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How to Tie the SA Merkin

The How and Why Behind the Strong Arm Merkin
Author: Josh Idol | June 2021
Two-Aught-Fly-Fishing-Co-Permit-On-Fly-Biscayne-Bay
Searching for Permit.

Why the SA Merkin

The brainchild of renowned fly tier Dave Skok, Angling Company owner Nathaniel Linville, and a handful of Key West Permit guides the Strong Arm Merkin is probably the hottest Permit fly around. Like the Tarpon Toad before, the Strong Arm Merkin has changed the way many fly anglers fish for Permit. Click the link below to read about the design and development of the Strong Arm Merkin straight from the horse’s mouth:

“Strong Arm Merkin” by Nathanial Linville in Fly Fisherman

Tying the SA Merkin

Now that you have your SA Merkin tying kit, you’ll need a handful of tools and supplies to complete your consortium of strong arm crabs.

You’ll need a UV Fly Finish (like Loon) or Softex for the strong arm claw, a Sharpie of your choice for the claw tip, nail polish to coat the lead eyes, and 20# monofilament for a weedguard if you want one.

In addition to your typical tying tools you’ll also want to have a sturdy comb and a dubbing spinner handy. I also like to use a dedicated synthetic scissor (I use Dr Slick’s synthetic scissors or EP’s 4.5″ scissors) for trimming the yarn body.

Two-Aught-Fly-Fishing-Co-SA-Merkin-Tying-Kit
An SA Merkin Tying Kit ready to go.
SA-Merkin-Step-One
Step One: create a thread base for your dumbbell eyes.

Step One

We’ll start by building a thread base for our lead eyes. Start your thread about one eye width back from the eye and create a small base of thread. I like to build up two small humps of thread on either end of the thread base to help keep the eyes centered on the shank.

Step Two

Now we’ll tie in the lead dumbbell eyes with the typical figure-eight wraps.
SA-Merkin-Step-Two
Step Two: tie in your dumbbell eyes.
SA-Merkin-Step-Two
Step Two: tie in your dumbbell eyes.

Step Two

Now we’ll tie in the lead dumbbell eyes with the typical figure-eight wraps.
Step-Three
Step Three: build up thread wraps between shank and eyes.

Step Three

Next we’ll create a thread base between the dumbbell eyes and the hook shank. Wrap your thread horizontally around the tie-in point of the eyes, between the eyes and the hook shank, about ten times and pull tight. This thread base will lock your eyes in-place and hold them off the shank to help keep the finished fly riding hook-point up.

Step Four

Now that the eyes are secure, whip finish and trim your thread to prepare the eyes for paint. You can add a drop of super glue to the eyes if you like but I’ve found the nail polish in the next step is plenty durable.

If you’re tying more than one fly this is a great place to pause and tie in the eyes on all of your flies before you move on to paint.

Step Four
Step Four: whip finish behind the lead eyes.
Step Four
Step Four: whip finish behind the lead eyes.

Step Four

Now that the eyes are tied in…
Nail Polish
Step Five: prep your eyes for finish.

Step Five

I cover the head on almost all of my lead weighted flies with nail polish for durability. The polish seals the threads wraps and locks the eyes into place. I prefer Sally Hansen’s Pure polishes, but pretty much any polish will do in any color you like.

Step Six

Coat the head and threads with nail polish. The polish will saturate and level as it dries, but I usually give it a few spins on the vise and stick it in my foam material holder with the eyes down (the same way it swims) while the polish dries.
Step-Six
Step Six: apply nail polish finish to your lead eyes.
Step-Six
Step Six: apply nail polish finish to your lead eyes.

Step Six

Coat the head and threads with nail polish. The polish will saturate and level as it dries, but I usually give it a few spins on the vise and stick it in my foam material holder with the eyes down (the same way it swims) while the polish dries.
Step-Seven
Step Seven: prep your strong arm claw.

