Leonard Flemming on catching sharks on crab and crayfish flies.

Catching sharks on crab and crayfish flies

It was a heart-shattering experience when I hooked up with my first big duckbill ray and large smooth-hound sharks in False Bay. While these cartilaginous fish showed little interest in the flies that I initially presented in front of them, I later learned that they feed primarily on crustaceans and started tying large crab flies for them.

I tied several ‘giant’ crab flies on 6/0 Gamakatsu SL12 and Owner Aki hooks and a well-presented crab had these sharks light up like GTs on shallow sand flats, something I never expected to see from such docile animals – they generally just cruise sluggishly over rock and sand flats and will only occasionally show interest in a big baitfish pattern or Clouser Minnow, but I could not get them to eat it. In contrast to the baitfish flies, they’d rush a crab dropping to the bottom and inhale it, the jaws of the shark noticeably extending and gills flaring as they sucked it in.

Soft mouths

But the hooks pulled on every single fish I hooked as soon as I cranked up the drag to stop them from cutting my line off on the reef lining the white beaches where they were feeding. It was devastating to lose several big fish on heavy fly tackle as I felt that I had finally managed to tie flies that they recognized as food items and ate aggressively, yet I still failed to land a fish (even with a 12 wt and 100 lb fluorocarbon leader). Standard hooks clearly didn’t work on the soft mouths of these sharks and I had to change my approach.

I then tied the crabs on 6/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks and returned to the beaches where I had seen the sharks, but sadly due to a lack of these sharks on the sand flats on return trips (due to inexplicable reasons) I never got a shot at a duckbill ray or smooth-hound again. I was super bummed, and the crabs have just been chilling in the corner of my saltwater fly box since.

Eagle rays too

I had never bothered to tie one of these crabs on again, until a recent trip to the West Coast, where I found many eagle rays feeding in the shallows while strolling on the beach with my family. We could see their tails and fins come out of the water as they were searching for food in the shore break and we decided to give them a shot on fly. I rigged two rods, a Solid Octagon 9 wt for myself and a Sage Salt 9 wt for Michelle, and we waded into the shallow water full of adrenalin to sight fish at the feeding rays. There was almost immediate action on these crab flies, my first fish going airborne after the hookup and then running me deep into my backing.

A decent eagle ray landed on a Solid Octagon 9 wt – more to follow on these rods in The Mission Fly Mag.
catching sharks on crab and crayfish flies
Michelle with her first eagle ray on fly.

Stray Cray

We had an amazing morning, landing several decent eagle rays on the crab flies. All the excitement had me tie a few more crustacean patterns for sharks after we got home. I gathered that while the biggish crabs (6/0) got eaten by relatively small eagle rays, the big duckbill rays may respond even better to a larger fly. So I tied a few quick-sight baby crayfish patterns (the Stray Cray) on 8/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks. Note that these flies don’t have much detail in them like eyes etc., as I believe that the sharks respond more to bulk and movement (pushing water and the visible aspect) in these flies than anything else.

I simply can’t wait to throw these Stray Crays at tailing duckbills and whether they take the flies for a crab, baby crayfish, or baby octopus even, doesn’t matter to me, I’m just curious to see how they will react to it.

catching sharks on crab and crayfish flies
Heavily weighted Stray Cray fly to get down to the bottom quickly and to keel the fly. This is so that the big circle hook faces upwards on the presentation.
catching sharks on crab and crayfish flies
Colour variations of the 8/0 Stray Cray meant for large duckbill rays and smooth-hound sharks feeding in the shallows.

3 thoughts on “STRAY CRAYS FOR BIG RAYS”

  1. Fascinating article by one of our most erudite and entertaining fly angling writers. Is a seven foot 2-weight Solid Octagon for small heavily-bushed streams too much of a dream?

  2. Excellent article !!
    I see a lot more big rays than big fish most of the time ! Will definitely be tying up something similar to have a go at them.

    Thanks again

    South Australia


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