Redfish and gurglers

Received this email from Rich Walker of Flyline Media back in September:

My media production company Flyline Media has produced a fishing video featuring Redfish taken with Mr. Gartside’s Gurgler. We were wondering if you’d be interested in linking to or showing it on your website.

Rich, this is awesome! Great job, and sincere apologies for not getting it posted earlier. On the other hand, with–no-kidding–seven feet of snow on the ground up here in Boston today and the temperatures dipping below zero, what better antidote for the mid-winter blues.?  Enjoy everbody.


Tall Tails from Flyline Media on Vimeo.

Jack Gartside: Forever a Boy

I finally, finally, finally got around to uploading this video profile of Jack, created about 2004. It was created by Chuck Kraemer of PBS’s Greater Boston who, in only a few minutes, manages to capture so much of who Jack was and what made him special. It’s an amazing piece of filming, editing, and story telling. Kraemer, One senses, realizing what a wonderful story he had before him, felt bound and determined to tell it well.


Tying the Gartside Secret Minnow

Here’s a video of friend and tyer Ken Misiura tying a Gartside Magic Minnow. The Magic Minnow is about as simple a fly as you can get, consisting of a single feather wound around the hook and a little flash. It’s intended to imitate a newly hatched baitfish.

Ken ties his version with a body of dubbed GSS, which is certainly appropriate although I don’t recall Jack himself every tying it that way. His own recipe for the pattern (which varied slightly over the years) called for no body and instead several (2-4) strands of Flashabou or similar tied in for flash. Either way it’s a dynamite juvenile bait fish imitation, particularly in fresh water.

Tying Notes and Other Errata

The pattern appears originally in the first edition of Jack’s Fly Patterns for the Adventurous Tyer, dated 1993. In that edition the tying notes call for a wing of natural or dyed mallard flank and advise: “For a sleek bait fish look, leave a bit of space between windings. For a more open, breathing effect, make your winds a bit close to each other.”

In the 2005 edition, the tying notes are expanded. In addition to mallard flank Jack now suggests alternatives of other barred or mottled feathers for the wing including teal flank, pheasant, woodcock, and wood duck. Tying notes for the wing include the advice: “As you wind the feather around the shank and forward, twist and fold the hackle fibers to the rear, always being sure to wind on the flat side of the stem and not the edges to avoid a willy-nilly spiderlike effect with the hackle points going every which way.” Ken does a great job of emphasizing this in the video.

Happy birthday Jack!

On December 7, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt said, “Today is a day that will live in infamy.” It may be a coincidence, but exactly one year later John Clarence Gartside was born. Happy birthday, Jack. Wish you were still with us, but in many ways you are.

If you’re a Facebook member you can wish Jack happy birthday on his Facebook page. Here’s the link:

And in the meantime, here’s a wonderful “tribute tie” video of the Gartside Sparrow by Satoshi Yamamoto

Tying the Gartside Gurgler

If the Gartside Gurgler is not the most famous of Jack’s patterns, it’s certainly in the top five. The number of species it has taken is possibly rivaled only by the wooly bugger. From bass to bonefish, tarpon to trout, panfish, catfish, redfish, bluefish, roosterfish, cuda, dorado, and jacks…it catches fish of all sizes and shapes all over the world. And if that’s not enough, because fishing it is so visual and because it draws such frenzied strikes it is probably also the funnest fly you will ever use.

The Gurgler can be tied in almost limitless ways. Jack himself tied close to 100 variations of the original, many of which you can see in the Fly Galleries on this site. But in searching the web for a Gurgler tying video to post, I looked for one that came close to Jack’s original design. I found it in this handsome video by Martin Joergensen on (which is, incidentally, a fantastic site and highly recommended).



Like Martin, Jack used a long shank hook and tied the body on the front two thirds rather than the entire shank. There were two reasons for this: one, tying the body forward on the shank gives the foam some protection from toothy fish like pike or bluefish; two (and more importantly) tying the body forward allows the rear of the fly to sink a bit between strips, so that the fly sits at an angle to the surface similar to the way many swimming plugs are designed. This increases both the “gurgle” that you get from the lip and the fly’s swimming motion.

While Martin’s tie is very close to Jack’s, here are a few differences:

  • Jack did not use a mono loop for the tail and frankly I’ve had few issues with Gurgler tails wrapping. What Gurglers DO have a tendency to do is spin during the cast, causing line twist and wind knots.
  • Jack’s original design called for the foam underbody to be tied into five even segments. This was to help a palmered hackle seat evenly and securely. Martin uses cactus chenille instead of hackle, making segments unnecessary.
  • Jack’s recipe called for strands of Glimmer to be pulled forward and tied down over the shell. This was supposed to give the shell a little added protection. Martin leaves this step out, and probably wisely so:  the foam being produced today is a little tougher than the foam available when Jack first tied the fly. Also it’s an open question how much protection from fish the Glimmer afforded. Possibly it more importantly cut down on the chance of cutting the foam with the thread when tying down the shell. Incidentally, if you find that when tying down the shell you do indeed sometimes cut the foam with your thread, take this advice from Jack: make your first few wraps of thread somewhat loose. Then proceed with tighter wraps. In this way, the tighter wraps are not in direct contact with the foam but instead with the thread base.
  • The biggest difference between Jack’s design and Martin’s is the foam support Martin adds behind the lip. It’s a really interesting addition. Not having used it I can’t comment on it. It sure looks good. I never had much trouble getting sufficient gurgle from the lip as originally designed, but as noted, foams vary and have changed over the years.