Step Seven

While our eyes dry we’ll prep the strong arm claw. First, grab your Sharpie in the color of your choice (I’m using blue here but orange, red, pink, and chartreuse are all good choices) and color the tip of the claw past the knot.

If you’re using Softex like I am here you’ll want a brush or your bodkin to apply the Softex to the claw. If you’re using UV finish you’ll skip to step nine. The original Strong Arm Merkin uses UV finish for the claw but I’ve found the flexible Softex finish easier to work with and more durable so if you plan on tying a lot of strong arms it’s worth investing in a jar (I get about 180 claws out of each jar).

Step Eight

Make sure your pre-tied claw is straight and then thoroughly coat in Softex on both sides. Place the claw on a scrap piece of paper or cardboard laying flat and allow to dry for a few hours. If you’re tying more than one fly, go ahead and coat all of your claws at the same time.
Step-Eight
Step Eight: apply Softex coating to your strong arm claw.
Step-Eight
Step Eight: apply Softex coating to your strong arm claw.

Step Eight

Make sure your pre-tied claw is straight and then thoroughly coat in Softex on both sides. Place the claw on a scrap piece of paper or cardboard laying flat and allow to dry for a few hours. If you’re tying more than one fly, go ahead and coat all of your claws at the same time.
Step-Nine
Step Nine: tie in the strong arm claw.

Step Nine

Once your strong arm claw is dry, place your hook back into your vise and cover the shank with a thread base all the way back to bend. Tie the claw in on the top of the shank at the start of the bend. Make sure you keep the claw on top of the shank as you get started, it tends to roll to one side or the other.

Step Ten

Wrap the strong arm claw with thread down the bend until the claw is angled about 45 degrees up from the hook shank. Keeping the claw centered and at the correct angle is essential to the performance of the finished fly.

If you’re using UV resin for the claw rather than Softex you’ll want to go ahead apply it now. Use a fine tip on your resin bottle to apply the resin to all surfaces of the claw and inject it between the two strands of the arm. Hold the arm in place while you cure with your UV light.

Step-Ten
Step Ten: wrap the strong arm claw with thread to set its position.
Step-Ten
Step Ten: wrap the strong arm claw with thread to set its position.

Step Ten

Wrap the strong arm claw with thread down the bend until the claw is angled about 45 degrees up from the hook shank. Keeping the claw centered and at the correct angle is essential to the performance of the finished fly.

If you’re using UV resin for the claw rather than Softex you’ll want to go ahead apply it now. Use a fine tip on your resin bottle to apply the resin to all surfaces of the claw and inject it between the two strands of the arm. Hold the arm in place while you cure with your UV light.

Step-Eleven
Step Eleven: create a small dubbing loop.

Step Eleven

Now trim the tag end of your strong arm claw and cover with thread (you can add a drop of super glue here if you choose but it’s not necessary). Once your claw is secure create a small (about 2″) dubbing loop with your thread and wind your thread up past the tie-in point.

Step Twelve

Add a small amount of dubbing mix to the loop. We’re going to use this dubbing to cover the tie-in point of claw and create a more natural transition to the body profile.
Step-Twelve
Step Twelve: add a small amount of dubbing to the dubbing loop.
Step-Twelve
Step Twelve: add a small amount of dubbing to the dubbing loop.

Step Twelve

Add a small amount of dubbing mix to the loop. We’re going to use this dubbing to cover the tie-in point of claw and create a more natural transition to the body profile.
Step-Thirteen
Step Thirteen: spin your dubbing loop.

Step Thirteen

Spin your dubbing loop loosely. You want stop spinning before all of the long fibers are wrapped so you can create a nice veil around the claw.

If you don’t have a dubbing spinner you can actually use the bend of your whip finisher or even a comb to spin the dubbing loop.

Step Fourteen

Wind your dubbing loop forward until you’ve completely covered the tie-in point making sure that you keep the dubbing fibers flowing back towards the claw (I use the rotary function of my vise to make this process a little easier).
Step-Fourteen
Step Fourteen: Wrap your dubbing loop forward.
Step-Fourteen
Step Fourteen: Wrap your dubbing loop forward.

