishing. Look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards


    — Murray Pedder

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