One last design note: While most tyers consider a fly as finished when it comes out of the vise, Jack would often modify his flies “in the field.” And this was particularly true of Gurglers. So, for example, if he realized he needed a slider and didn’t have one, he would snip the lip off of a Gurgler.  If he needed a weedless Gurgler, he would spin the entire body on the shank so that the fly rode hook point up. Or if the fish that day were especially attracted to wounded minnows he would spin the Gurgler body sideways on the shank so that it swam in a zig zag motion. I mention this because the more glue you use in a fly, the more turns of thread you take, in short, the more you affix it so that it cannot move on the shank, the more you restrict yourself to fishing it in only  one way. For most patterns that’s probably fine, even desirable. But it’s something to keep in mind.

Gurgler Variations

If you will only have one Gurgler in your box, the choice is easy: go for an original Gurgler; that is, a white Gurgler with a tail of white bucktail. Of the many variations (and believe me, as Jack’s friend and webmaster of many years I’ve fished most of them) here are some I found especially useful.

  • Trout Gurgler: This is a Gurgler tied small scale on a short shank hook with a small lip and a short tail of CPF.  It does a good job imitating insects or very small bait fish and its design  is suited to fish with small mouths such as trout or panfish.
  • Salmon Gurgler: You might not immediately look at a Gurgler and think of salmon but many, many large salmon have fallen to Gurglers over the years. Jack designed this variation specifically for salmon and steelhead.
  • Flatwing Gurgler: This is a large Gurgler with a flatwing tail and an overall length of eight to ten inches.  It is a beast to cast. But what it can do is bring up very large fish from very far down. I have seen 40 inch stripers come up 30 feet to inhale this mouthful. Keep your casts short, splat it down hard, and work it with a lot of action.
  • Floating Crab: Not a Gurgler per se but very similar in nature. I’ve had phenomenal fishing at times when encountering tarpon feeding on crabs and other small critters among floating weeds. Try fishing it slowly, with jiggles and pauses.
  • Sand Eel Gurgler: Fish feeding on sand eels can be very particular about the size of the lure they will take. This very slender Gurgler mimics a sand eel profile very well.
  • Shrimp Gurgler: Very effective when fish are taking shimp on the surface.
  • Wiggle Worm Gurgler: Very effective on mud flats and other areas where fish are actively feeding on sea worms.

Tying the GSS Emerger

Here’s another tying video of a Gartside pattern, the GSS Emerger. This is an extremely simple pattern to tie and very effective not only for trout but for panfish too. It’s tied completely with olive GSS. The video is by Jim Misiura and Jim does a great job illustrating the pattern.

Jack loved tying wet flies and emerger patterns. They appealed to him on a number of level. He found them elegant in their simplicity. Their basic “bugginess” appealed to his impressionistic bent as a tyer. Also Jack loved the tradition of tying and nothing is more traditional than a wet fly. His book Secret Flies includes a number of these patterns. You can also find tying instructions for a GSS Wet Fly here.

Tying the Gartside Soft Hackle Streamer

I think if Jack were still alive he would be making a lot of tying videos. It was something we talked about and I wish we’d done more of it. I was reminded of this today when I was talking on the phone with a tyer from Wisconsin, describing one of Jack’s signature patterns, the Soft Hackle Streamer. It’s a fly that is at once very simple and amazingly effective. It can and has caught just about everything, from bonefish to catfish to tarpon to carp.

In the course of our conversation I was describing the blood marabou you need to tie the pattern  correctly. The tyer hadn’t heard of blood marabou and it took me a little to explain how it differs from standard quill. When I got off the phone I wondered if anyone had made a video of its tying steps. So I did a quick internet search. And the answer was yes. Several.

Now one of the great things about the Soft Hackle Streamer is how adaptable to change it is. So not surprisingly, of the videos I found, no two tied it exactly the same. And none of them tied it quite in the way Jack did (granting that Jack himself tied it in a variety of styles).

The video below, from Joe Cornwall of Ohio, is very good (no comment on the opening music, tho  😉 ). If you’ve never tied the fly before, it’s well worth a watch, as is one by Jim Misiura. Joe does a good job emphasizing some of the things critical to understanding the pattern: its ‘breathability”; the importance of using blood marabou; the method of winding the marabou as hackle; and the importance of combing out the fly (Jack used a fly or eyelash comb rather than a tooth brush).

There also are a few differences worth noting between how Jack tied the fly and how Joe ties it:

  • Jack did not to my knowledge ever tie the pattern on short-shank hooks, usually using a Mustad 9671 or equivalent. (When tying Soft Hackle Streamers for tarpon, he used long-shank hooks, tying the fly on the rear third of the shank and leaving the front two-thirds bare. This protects it some from the tarpon’s sandpaper mouth.)
  • Jack tied the pattern with a collar, usually of folded wood duck flank. (On his New Wave Soft Hackle Streamer he used the lower, downy end of a grizzly saddle feather). He believed the collar served a very important function: it helps the head maintain a consistent shape. Specifically, it helps prevent the marabou from “jelly-fishing” forward during pauses in your retrieve.

Jack interviewed on Fishface Radio

In case you missed it (or even if you didn’t) here’s a hilarious interview Jack did last March with his old friend Snag Hoofish (aka, Strayhorn Spadewater) on Snag’s Fishface Radio show. Jack was concerned beforehand that he might not sound sharp but he managed to deliver classic Gartside. The interview starts about 17 minutes into the show. Enjoy.

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Happy holidays

Each December going back a number of years, we always republished a Christmas story Jack had written long ago. I can’t think of a reason not to again this year. In fact, perhaps this year there’s all the more reason to. So here it is, A Christmas Present from the Queen, a gift from Jack to his friends.

To you and your loved ones, a merry little Christmas and a happy New Year.