Step Fourteen

Wind your dubbing loop forward until you’ve completely covered the tie-in point making sure that you keep the dubbing fibers flowing back towards the claw (I use the rotary function of my vise to make this process a little easier).
Step-Fifteen
Step Fifteen: prep your hen saddle.

Step Fifteen

Prep your hen saddle by removing most of the fluffy barbs at the base of the stem.

Step Sixteen

Tie in your hen saddle and wrap the stem with thread until it’s about even with the hook point.
Step-Sixteen
Step Sixteen: Tie in your hen saddle.
Step-Sixteen
Step Sixteen: Tie in your hen saddle.

Step Sixteen

Tie in your hen saddle and wrap the stem with thread until it’s about even with the hook point.
Step-Seventeen
Step Seventeen: wrap your hen saddle forward.

Step Seventeen

Wrap your hen saddle forward until it’s even with the hook point and trim the saddle tip. I like to wrap my thread back over the saddle a few turns to force the saddle to sweep back towards the claw.

Step Eighteen

Wrap your thread forward to create an even, smooth thread base from the saddle tie-in point to the lead eyes.
Step-Eighteen
Step Eighteen: create a smooth thread base.
Step-Eighteen
Step Eighteen: create a smooth thread base.

Step Eighteen

Wrap your thread forward to create an even, smooth thread base from the saddle tie-in point to the lead eyes.
Step-Nineteen
Step Nineteen: prep your body materials.

Step Nineteen

Now it’s time to tie in the body of our crab. We’ll be tying in small bunches of rug yarn on the hook point side of the hook shank using figure-eight wraps just like a traditional Merkin.

Step Twenty

Before we can tie our body in we need to prep our yarn and legs. Separate out three rubber legs and set them aside. Next, cut five one inch sections of each of your yarn colors and group them as shown.
Step-Twenty
Step Twenty: cut 1 inch yarn segments.
Step-Twenty
Step Twenty: cut 1 inch yarn segments.

Step Twenty

Before we can tie our body in we need to prep our yarn and legs. Separate out three rubber legs and set them aside. Next, cut five one inch sections of each of your yarn colors and group them as shown.
Step-Twenty-One
Step Twenty-One: tie in the first bunch of body yarn.

Step Twenty-One

Now we’ll tie in our crab body. Start by tying in your first bunch of yarn sections on the hook-point side of the shank using figure-eight wraps as close as you can get to the saddle hackle. Once you’ve secured the yarn bunch take a few wraps around the shank to lock the bunch in place.

Step Twenty-Two

Tie in your first set of legs immediately after the first bunch of body yarn using the same figure eight wraps. Most tiers knot their legs in after they’ve completed the body but I find tying them in makes them much more durable.
Step-Twenty-Two
Step Twenty-Two: tie in your first set of legs.
Step-Twenty-Two
Step Twenty-Two: tie in your first set of legs.

Step Twenty-Two

Tie in your first set of legs immediately after the first bunch of body yarn using the same figure eight wraps. Most tiers knot their legs in after they’ve completed the body but I find tying them in makes them much more durable.
Step-Twenty-Three
Step Twenty-Three: tie in the remaining bunches of body yarn and legs.

Step Twenty-Three

Tie in the remaining bunches of body yarn and legs in the same manner as the first, alternating between yarn bunches and legs. Five yarn bunches should be enough to fill the hook shank without crowding the eyes, but feel free to add another section or two of yarn at the eye if you think you need it.

Step Twenty-Four

Use a comb or your bodkin to brush out the body yarn (be careful not to catch the rubber legs and break them off). I’m pretty conservative with this, I only break up the yarn structure enough to fill in the gaps between the yarn sections. If you brush the yarn out too thoroughly you’ll have a bulky, frizzy body that can effect sink rate.
Step-Twenty-Four
Step Twenty-Four: brush out the body yarn.
Step-Twenty-Four
Step Twenty-Four: brush out the body yarn.

