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.

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 globalflyfisher.com (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.

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.

Stripers and largemouths

The Stripers are here!


Stripers have been appearing in good numbers (and sizes) all up and down the northeast coast for several days now along with good numbers of baitfish: herring and silversides for the most part.

It seems like you can almost predict the date: May 8. Depending on weather of course. My logs from the past ten years show that one or two days before and after May 8 you can expect the stripers to be in the warmer parts of the harbor and in most of the estuaries. So get out your gear and head to your favorite striper spot and expect some good action, especially around the lower stages of the tide. If you have only six hours to fish and are wading, try to be on the water three hours into the drop until about three hours after the rise. You can, of course, find good fishing at other times but the fish are more concentrated when the water is lower–and of course it’s easier to access most fishable spots at this time.

I’ve only been out twice in the past few days (the weather hasn’t been all that cooperative; wind, cold, rain, etc. but the two times I’ve been out I’ve been successful. And thrilled to bits to catch the first (for me) stripers of the season.

Here’s a brief rundown of the past few days, my life in capsule form, so to speak.

Saturday, May 10

I had to cancel my first Striper Strategies class of the season because of a predicted storm (which never came, by the way; however it WAS cold and windy) and I stayed in to tie flies and catch up on orders and watch the weather forecasts, hoping that the next day would be warm enough to fish. I was impatient to get back on the water, especially since the night before I had done well fishing for stripers “under the lights”.

Sunday May 11 warmed up more than expected and turned out to be a really interesting day, actually a great day for fishing–at least until the wind picked up. I started fishing a little later than planned (couldn’t get up early enough to fish the dropping tide) and arrived at one of my favorite spots in the inner harbor about half and hour into the rise. It was my first visit of the season and for the first half hour I didn’t get a hit. It wasn’t until about an hour into the rise that the fish started showing up. The water was exceptionally clear considering how roiled up the outside water was and the fly I was fishing–a chartreuse/white BeastMaster–almost glowed beneath the surface. Most of the fish hit close to the surface, within a foot or two, and I was able to see almost every take. The fishing, to be honest, wasn’t fast, one fish about every fifteen casts, but what a thrill! The smallest was about 21″ and the largest 32,” a real beauty! I caught seven in all–this in about an hour and a half. I would have fished longer but the wind was picking up and my hands were getting cold; my shoulder was beginning to bother me as well. Not only that but I had a plan to fish for largemouth bass later in the afternoon and I wanted to get home and take a nap so that I wasn’t completely exhausted for the evening fishing.

Later in the afternoon, after my nap, my friend Dale Linder came by and we headed up to Putnamville Reservoir in Danvers/Topsfield. I hadn’t been there in fifty years and was looking forward to fishing for bass with a 5 weight rod. If you read my last blog entry you might remember that I’ve been looking over some of my log notes from fifty years ago. It was while doing this that I remembered Putnamville Reservoir and decided to revisit it, just for the fun of it–and maybe for the nostalgic element as well.

The fishing was about as good as I could have expected with the temperature in the low 50’s and the water colder than that. Wandering the shore line, I picked up bass wherever I found structure close to shore. They were all largemouth bass–though there are smallies here as well–and all eagerly hit the small Bass Gurgler I was fishing. None was large–the largest about a pound–but all were fun. Caught four bluegills and a pickerel as well. Dale was fishing a streamer and caught many more pickerel than bass. We didn’t have a lot of time to fish, a few hours, and it took a bit of hiking and wandering through the woods to discover some of the best places but in that short time I decided that it was a place I’d love to explore further, but I think I’ll wait until the water warms up a bit before heading up there again.

All in all it was a wonderful day of fishing. Stripers and largemouth bass. Who could ask for anything more? Well, maybe a trout or two thrown into the mix. But that’ll have to wait for another day.

FAQs–Frequently Asked Questions

wizard.jpg Just taking a break from writing up my newsletter for April. In it I try to answer some of the more frequently asked questions that have been put to me over the years. Since many of my blog-readers may not receive the monthly fly fishing newsletter, I thought I’d post the questions and answers here as well. If you’d like to receive a newsletter, by the way, please sign up for it on the home page.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. (and this is the most-frequently asked question)

Do you personally tie all the flies that you have for sale?

