Toy tentacles make a hot crappie fly
A little over six years ago, Dave Hise took a children’s play toy and turned it into one of the most productive flies since the Woolybugger.
Using the silicon tentacles of Puffer Balls, a.k.a wormy balls, the North Carolina resident created the Squirmy Wormy, a variation of the popular San Juan Worm. Competitive anglers started using it with great success, and in 2014, the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team won the world championships with it.
Immediately, a love-hate affair began among fly anglers with the Squirmy. Traditionalists refused to call it a fly, and the Czech Republic sought to ban it from international competition.
But for all the uproar, last year it was the talk of all the shows. Trout guides from Georgia to Maine and even out west now keep a large supply in their boxes.
The Cajun connection
It was on a North Carolina fishing trip that John Zeringue saw the potential of the fly in South Louisiana.
John grew up in Vacherie fishing for bream and sac-a-lait in the adjacent cypress-laden bayous and swamps with his dad and maternal grandfather. His first experience with a fly rod was at 13 years old casting popping bugs to bream.
Four years ago, a guided trout trip to North Carolina reawakened his love for fly fishing, and since then he has fished bream and crappie with fly rod only.
Last spring, John started playing around with Squirmy Worms for bream. As he puts it, the fly was extremely productive — but had issues.
“The problem was after a few fish the Squirmy would start looking tattered and eventually fall apart,” he said. “At that point, I started trying to tie a better Squirmy.”
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, John found a solution, but it required adaptation.
“During a trip to Gatlinburg, I found some chartreuse wormy material in a fly shop. It was slightly better quality. When I got home, I was trying to figure a way to conserve the material — so I replaced the body with chenille.
“It was basically a black and chartreuse Fluff Butt, but replacing the marabou with the wormy material. I was catching bull bream, little bass, little sac-a-lait.”
With a couple more improvements, John’s fly reached its full potential. While he continues to use other flies for crappie — such as woolybuggers, Fluff Butts and the Crappie Candy — the Squirmy Butt is approaching legendary status.
“I catch crappie in my neighborhood ponds while guys fishing shiners and jigs are getting skunked! My biggest crappie was almost 2 pounds, but I regularly catch fish over a pound.”
Fishing the Squirmy Butt
John says there are multiple ways to fish his fly.
“If I’m fishing over a fairly clean bottom, I’ll cast them out and count down — usually to seven — then increase or decrease from there. Then retrieve with long, slow strips. When I get a hit, I know I’m at the right depth.”
Since crappie are notorious for their tepid strikes, John urges that anglers watch where the fly line connects to the leader for any suspicious activity.
“If fishing over a brush pile or snags, I use the Squirmy suspended under a small float or VOSI. Fish this like you would a jig under a cork.”
“If you’re fishing from a kayak or boat over tree tops or deep structure, you can also vertically jig the Squirmy Butt in the cover. I’ve done this on my favorite tree in the Amite River and been very successful.”
As for tackle, John’s favorite rod for crappie is an 8’9” TFO Finesse Series 4-weight. He likes the 4-weight because it lets him get a good firm hookset without risking tearing the fly out of the soft parts of the crappie’s mouth.
Crappie are dogged fighters, and will immediately head for cover once hooked. John’s experience is that size 3X knotless leaders are the perfect compromise between frequent fish breakoffs and “must break” situations when tangled up.
For those looking to purchase Squirmy Butts, they’ll soon be available at Bayou Adventure in Lacombe. For those looking to tie their own, check out John’s blog at vacherieboy.wordpress.com, or his YouTube channel at bit.ly/vacherieboychannel.
Check out John’s column at northshorefishingreport.com for the latest fly fishing reports in Southeast Louisiana.