Del Brown, a name synonymous with Permit fishing, is often credited as the man who originally cracked the Permit code. The secret to his success was his Merkin Crab. Del used strands of rug yarn, tied square to the hook shank, trimmed into the body with a very basic addition of feathers for pincers and rubber legs. It’s a method of tying that has become the base for many many different fly patterns. 

Examples of Del Brown’s original Merkin Crab Flies. Tied with dumbell eyes, wool body (that is tied onto the ‘bottom’ of the shank) and tied in rubber legs. No eyes or mouth parts.

To be honest, it doesn’t look like much in the vice – there are no eyes or mouth parts and it looks a little slapped together; but it has probably fooled more Permit than any other pattern. A huge accomplishment with a fish whose fickle, ‘stuff you’ attitude is legendary. The simplicity is the magic. (Something I often forget when tying crustaceans.) The Merkin was designed to drop to the bottom with pincers trailing – that typical fighting position a crab takes when on the defensive. 

Del said this of Permit fishing and his Merkin: 

“There are some flies that look as though they could crawl across the bottom on their own power, catch their own food and dig burrows.  Problem is, however, they don’t drop right.  That’s it!  When crabs are swimming along and all of a sudden come face-to-face with a critter with jaws agape, intending it eat it, they don’t try to out swim the predator, they instead drop instantly to the bottom, claws up in a defensive posture, and remain almost motionless.  Other crustaceans scatter like shrapnel from an exploding grenade, but crabs drop to the bottom to hide in sand, marl or grass.

Sure, looks help but it’s the slanting crash dive that makes the fly work.  Del Brown’s Merkin does this better than any other permit fly being used today – and, it is really fairly easy to tie.  There are other good bugs being used, flies created by some of the best.  They don’t hold up against the Merkin”

The Merkin Crab is a fly all flats fishermen should have a few of in their box. These days, there are a lot more materials available to tiers than back when Del was first tying his Merkin’s. You can substitute any number of materials for the original rug yarn. I use EP mostly but also like to have a few wool yarn merkins in the box too. The original also called for white round rubber legs, often tipped with red. Again, with our options these days, there’s a ton of colour combinations that can be tied up. 

The original tie calls for the yarn to be tied on the ‘outside’ of the shank – see step in the main SBS below. This, according to Del, was to get the fly dropping just right. However, I don’t believe this an essential. Many guys tie the body on the ‘inside’ of the shank. The extra photos in the SBS are of Milan Germishuizen’s Merkin and illustrate the ‘inside’ tie. Milan also ties the rubber legs with the thread at the same time as tying the body.

This is another interesting point of the original; the legs are tied around the shank with a simple square knot after the body has been finished. Why they were tied on rather than in, I don’t know? But it definitely makes leg placement really easy. The Merkin now has hundreds of variations but the below SBS details, at least as close to as I know how, the original tie of the Merkin. (although I have swapped in EP for the carpet/craft yarn and green thread for pink…).

The name of fly comes from the fly’s shape and yarn material – if you know what a Merkin is, you’ll understand – but it does deserves a little story, so I’ll leave that to Lefty. From his book ‘My Life Was This Big: And Other True Fishing Tales’:

A note on fishing it. Once presented, it shouldn’t be stripped more than once; it’s all about getting the fly into the vision of the fish early so that the fish sees the fly dropping. Once it hits the bottom, let it sit stationery. One of the hardest things to do is to not strip a fly as good fish heads over to investigate! So accurate and gentle casting is the order of the day! 

Merkin Crab Step-by-Step

Recipe:

Hook: SL12s Gamakatsu (Anything similar will work – these include GamakatsuSL12s Short and SC15, Ahrex SA280 Minnow, TMC 800S or 811S, etc – it’s a long list)
#6 – #1/0; the ‘standard’ size I tie is a #2 SL12s.

Thread: Chartreuse (again, any colour that fits the colours you’re after, I’ve gone with pink)

Weight: Plated lead eyes (tungsten works great too)

Pincers: Brown or tan barred neck hackle

Flash: Pearl Flashabou

Body: Tan carpet or craft yarn (I’ve substituted with tan EP fibres) 

Legs: White rubber legs – red tipped 

Step 1:

Wrap thread…

Step 2: 

Add dumbbell eyes for weight. Use a figure of eight to secure. A drop of superglue doesn’t hurt either.

Step 3:

Pincers – cur two (or four) saddle hackles to approx the length of the shank of the hook. Tie in facing backwards with a slight angle that follows the gape. When the feathers are tied in, they must opposing each other – ie curving outwards (see pic below).

Step 4:

Flash. As with the feathers, cut 2 -4 strands of Flashabou and tie in over feathers. Once all lined up, secure

Step 5:

Make sure the feathers and Flashabou line create a narrow V shape. Finish securing the materials. A drop of superglue, again, doesn’t hurt here.

Step 6:

Cut your body material – approx the length of the shank is a good workable length. It’s all going to get trimmed anyway…

Step 7:

Build the body using figure of eight ties to tie the body yarn in 90degrees to the shank. If you are going to tying your legs in with thread, you’d place and tie during this stage. If you’re tying with Ep, or similar, it’s going to look messy in the profile – does stress, it’ll all come together when you trim.

Step 8:

Tie off in front of dumbbells.

Step 9:

Trim. Sharp scissors and a steady hand. But to the shape doesn’t have to be perfect, just mostly symmetrical. Below you can see the difference between the ‘outside’ of the shank (top pic) and the ‘inside’ of the shank. As mentioned, lots of people tie their yarn on the inside. This is, in my opinion, just personal preference.

Step 10:

Tie in the legs. Work the rubber between the clumps of body yarn. There are natural gaps in shank that the rubber sits snugly in. Start with a granny know, and finish with a granny know – but make it forms a square knot (similar to a reef knot).

Step 11:

Here is another comparison of the top and the bottom of the fly.

Step 12:

Add red to the tips of legs.

Step 13:

Wait for lockdown to end and go fishing.