Good Vibrations – the Sperm Clouser

Good Vibrations – the Sperm Clouser

So it’s old (and legendary) news that Bob Clouser designed the Clouser Minnow; but Bob also combined synthetics with buck tail in his flies and according to Clouser Flyfishing he settled on the combination of buck tail and Steve Farrar’s (SF) Flash Blend in his ‘best’ flies. The reason given in the description of this ‘Wild Hybrid Clouser’ is that the combination of those two materials caught the most fish species.

I’ve been playing around with Jimmy Eagleton’s DMA concept (Dan Blanton’s Whistler and variations thereof on a jig hook) and added a swivelling, articulated buck tail tail to the fly. This in theory would give the fly more movement – which it apparently also did when I tried it in the sea. Fish respond very well to movement in clear water and it is something that I’ve been trying to ‘enhance’ in my flies and especially buck tail flies as I find the material quite stiff, besides the jigging action of a Clouser (a major trigger for fish to eat it) due to a dumbbell weight.

However, then Edward Truter dropped the bomb on my concept of more movement in clear water. Ed mentioned to me that science has shown that many predatory fishes are capable of picking up and following micro-currents of prey in poor light/dirty water – the theory is that dusky kob and largemouth yellowfish, for instance, may follow the movement of crustaceans and fish in dirty water and at night like a dog following an odour trail. I did some more internet research on this topic and to my surprise found some very interesting and very useful information about the lateral line function in fish.

In simple terms, fish have receptors (hundreds of superficial neuromasts) on their heads, body and tails that link to the lateral line, which constantly detect and channel weak water motions and pressure gradients (mechanical changes in water) to the lateral line. Science has shown that by blinding fish, they were still able to locate and catch prey, and by inhibiting the lateral line function schooling behaviour was also lost in fish.

A stickleback with stained receptors (neuromasts) on its head which is used for hunting, orientation and schooling behaviour.

So these receptors and movement in water plays a significant role in the hunting process of predatory fishes. When I think about our dog and how it often ‘stupidly’ sniffs out a bone that lies highly visible close to it on the lawn, then it makes perfect sense that such dominant hunting senses may play a role in fish even in crystal clear water. So just like that ‘stupid’ dog, a largemouth yellow may rely by and large on water movement, rather than sight, to find prey – sight in clear water will always be the final sense used to strike (resulting in the fly to be eaten or rejected) in my opinion.

So besides the articulated buck tail tails on DMA/Clouser variants and the versatile Falloon that I tied for freshwater fish, the concept of water movement obviously sparked the idea to add a balloon curly tail to a DMA/Clouser variant. Finding the right colour balloon for the job wasn’t easy though; I almost wrote the idea off before, while on the lookout for holographic flash, I came across pearl balloons in a Chinese shop. Eureka!

The pearl balloon tail on this Clouser hybrid may trigger the water movement senses in some predatory fish.

The fly looked good in my hand and it also provoked takes from garrick on the first ‘field test’ outing (both jerky and slow constant retrieves – the tail of the fly had a beautiful wavy action on a slow constant retrieve, giving the fly a lot of life compared to a normal Clouser on the same retrieve for instance). I’ve also caught some lovely kob on the fly on a slow constant retrieve in the meantime. The combination of Ed’s suggestions that a slower, constant retrieve (creating a trail of movement for fish to follow) and more recent personal findings that cuttlefish (and obviously also swimming sand and mud prawns) produce such constant wavy movements with their fins and that kob and most other marine predatory fish love eating cuttlefish (AND that the estuaries where we’ve caught kob are full of cuttlefish) staffs my findings.

So the Sperm Clouser, essentially a 2nd generation Hybrid, has a place on the opposite side of the movement scale if compared to the original Clouser (or Wild Hybrids) in terms of its efficacy…Instead of the standard, hard, jerky retrieves, creating that striking jigging action, one could slow down to a constant pace, but still have a lot of movement (which could work particularly well in murky water or at night, for instance). The fly has worked well for me in clear sunny conditions; I haven’t had time this season to try it at night, but time on the water and feedback from readers could shape a more comprehensive picture of the fly’s success and whether the time spent tying it is worth its salt.

