I don't believe I need to sell you on the idea of a shrimp pattern for your saltwater fly box. Of
the types of saltwater prey, shrimp are one of the big three, along with fish and crabs. There are
of course outliers and specialty patterns such as sand eels, blood worms and the like, but to
increase your odds of being successful on the water, you need to have patterns that mimic the most
common prey species.
There are many species of shrimp on the East Coast and Gulf Coast, but the two most abundant are
the Gulf White Shrimp and the Brown Shrimp. There is little variation between the two species when
they are 1- to 3-inches in length; for that reason, the techniques and materials for tying this
pattern will fit both of these species (and many others) with only minor alterations.
There are two basic types of flies: impressionistic and imitative. This Brown Shrimp fly would be
classified as an imitative pattern. It is meant to look just like its living counterpart, with the
biologically correct amount of legs, as opposed to an impressionistic fly, which might have an
indeterminate number of hackle fibers or other materials. I will demonstrate how to tie this
pattern as a strong durable fishing fly with options for you to add more detail—or not. It's up to
you to decide how much detail, time and effort you choose to put into your flies. Each imitative
fly can be tied with the bare minimum amount of natural traits, or can be tied so exacting that
you would rather frame it than chance fishing and losing it.
The concept of using minimal materials and techniques was instilled in me by my long time friend
and tying mentor, David R. Martin. David was from Sparks, Nevada, and mostly chased trout on the
rivers and streams near his home. He tied amazing fishing flies as well as breathtaking
presentation flies with three basic materials—thread, deer hair and monofilament. He taught me
that using the same materials from pattern to pattern was an efficient use of both time and
materials and shortened the learning curve. I was able to take those concepts he used for trout
flies and adapt them to patterns for my region of the country.
As a tying material, monofilament is very versatile, as I will demonstrate in this pattern. We
will stack it, melt it and flatten it to make different parts of the shrimp. It is also a very
inexpensive material compared to virtually anything sold in the fly shops. Mono is further
unmatched in strength and it is translucent. And because it has a shelf life of 2-3 years when
used to spool fishing reels, large sporting good stores will often fill bargain bins of discounted
spools in an array of sizes.
Back to the fly in question. The basics of a shrimp pattern are the same regardless of the size
hook or species. (For this reason, you might want to watch my YouTube video on tying a grass
shrimp to see the techniques in action.) Also, don't worry if you don't consider yourself
artistic; it's not a requirement. I try to lay out my step-by-step patterns with exacting
measurements and easy-to-follow instructions to lessen the reader's learning curve. You will need
a millimeter ruler and some smooth-jawed pliers to flatten the mono. The other tools needed are
standard items all fly tyers should have. A quick note: Monofilament is hard on scissors, so I
typically designate an old pair just for mono. If you only have one pair of scissors, try cutting
mono where the blades are the widest, away from the tips.
Fishing this pattern is pretty straightforward: just cast it in front of a fish and hold on. You
can fish it under a strike indicator (I do sometimes for crappie), sight cast in low water or
blind cast to structure. Don't worry about the hook riding down, since the sink rate of this fly
is very slow. I often fish this with floating line and a 6-9 foot leader for spotted sea trout and
the fly stays off the bottom and in the strike zone.
Hook: Mustad S74SZ-34011 size 4
Thread: Uni-Mono size 4M (clear)
Monofilament: 40#, 25#, 10#
Markers: Olive, brown, gray, black, burnt umber
Head Cement: Flex Seal
Before placing the hook in the vise, put a slight downward angle in the hook 12mm from the hook
eye. If you are tying this pattern on a larger or smaller hook, the measurement for the bend will
be 40% of the total hook length. Now place the hook in the vise and tie in your mono thread.
Tie in four strands of 25# monofilament under the hook from the eye to the start of the bend of
the hook. Tie in eight pieces of 25# mono to the top of the hook, from the eye to the start of the
bend. Notice the pieces on top will be slightly longer because of the arc of the bend. Apply head
cement to all the monofilament.
Shrimp have two antennae guards, which we will make by flattening two pieces of 40# monofilament.
Use two pieces each 12mm long, and flatten 8mm of one end of each piece.
Tie in the two flattened pieces of monofilament on top of the eight pieces of 25# monofilament
with the flat ends protruding 5mm past the hook bend.
