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.
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.