Kob have been successfully caught on the Sperm Clouser fished slowly on a constant retrieve – photo by Ewan Naude.

Three other things that stood out changing flies while fishing Clousers and 2nd generation Hybrids on several recent trips to the sea was that the Sperm Clouser snagged less on the bottom due to the jig hook shape and the tail slowed down the fly’s over-all action, potentially giving the angler more ‘hang time’ and also giving the angler the opportunity to fish it very close to a ‘snaggy’ bottom; the kind of place where kob like to hunt in Western Cape estuaries; third and lastly that long curly tail ‘kicked’ nicely in the water and simulated the fin-motion of a cuttlefish, a much loved predatory fish food item in the sea (we also saw juvenile cuttlefish in good numbers in the estuaries we fished). Updates on this pattern (fish caught and a step-by-step tying demo) will be posted on the blog.

Information about the lateral line function discussed in this article was found on Wikipedia and the following specific articles were pulled and revised:

Bleckmann, Horst; Zelick, Randy (2009). Lateral line system of fish. Integrative Zoology. 4 (1): 13–25. doi:10.1111/j.1749-4877.2008.00131.x. ISSN 1749-4877. PMID 21392273.

Coombs S1, Braun CB, Donovan B. (2001). The orienting response of Lake Michigan mottled sculpin is mediated by canal neuromasts. J Exp Biol. 204: 337–48. PMID 11136619.

Karlsen, H. E.; Sand, O. (1987). Selective and Reversible Blocking of the Lateral Line in Freshwater Fish. Journal of Experimental Biology. 133 (1): 249–262.

Pitcher, T.; Partridge, B.; Wardle, C. (1976). A blind fish can school. Science. 194 (4268): 963–965. doi:10.1126/science.982056.


1 thought on “Good Vibrations – the Sperm Clouser”

  1. he more we experiment with lure action and shape and the more fish we catch fish on any of a huge variety of lures, the more I tend to look at ‘triggers’ as inborn to all finny creatures, no matter the trigger, no matter the fish species.To survive, nature endows animals the senses required to survive. Cats in general have night vision and a keen sense of odor detection – same for dogs. Both animals are capable of swift responses to what may be food or danger.

    But I consider fish responses to stimuli a bit differently considering their aquatic environment which can change by the hour as much as by the season. More than that, the sense of vision coupled with the lateral line and auditory sense are tuned to specific actions similar to a robot that has no choice but to follow its programming : DNA encoded provocations if you will.

    Seasonal water conditions dictate where fish locate, when they spawn and when they move to deeper water. High fish activity is infectious, meaning when many fish are in a irritable state and strike lures, other fish become so in one or more areas. Choice is not the reason.

    So when I come up with new strike-provoking triggers, I’m stumbling upon those already in a DNA encoded program that nature intended for fish to sense and cause (hopefully) an involuntary response. Lure recognition or thought of any kind is non-existent. (in our opinion)

    For example: jig hair action in water is an example of a trigger that means nothing to a fish except that its programming indicates:1. vulnerability; 2. the oblivious state of the object being observed; and then 3. sometimes an instantaneous strike just for the hell of it! As a comparison to humans, consumption becomes my automatic goal when I smell and see a succulent T-bone steak after having fasted for a day, whereas a fish that has a lure such as a plastic worm in their gullets, sticking half way out of their mouths, may still attack a lure – gluttony NOT the reason. (I’ve seen this a few times.)

    I by no means believe the lure or any characteristic of it represents anything -especially a prey animal considering all of the weird, unnatural lure shapes, actions and colors that provoke strikes. Whether or not fish know a real minnow from a simulated minnow in my book is immaterial and not relevant to the lure crafter (or at least it shouldn’t be). It’s like saying fish recognize a painted eye as a real eye.

    In fact when I think of all the lures I’ve caught fish on for over 50 years, I now see the joke was played to perfection by every company as well as the lure designers working for them. Anglers dumb enough to fall for the match/recognition idea spent millions of dollars hoping fish are prone when seeing a lure swim by or hopping on the bottom is some specific animal. Absolutely nothing about the great majority of lures resemble anything in natural yet many have caught fish for over 100 years beginning with the first mass produced lures.


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