Yes, I do personally tie each and every one. Which is why I sometimes get behind a bit in filling orders, especially during the busy winter months (January and February especially), when I’m traveling a lot. If you order selections of flies, there’s generally no delay in getting these out; I usually have most of the selections on hand. It’s the orders for individual flies that take a bit longer since I often have very few individual flies in stock and must tie each one to order and I tie each individual order in the order in which they arrive. Since I’m a fairly slow and methodical tyer I may tie up only about three dozen flies on an average day (that is if my eyes and back don’t act up on me, in which case I’ll tie fewer). Eventually, though, all the flies get tied and everybody’s patience is rewarded. The best time to order individual flies or those flies not offered in selections is generally April through July and again in September and October, when I’m traveling less and I have more time to tie.

2. Do you have a shop?

No. Because of the web site, many people make the assumption that I have a shop or operate a large fly tying consortium but this is far from the truth. A laugh, really, since there’s just me, myself, and I to do all the tying, packaging, writing, and all the other chores that need to be done.

3. Do you make a good living doing what you do?

An honest answer to this is: Hell, no!–BUT I make a great life.

4. How long have you been tying flies?

I was taught to tie my first fly by the late, great Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox. This was in 1956 or 1957 (can’t remember now exactly which year). I was just a young lad at the time and Ted was my idol. At the time I had never seen a fly tied before but I figured that if Ted was interested in fly tying, this was something I’d like to know more about. I’ve been tying regularly ever since.

5. Where do your fly-tying ideas come from? Or, another variation of the same question, What inspires you to come up a certain pattern?

These are difficult questions to answer meaningfully. I’m an habitual experimental tyer and my tying area is often a chaos of materials. Out of this chaos, I am sometimes moved to create order. Ideas come to me most often when I’m bored with the repetition of tying a single pattern over and over again, flies that require no thought to their construction or design but only rote mechanical skill. It’s then that my mind is free to range over the possibilities that exist within all the different materials spread out before me. Once I focus on a particular material (say a pheasant feather), I try then to imagine all the particular uses to which that feather can be put. And so on.

It should be said at this point that I have hundreds of ideas in the course of a year–but only one or two of them ever turn out to be GOOD ideas; the others not so good, some downright foolish. But it’s the pursuit of the good idea–that perfect expression of a perfect fly, for instance–that keeps me involved, enthused, and searching–and occasionally satisfied. After many years of tying, the successes remain and the failures are forgotten.

Miracle or Hoax?

miracle gurgler

I’ve heard about Mother Teresa’s face being seen in a bagel, Elvis’s image popping up in someone’s toast, and the face of Jesus being revealed in a potted asparagus fern as well as numerous other images appearing unexpectedly in unexpected places , but this one beats all.

One of my readers claims that an image of yours truly appeared on the shell of a Gurgler that I had tied for him years ago, one that he recently retrieved from his fly box in preparation for a new season. He claimed further that the fly proved to have miraculous powers (he didn’t say WHAT powers, however) and that he was considering putting this up for sale on eBay. Asked me what I thought he should ask for it.

What do you think? Is this a hoax? Or could it really be true? As yet I’m undecided–but if any of my readers have found similar images, there will be a further investigation. Stay tuned.

Orders for Individual Flies

santa.jpgJust taking a much-needed break from flytying. Although I’ve been tying mostly simple (and larger) flies this afternoon– Soft Hackle Streamers and bonefish flies–my back and eyes need a bit of a rest.

Since I sent out my last newsletter a week or so ago I’ve been getting lots of orders, mostly for selections, which people are often giving for Christmas or as gifts to themselves, but also for relatively large orders of individual flies (i.e. one of this, one of that, one of another). While sets are easy to prepare and to a certain extent anticipate, the orders for individual flies are not.

I’d like to point out here that I keep relatively few flies “in stock”–usually just the most popular patterns and sizes– and when I get an order requesting one of this, one of that, etc., I often cannot fill the order as quickly as I can an order for a selection of flies. As you may guess, it’s very time-consuming to go from one material to another, one style to another, one pattern to another. I often put these orders on the “back burner” until I have time to work on them. So I’d like to suggest here that if your order is for multiple “single” flies that you be a bit patient with me, especially at this busy time of year.

As most of you know, I personally tie all the flies offered on my website; they’re not mass-produced somewhere over in Asia or Africa (as so many commercially available flies are these days). There’s only one of me to do all the tying. I’m very meticulous and don’t cut corners and, as a result, I’m really not a very fast tyer. On a good day I can tie maybe only four dozen flies; most days it’s just two or three dozen. I wish it were otherwise but time is beginning to take its toll, it seems, and I’m slowing down a bit.

I do my best to fill all orders as quickly as I can but, again, I ask you to be a bit patient if you’re ordering multiple “singles.”