Part 1: Why Cripples Work
Part 2: Key Concept: The Window

Part 3: Two Cripple Patterns

Part 4: Resources & Links

Bottlebrush Cripple and the Torch Cripple
(originated by Wes Wada)


In a recent fly tying class, I asked the tiers how many had a go-to cripple pattern. Only a third of the group of 30 raised their hands. That represents lots of holes in lots of fly boxes!

A cripple pattern (mayfly, caddis, midge) is a fly that represents an unsuccessful attempt by the insect to emerge from its nymphal case. Some of the emergers get stuck, others get injured, and the wind capsizes more than a few. Some bugs are even too weak to fight through the tension of the water’s surface film, and fall short of their buggy destiny. (Death via Saran wrap.)

Why cripples are important to fly tiers is simple. Trout and other gamefish are opportunistic predators. A crippled insect is an easy meal, trapped and unable to fly away. Fishing a fly that looks like easy prey can be devastatingly effective.

I have avidly fished cripple patterns for almost 20 years, and hold them near and dear to my fishing heart. The first fly out of my box during a mayfly hatch is invariably a cripple pattern. You’ll find me knotting one of those weird looking beasts to my tippet in lieu of traditional dries. And being rewarded with predictably consistent hookups.


Early hunches about cripple design were successful right out of the starting gate, and one of those flies, the Bottlebrush Cripple is now over 15 years old, and still kicking out fish wherever it is employed.

More recently, I was inspired by the design of traditional Japanese Tenkara flies. There are reverse-hackle designs where the hackle wraps point forward over the eye. Being a Japanese fella, I can joke that Tenkara has got it right, everybody else is doing it backwards.

When I analyzed the basic Tenkara design, one thing jumped out – Tenkara flies make great cripple patterns – at least during the time when they are afloat. Adapting the basic Tenkara design to be a full-time cripple fly was easy, and has resulted in an easy-to-tie, multiple purpose pattern.

Original article posted: Feb. 12, 2013


• Injury

• Insect gets stuck in nymphal shuck

• Lack of robustness of the insect

• Emerger too weak to fight through

the water’s surface film tension.


• Fish recognize vulnerability of the prey.

• Common occurrence that fish look for.

• Insect appears trapped and unable to fly away.

• Crippled mayflies are more visible to fish than

emerged duns floating on the surface.


• Since cripples are injured or disabled bugs, your tying need not be super precise.

• Size is relatively unimportant, as the length of

the emerging insect plus the nymphal shuck

ranges from slightly longer than the nymph to

almost twice as long. Bigger patterns also have

the advantage of being more visible to the fish.

The next page covers a key concept about cripples: The Window.

If you study the fly tying trends across a range of patterns, you will notice things the newly favored patterns have in common.

What’s the trend? What is the common feature of all these popular flies: parachute flies, comparaduns, serendipities, Klinkhamers, foam emergers?

Cripple flies, and all of the above, are patterns that float in, and often extend below, the water’s surface film. Soft hackles have made use of this principal since the beginning of fly fishing.

In the last section of this feature article, there are links to outstanding videos of emerging mayflies. The above frame capture is from Leptophlebia Vespertina Mayfly Hatch

Mollan Media - Norway

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