The Crazy Menhaden three-feather flatwing

This flatwing draws its inspiration from Ken Abrames’ classic streamer, the Crazy Menhaden.

The original pattern calls for eleven saddles. But what if you don’t have all the right colors? Or, what if you have precious few saddles? One solution – the one I’ve chosen here – is to use bucktail instead of saddles to complete the proper color blend that makes this such an attractive fly.


For this version of the Crazy Menhaden I’m using one white, one yellow, and one orange saddle to anchor the center of the fly, add length, and provide the swimming action flatwings are renowned for. (The exception is the biggest fly pictured, which has eight saddles.) The bucktail on the top half of the fly is tied like a Blonde, at the tail end of the shank and near the head. These fibers provide the bulk of the color and content, along with some flashabou accents and long peacock herl. The beige and yellow bucktail throat and sides remain true to the original pattern.

Along with the saddles, the rest of the color palette is bronze, pink, ginger, red, blue, chartreuse, olive, light green, and copper. The largest fly here is 12″ long; the smallest, just a bit over 7″.

I’ve had a lot of success with this fly at night on our rivers here in Connecticut. I like to fish it during the bottom of the tide, on a greased line swing.

You can find the original pattern in Ken’s book, A Perfect Fish, on page 93. When it comes to fly fishing and fly tying, I don’t usually speak in imperatives. But if you’re interested in flatwings and you don’t have this book, you need to get it. It’s the flatwing bible.


Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: Tan
Platform: Orange and yellow bucktail, mixed
Support: White neck hackle
Tail: Natural white saddle, under 2 strands copper flash, under a yellow saddle under an orange saddle, under 2 strands red flash, under 30 total hairs ginger, pink and violet bucktail, mixed, under 20 total hairs pink and chartreuse bucktail, mixed, under 2 strands green flash under 20 total hairs blue and red bucktail, mixed.
Body: Bronze braid
Collar: Beige bucktail on bottom, yellow and beige bucktail, mixed, on sides
Wing: 15 hairs orange bucktail under 30 hairs olive bucktail
Topping: Peacock herl
 Eyes: Jungle cock

 A closer look at the head detail and the color blends:


17 comments on “The Crazy Menhaden three-feather flatwing

  1. Charlie Glotfelty says:

    Steve great fly and thanks for the detailed recipe.

  2. Kelly L says:

    Gorgeous work, love all of these.

  3. Great flies. Can you use regular saddle hackles for these, or do they need to be the of the flatwing variety. Also, do they have to be dead straight or can the saddles have a little curve? Thanks.

  4. Steve Culton says:

    Thanks, Billy.

    The short answer is yes, you can use regular strung saddles, but that’s not an ideal feather for the application. When I first started tying flatwings, I didn’t have any of the long saddle hackle patches, so I turned to my stash of strung Chinese hackle. The stems tend to be on the thicker side, which makes tying them in more of a challenge. They also are shorter, so you’re not going to be able to tie a foot long herring fly with them.

    Unfortunately, it looks like the Whiting flatwing saddle well has gone dry. Between that and the hair feather craze of a few years ago, there are precious few saddles available, and many of them are going for outrageous prices. You can try Bugger packs, or any saddle patch that has a good mix of tapered, webby feathers, like the odd Metz #2 you occasionally run across.

    I’m not sure how to answer your last question. Are you talking about feathers that look like a broken arrow, or are you talking about how you’re tying them in?

    Let me know.

    • Thanks. The Bugger packs will be my source for these feathers, not the chinese strung packs. The question about the curve: I have some feathers from of the Bugger packs that are curved in a mild corkscrew shape. In certain patterns that could cause the whole fly to spin in a death roll while retrieved, eventually twisting the leader. Does this fly have a tendency to twist, or should it swim true as long as the feather isn’t curved too severely.

  5. Steve Culton says:

    Hi Billy,

    I understand now. I tend not to use twisted feathers in my flatwings, so I can’t give you a carte blanche answer. I have successfully straightened any number of feathers by running them under steaming hot tap water for ten seconds, then hanging them to dry, or drying them on a paper towel. (By the way, the hot water/hanging technique is how you shape flatwings. The flies here had bucktail going every which way before I shaped them into the nice fishy profile you see today.) I would try to straighten the feathers, although I suspect you may be OK.

    Also: I tend to not do a lot of retrieving with flatwings. You can certainly fish them that way, and catch fish, but I like to let them move through a combination of current and line management like greased line swings.

    I hope this helps.


  6. Gin Clear says:

    Reblogged this on Gin Clear and commented:
    Awesome looking stripah fly, Steve. Need to tie a few of these.

  7. Jack Devlin says:

    I like your Crazy Menhaden.
    I tie a lot of flat wings out here in Puget Sound, Washington. In fact, I have come up with an effective herring pattern very similar to your Rock Island. Question: what are you using for the support feather? I have a good supply of flatwing saddles but have run out of and can’t find suitable white feathers for the support feather.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Hi Jack. Thanks for the kind words.

      More and more, I find I’m not using a support feather with my flatwing/bucktails if they are under nine inches long. I don’t find that I need one.

      When I do use a support feather, I use saltwater neck hackle. You can buy it strung, lots of color choices, and within any package there are a good number of suitable feathers.Sometimes the feathers need to be straightened; I will run them under hot water and dry them on a paper towel to do that.

      The best batch of neck hackle I ever found, I didn’t find: my wife did, at a craft fair.

      Hope that helps. By the way, the Crazy Menhaden works very well as a herring fly.

  8. Jack Devlin says:


    I think I have arrived at the same conclusion regarding the need for a support feather relative to fly length. It is just that I like to tie a fly in the same way it was conceived by the originator. If you don’t tell Kenney Abrames, I won’t.

    Many of my patterns are right around six inches in length.. The salt water neck hackles I’ve found are of very poor quality and not suited to the role of support feather. Perhaps I should hit the craft fair circuit?

    Thanks for the reply and info. I am glad I found CURRENTSEAMS and will be a frequent visitor.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Ken wouldn’t care. 🙂

      I agree that good saltwater necks are hard to find.

      Glad to have you on board. If you’re interested, there’s a link on the main page to sign up for email notification of new posts.

  9. […] deliciousness and adding-the-illusion-of-mass properties of bucktail. (See the Rock Island and Crazy Menhaden three feather flatwings.) So, just a taste for now.  Details to come […]

  10. […] of flash extending at least 3/4″ beyond the longest feather. (See the Rock Island and Crazy Menhaden three-feather flatwings.)  Bonus: they’re easy to cast for their size, and they swim […]

  11. […] going to be tying some of these (Crazy Menhaden flatwing/bucktail hybrid) […]

  12. […] of Ken Abrames’ multi-feather flatwings. I first tried it with Ken’s Striper Moon and Crazy Menhaden. The bass loved them. A few years later, I created the Rock Island, now one of my signature […]

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