Considering Two Legends

UNI Products Fly Tiers Corner

One is “Crazy” Charlie Smith and the other is the fly he created!

September 2022

Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs

The Crazy Charlie bonefish pattern.

Back on December 30, 2018, the fly fishing community lost one of the true legends of our sport. Captain Charlie Smith was a renowned guide on the waters around Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as having operated two of the iconic fishing lodges of that region. His original hostel was Charlie’s Haven at Behring Point, which burned down in 1983. More recently he re-opened the Bang Bang Club on Pot Cay. Smith often pointed out that he was the first Bahamian to open his own fishing lodge in the islands. Born on Grand Cay in Abaco in 1936, Smith began taking anglers out in boats for fishing when just 10 years old. He became a professional fishing guide in 1960, gravitating to bonefish and fly fishing. He, however, was a man of many talents. At various times he tried his hand at running heavy equipment, captaining yachts, and for 25 years as a professional chef. Additionally, he was a talented musician. Yet, always he returned to fishing. Despite that history, Charlie Smith is best known as the originator of the Crazy Charlie bonefish fly. It is perhaps the most famous and successful pattern associated with those fish.

Illustration by Zane Jacobs

As with many tales from the islands, separating fact from myth can sometimes be difficult. Regarding the origins of the Crazy Charlie, one version attributes it to an instance when no crab bait was available, so Smith cobbled together some chicken feathers, tread, wire and beads to create the fly. Another story has Bob Nauheim, the founder of Fishing International, a sport fishing travel agency in California tying the first of the pattern while fishing with Smith in 1977. In this version, the fly was to imitate glass minnows. Nauheim then took the fly home with him and showed it to Leigh Perkins of Orvis, who added it to their catalog. A third version of the tale simply had Smith sharing his pattern with Nauheim. Also clouding the history of the fly is the tale that it was originally named the Nasty Charlie. Supposedly Charlie Smith saw Nauheim’s finished pattern and said “Dat fly is nasty mon.” That quote has been passed around for decades. However, one of Smith’s grandchildren has pointed out that the term “mon” is synonymous with Jamaica and not used by Bahamians. He suggested that Charlie would more likely have used the term “bey” (pronounced bae), which is what Bahamians use instead of mon.

The Crazy Charlie probably has been found in the lips of more bonefish than any other fly pattern.

Regardless of how it originated, Charlie Smith and the Crazy Charlie have forever been linked. The fly was noted for being the first pattern tied with bead chain eyes that made the hook point to face up when retrieved. In the ensuing years, a large number of variations on the original have been developed. The modern Crazy Charlie is usually tied in size 2 through 8 on stainless steel saltwater hooks. Thread used is 6/0, and the inclusion of a tail is optional and probably not original. The body is pearlescent tinsel, with an overlap of clear vinyl or monofilament line. Calf hair is used for the wing, with some pearlescent flash. Bead chain eyes complete the tie. The fly most often appears in pink or tan versions, though other colors can be used. All the myth and history aside, there is no doubt that Charlie Smith will be remembered as long as saltwater anglers head to the flats with the Crazy Charlie in their fly boxes

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