Add a small touch of olive marker on top of the 25# monofilament just behind the tag ends of these
pieces, or 6mm from the hook bend. This coloring will mimic the organs located in the
cephalothorax—which is to say, the head and body (crustaceans do not have a separate head and
To flesh out our shrimp's body we will tie in six pieces of 10# monofilament in staggering
lengths. Start with twelve inches of 10# mono and match the ends together, then cut it in the
middle to make two pieces that are equal in length. Repeat this step until you have six equal
pieces 6 inches or 150mm. Tie in the first set on top of the tail section at the hook eye and cut
it at a length of 18mm. The second set of six strands are tied in on top of the first, starting
4mm from the hook eye; these are 12mm long. This will give the shrimp body a natural taper that is
common with the species.
Coat all of the mono with head cement and allow to dry. Add a small touch of color to the
cephalothorax as before. This time you can add either black, dark brown, gray or more olive. Look
at several photos of live shrimp in your area and try to match what you see.
The cephalothorax is made more prominent than the tail by adding four strands of 25# monofilament
to each side at a slight upward angle. These pieces will start 18mm from the hook eye and end at
the hook bend (12mm). Monofilament is cheap. Use long enough pieces that are easy to hold and cut
them to length. This is far easier than trying to tie in very small pieces.
The antennae are tied on top of the cephalothorax and extend over the antennae guards. There are
three sets of antennae, all of which are pieces of the 4M tying thread. Cut six equal pieces about
40mm long (they will be trimmed), and tie them in. Trim two of these pieces to 30mm and color them
burnt umber; cut the other four pieces to 10mm long.
Note: Monofilament has a slick surface and will lose color from the after fishing if not
protected by head cement. Another option is to roughen the smooth surface of the monofilament with
sand paper before coloring them; this will allow the marker ink to adhere better.
The horn of the shrimp (optional) is added by flattening a 6mm section of a 12mm piece of 40#
monofilament. This is one of this species attributes that I tie on more for my likes more than
that of the fish. I'm convinced if I omitted it from the pattern it would still catch fish.
However, I tend to fish a fly harder if I have confidence in it, and this trait added to the fly
helps its overall appearance in my opinion.
Cutting the point of the horn is as easy as cutting a slight angle in the flattened end of the
monofilament. Practice on some scrap monofilament before you commit to a piece for the vise.
The horn's tie in tag can be flattened to lay on top of the cephalothorax without increasing the
overall height. Now it’s time to prep the eyes. The eyes are made by heating the ends of two
pieces of 40# monofilament until they resemble eye stalks about 2mm long.
Tie in the eyes, one to each side of the cephalothorax. The tie in tag can be flattened and its
overall length should not extend to the abdomen (tail). The eyes should be placed as far forward
as 28mm from the hook eye and above the antennae and antennae guards.
Once the eyes are secure, it’s time for the legs. Take four pieces of 40mm 10# monofilament and
tie them on the underside of the hook, taking care not to trim the tags, which we will use to make
the legs on the other side of the body. The ends should extend 20mm from the junction of the
cephalothorax and abdomen. Next, pull the tag ends forward and to the far side of the shrimp.
Secure them in place.
Shrimp have five pairs of swimmerettes that are located under the abdomen (tail). These are
optional and can be omitted. If you choose to include them, take two equal pieces (30mm in length)
of 25# monofilament and flatten them. Tie in five pairs of descending lengths under the abdomen
starting at the cephalothorax/abdomen junction. Trim them to length.
Wrap your thread to the hook eye and whip finish. Coat the threads with head cement. If you want
to add some color to the fly to match another species, or to make it easier for fish to see, do
so. Just make sure to seal that color with another coat of head cement. Also, UV resins make a
good top coat for shrimp patterns (though this is optional).
Before the fly is done, you must kink the legs. The legs are heat-kinked into position by
heating a bodkin and placing it against the monofilament where you want it to kink. Practice on
scrap monofilament of the same thickness as the legs. Start by heating the bodkin for one second
as you say, “One one-thousand.” Try it against the scrap piece. If this is not enough heat to
kink the monofilament, try adding a second at a time until you have success. Now you can repeat
that process as you heat-kink the legs on the fly without burning them off.