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Flies made with rabbit fur, or "bunny flies" as they're known to most anglers, have become important patterns for saltwater fly fishing. This is due to the fact that rabbit fur moves moves in the water with a pulsating action that predator fish find irresistible. When fish become focused on the movements that individual prey make in the water, bunny flies will become the most effective flies in your box. When you witness firsthand the attraction that fish exhibit to these flies, you may never go saltwater fly fishing again without them.
Tying bunny flies is simple. They use just three easy-to-find materials - bucktail, a bit of heavy monofilament, and rabbit fur strips. A tail is created by tying in a short strip of rabbit fur over a sparse bucktail underwing at the rear of the hook, along with a small loop of mono tied in between the bucktail and the fur strip to help keep the fur strip tail from fouling. Then a long fur strip is tied in and palmered as a hair collar around the hook shank all the way to the hook eye. During fishing, the fur strip tail wiggles like mad on the retreive, and the palmered hair collar body pulsates with a movement that even surpasses marabou. Learning to tie bunny flies is enjoyable, and will help you add an important fish-catching tool to your arsenal of clousers, deceivers, and other standard saltwater patterns.
Bunny flies can be tied to imitate a wide range of baitfish and other prey. The basic style that we'll consider here provides a template for creating dozens of patterns with which to take a variety of gamefish. Building on this basic template, many different flies can be created to match the fishing conditions for the areas that you want to fish. Although the basic bunny fly outlined in this article is tied on a size 2 hook and approximately 3 inches long, larger and smaller flies are also effective. A size 2 tied to imitate silversides may be just the ticket for schoolie stripers, bonito, and false albacore, but a size 2/0 that imitates small herring, bunker, or squid might be more appropriate when boat fishing in the rips for aggressive stripers and bluefish. Simply adjust the materials in proportion to the hook size, and you're in business. The tying instructions linked to this page will give you the basic idea of how to tie this style of fly - then you can can adjust the size according to the kind of fishing that you want to do.
Colors can be adjusted to your fishing as well. For bonito and albies, an all-white fly with a bit of flash is hard to beat. A chartreuse bunny is a great daytime fly for stripers, while a black one is standard for night fishing. A big fly tied with white fur and highlighted with a red permanent marker can serve as a chum fly for offshore fish like sharks, etc. Flies tied in two color combinations like red & white, red & yellow, or red & black on a heavy hook will serve well as tarpon flies. Keep in mind that freshwater fish also respond well to bunny flies - small bunnies in brown or black work wonders on big brown trout. Rust orange or olive is just the ticket for smallmouths that feed on crayfish, and purple works great for largemouths. Tie one with a long tail and a weedguard in an orange, black, or red and white color, and you'll have a very useful fly for chasing northern pike.
One day several years ago, I joined Capt. Mo Flaherty aboard his boat, the "Mister Mo" for a day of bonito fishing. The water was rough, with heavy swells making standing on deck a real challenge, but the fish were up and feeding heavily. Though we expected fast action from the actively feeding fish, cast after cast into breaking schools of bonito with the flies that had hammered the fish in days past went untouched or unnoticed until Mo changed to a small white bunny. Mo's very next cast was rewarded by the jolting strike of a fat October bonito, and so it went for the rest of the day. The action of the white bunny fly drew the attention of the fish that had ignored clousers, deceivers, and every other fly in the box.
More recently I spent a day fishing with Captain Bucky Burrows in the Elizabeth Islands of Massachusetts. We found striped bass feeding heavily at the surface in a small rip off one of the islands, but the fish proved to be finicky, and the bait that they were feeding on was not immediately evident. When we seined the water with a fine mesh net, we were astonished to find what we later identified as juvenile pipefish. These little guys were about two inches long, nearly transparent, and very thin - no thicker than the diameter of thirty pound dacron backing. None of our flies interested the fish, and we felt compelled to take a closer look at the bait in the water. These tiny, transparent fish were swimming through the surface water with a pronounced undulating motion such as a snake might make while swimming, and though they were nearly invisible to our eyes, clearly the bass had no trouble seeing them. None of our flies matched the slim profile or the movement of the pipefish, until I tied on a small white bunny. Once the fly absorbed water, it became very transparent in the water, and even though the fly wasn't quite as slim as the pipefish, it was slender enough and it pulsated like mad on the retreive. In constrast to our earlier offerings, the bass began to show a very marked interest in this fly, and together Bucky and I landed over a dozen very nice fish that had previously ignored our flies completely.
Learning to tie a basic bunny fly in a few different size and color combinations will provide you with a very useful tool in your quest to enjoy saltwater fly fishing. Familiarize yourself with the instructions for tying this very effective pattern, adjust the recipe to suit your fishing, then go find some fish and enjoy the rewards that a truly great pattern can bring.
Here are my instructions for tying the Bunny Fly.
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