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We’ve begun hearing welcome reports of striped bass being caught in coastal rivers in the Northeast. The first fly that many striper addicts will cast, on that first chilly morning of a new season, will be a Clouser Deep Minnow. In the 35 years since Bob Clouser invented this brilliant, versatile fly, it has probably caught more stripers than all other striper patterns combined. 

Of course, the Clouser isn’t just for stripers. Bob Clouser originally tied it for smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna River. His friend Lefty Kreh tallied close to 90 species of fish caught on the dumbbelled wonder. It can be tied small or large, in any color, and is effective on any kind of fish that eats smaller fish, which is just about all of them.

Opinions differ, but I think prominent eyes are important on a baitfish pattern, and the Clouser’s dumbbell eyes are about as prominent as you can get. Pre-painted versions in many sizes and colors are widely available, they’re easy to use, and they look great.

The heavy eyes also help the fly sink; an old fishing mentor and superb Clouser fisherman once told me, “if you’re not fishing on the bottom, you’re not fishing.” The dumbells are lashed onto the top of the hook shank when the fly is in the vise, but in the water, they sink under the shank and cause the fly to ride hook-point-up. That helps avoid snagging on rocks, wood, and other debris, and more importantly, results in secure upper-jaw hookups.

The dumbells give the Clouser a sweet hopping action when jigged on the retrieve. In this way, the Clouser is much like the bucktail jig favored by so many surfcasters for inshore striped bass, bluefish, and fluke fishing.

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Built with one clump of bucktail on the top of the fly and another on the bottom, the Clouser lends itself easily to two-tone presentation. That mimics the design of real baitfish, which typically have dark backs and light bellies as natural camouflage. This also gives the angler the opportunity to customize the color scheme. Olive over white and chartreuse over white may be the most common designs, but yellow, black, brown, gray, and pink often turn up in Clousers. Dark olive over orange on a Size 6 hook might be a good bet in October, on a river that holds brook trout, for example. Maximize the opportunity for contrast, and keep in mind the typical colors of bait in your local water. 

The Clouser Deep Minnow Recipe

  • Hook: 1x-Long streamer, such as Mustad S71, Size 6-2/0
  • Thread: Veevus G.S.P.+ 150 denier or similar, tier’s choice of color
  • Belly and Back: Bucktail
  • Eyes: Dumbell, sized to fit hook
  • Flash: Krystal Flash