Step Twenty-Four

Use a comb or your bodkin to brush out the body yarn (be careful not to catch the rubber legs and break them off). I’m pretty conservative with this, I only break up the yarn structure enough to fill in the gaps between the yarn sections. If you brush the yarn out too thoroughly you’ll have a bulky, frizzy body that can effect sink rate.
Step-Twenty-Five
Step Twenty-Five: trim the body yarn to shape.

Step Twenty-Five

Trim the body yarn to shape taking care not to trim the rubber legs. I prefer the body to taper slightly to the eye rather than the traditional rounded shape of a Merkin body. I also suggest using dedicated synthetic scissors for trimming the body yarn which can be rough on fine point scissors.

Step Twenty-Six

Once you have the body trimmed to shape you’ll want to rotate the vise around a few times and trim any stray yarn fibers on the top and bottom of the crab body before you move on to the next step.
Step-Twenty-Six
Step Twenty-Six: finish trimming.
Step Twenty-Six: finish trimming.
Step Twenty-Four: brush out the body yarn.

Step Twenty-Six

Once you have the body trimmed to shape you’ll want to rotate the vise around a few times and trim any stray yarn fibers on the top and bottom of the crab body before you move on to the next step.
Step-Twenty-Seven
Step Twenty-Seven: pull legs into the body between yarn bunches and set with UV resin.

Step Twenty-Seven

Now it’s time to secure the legs in the yarn body to ensure they maintain the correct profile when fishing the fly. Pull the legs into the body between the yarn bunches so that each leg is centered in the yarn body. Add a few drops of UV resin to the spot where the leg exits the yarn and cure with your UV light. Repeat for each leg.

Step Twenty-Eight

Once you’ve set all of the legs with UV resin it’s time to trim them to length. I trim the legs by counting out fourteen of the bars on the legs for consistency, but you can cut them longer or shorter based on your personal preference.
Step-Twenty-Eight
Step Twenty-Eight: set all of the legs and trim to length.
Step-Twenty-Eight
Step Twenty-Eight: set all of the legs and trim to length.

Step Twenty-Eight

Once you’ve set all of the legs with UV resin it’s time to trim them to length. I trim the legs by counting out fourteen of the bars on the legs for consistency, but you can cut them longer or shorter based on your personal preference.
Step-Twenty-Nine
Step Twenty-Nine: finish body thread with UV resin.

Step Twenty-Nine

Next, finish the body thread with UV resin, head cement or super glue. I find that UV resin looks the best, but super glue makes for an incredibly durable body.

Step Thirty

Re-start your thread to add a single-post weedguard. If you don’t need a weedguard you can finish your thread wraps now and you’re done.
Step-Thirty
Step Thirty: re-start your thread to tie in a weedguard.
Step-Thirty
Step Thirty: re-start your thread to tie in a weedguard.

Step Thirty

Re-start your thread to add a single-post weedguard. If you don’t need a weedguard you can finish your thread wraps now and you’re done.
Step-Thirty-One
Step Thirty-One: tie in your weedguard and trim to length.

Step Thirty-One

Tie in your weedguard. I use 20# Mason Hard Mono and I crimp the very tip with pliers to make a flat spot for tying in. Once the mono is tied in and secure I pull it toward the hook point and trim it just past the hook point.

Step Thirty-Two

Whip finish and seal with UV resin or head cement.
Step-Thirty-Two
Step Thirty-Two: Whip finish and seal with UV resin or head cement.
Step-Thirty-Two
Step Thirty-Two: Whip finish and seal with UV resin or head cement.

Step Thirty-Two

Whip finish and seal with UV resin or head cement.
Two-Aught-Fly-Fishing-Co-SA-Merkin
So there you have it, a finished SA Merkin. Remember to go back through your fly and trim any wild fibers that may be long enough to foul the strong arm. If you have any questions about the process or just want to chat, head on over to our contact page and shoot us a message, we’re happy to help. Thanks!

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