Updated: Nov 7, 2021
There is little question that the Clouser minnow style is one of the most popular, successful, and versatile fly tying styles, patterns, or holy crap do I hate this word in the fly tying world, "platform". Originally designed for Susquehanna River Smallmouth Bass, it was quickly adapted to saltwater where it might be most used and best known. It's famous enough to have its own Wikipedia page, something you can say of very few fly patterns.
For a first experimental fly tying exploration, I've decided upon the Clouser minnow not because it is one of my favorite flies to fish or tie but because it's a great example of the versatile fly pattern that has been adopted for use for warmwater and coldwater fish. It can be tied and fished in large sizes (3/0 and larger) and can make a great imitation on streamer hooks down to #10 or even smaller. Not only is it a wonderfully effective fly pattern, let's face it, how many bonefish patterns are slightly modified Clousers? Gotcha, Christmas Island Special, Crazy Charlies - they're all basically Clousers that sink more slowly.
Another great thing about the Clouser is it a great beginners fly in many ways. It is simple, it uses relatively cheap and easy to find materials, and it is a great fly for thinking about proportions. It also teaches the nuances of maybe my favorite material, bucktail. Bucktail is amazingly versatile and serves a number of different functions in fly tying. But the fly also presents some challenges - tying on dumbbell eyes, not crowding the eye, and many of the materials are slick and not compressible so they can present a challenge.
Like so many fly original fly patterns, the Clouser Deep Minnow is a solution to an angling "problem", in large part made possible by a new innovation, the dumbbell eye. This new material gave flies a different action than could be accomplished with other tying methods and materials. Additionally, the Clouser riding hook point up gave a new option for fishing the bottom or over and around obstructions. I've fished the fly in basically two ways. In the water column, it is a swim jig, on the bottom is like a more standard jig. Yes, I know a bunch of folks are going to say it's not a jig but if it swims like a jig and hops like a jig...
The pattern only dates back to 1987, a relative newcomer for such an old standard. What is a Clouser minnow? I'm sure Mr. Bob Clouser would have a much more precise answer than I will provide. Actually, I know he does as I heard him give very specific ideas about how the fly should be tied. You can see how Clouser's Fly Shop ties the flies that they sell: https://clousersflyshop.com/products/ols/products/clouser-minnow-original or the saltwater version: https://clousersflyshop.com/products/ols/products/clouser-minnow-original-cls-mnn-rgn1. Or watch a video of Mr. Clouser tying his minnow:
In my mind, the great thing about a Clouser is that it is so versatile. It's a dumbbell eyed fly meant to provide a jigging action and really, that is the canvas you are working on. What you decide to do with that canvas is up to you. I have this theory about fly tying; it's more like cooking than baking. Recipes and fly patterns are a starting point, not a blueprint. Add a bit more of this and a little less of that and your tomato sauce, rice dish, dry rubbed ribs, etc. come out fine, maybe a bit different, but fine. Add a little baking soda instead of baking power to your cake or biscuits and you might get something pretty much inedible. The Clouser is Gumbo. Add what you like but it has "Cajun" spices and the Cajun trinity (peppers, onions, and celery), and even when it is bad, it is still pretty darn good.
When I talk versatility, it is not just that you can tie them in tons of colors (of course, you can). Or that you can incorporate lots of flash, almost none, or absolutely none. You can tie them with natural materials (bucktail, marabou, most any type of fur), synthetics, or some combination of those two. You can, of course adjust the weight though I know at a show in Madison, WI, in a group conversation with Bob Clouser himself, he said they should be tied with heavy (lead) eyes when the question was about using brass eyes.
Maybe more overlooked how to tie the wing / body / whatever you want to call it on a streamer. The fly above, is in the "high tie" style - all the wing is on the bottom of the hook, which of course becomes the top of the fly. You can tie down the entire underwing (belly) for a fly with much different (less) movement or only place a few wraps of thread behind the eye. We'll explore these tying styles and how they affect the look and action of the flies in later posts.