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.

The Stripers are in. And in! And in!

If you’re a fisherman anywhere near Boston, it’s time to get out there. Although this week you might have to dodge the rain drops. The stripers are in. In fact, reports are they’ve been in in some harbor locations for close to a month now. Plenty of fish around the airport. And Quincy Bay is reported full of now only stripers but near the mouth mackerel and herring too. Everything is ahead of schedule this year due to the exceptionally mild winter and warm early spring. Would not be suprised at all if we see bluefish in the first half of June.

Gartside Retrospectives

I wanted to pass along along links to a couple of retrospective articles on Jack published just this past month. The first is by Dave Souza of the Fall River (MA) Herald News, a longtime friend and supporter of Jack’s work. The second is by Elizabeth Laden, the publisher and editor of the Island Park (ID) News. I’ve never met Elizabeth but I know second hand a lot of the stories she relates and surely she’s a member of Jack’s “western family.”

And not coincidentally the term, “family” is what struck me most after reading these two pieces. For a man with few blood relatives, Jack had an amazing ability to inspire and create family wherever he went. And of course, he went everywhere. So he had a Boston family, a western US family, a Florida family, a Caribbean family. He had cousins in Europe and brothers in Africa, South American sisters, Canadian uncles and New Zealand aunts.

Both very fine reads. Thanks to Dave and Elizabeth for sending them along.

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.

Pics from the 2012 Bears Den show

This past weekend saw the Bear’s Den Fly Shop’s 14th annual fly fishing show. Every year Scott Wessels and his family do a great job putting on this free show to promote fishing, friends, and fun. A few photos (click to enlarge)…


Masahito Sato
Masahito Sato tying one of his corsair-head streamers.

Bob Popovics shared some great stories of tarpon fishing with Jack in the Keys.

Famed flats fisher Dick Brown demonstrated some of his new bonefish patterns.

Dave Nelson tied some  beautiful old-school wound marabou streamers.

Pat Cohen made some amazing creations out of spun deer hair.
 Dave Skok fly in the night before from fishing in the Carolinas.  
When I saw Jamie Boyle in a Yankees hat my first question was, “Did you lose a bet?” He had. To Popovics.

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.

Still stripers to be had!

For those of you in or around Boston, there are still lots of fish around, including some big ones! I’ve seen blitzes this week along Revere Beach, Nahant’s Short Beach, and the Lynn/Swampscott shoreline–all within wading range. Sunday night I gave a ride “home” to some friends temporarily moored in Salem Harbor. Their dingy was at a marina near the power plant and wow was there a ton of bait there. And stripers feeding on them. So much bait scattering it was like a rainstorm. I think I’m going to need to spend more time exploring the Salem waterfront next season.

Tonight’s snow and frigid temperatures are a sign of things to come but I don’t think are enough to push the fish out. So if you have the time and inclination, get out there!

Old friends, articles, and other updates

After a summer immersed in activity, the fall offers a time of respite, a chance to catch your breath, reflect on what’s been, and catch up with old friends, even as you’re marking the days down to winter.

On the old friends score, I met up with Gartside cohorts Dale Linder, Mel Harris, and Tom Kennedy for dinner one evening last week. We even got in a little fishing afterwards (see Tom in picture). Dave Skok, another local Gartsider of repute, could not be there as he’s gone for the month, fishing the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby as he does every year. A couple days later Dale and I cruised the Seatoad along Revere Beach looking for fish. Didn’t find any but it was a beautiful, warm, sunny fall afternoon and great to be out on the water.

Be sure to check out Stuart Patterson’s article on the Gartside Gurgler in this month’s online edition of Florida Fly Fishing Magazine. You may recognize  some of the material that was reproduced from jackgartside.com and from Jack’s book Scratching the Surface. Another old friend, Masahito Sato, is also working on an article on Jack. I’ll post a link when I know when and where it’s going to appear.

Last spring long time Gartsider Iain Sorrel launched Saxon Tackle. Saxon produces and sells rods and other tackle for the emerging carp fishing market (emerging applies to the US…in Europe carp fishing has been an obsession for a long time now). If you’re interested in carp fishing, or have friends who are, you’ll find some great information on Saxon Tackle’s web site.


Striped bass and mycobacteriosis

Received this message from our good friend Ed Mitchell about a disease ravaging striped bass populations in the Chesapeake Bay. Frightening stuff. Please read:

Mike, Stripers Forever has started a drive to raise money for mycobacteriosis research. With 75 percent of the bass in the Bay now infected, myco poses a huge threat to the future of fishery. I’ve attached our press release and a brief document from the lead research guy at the Virigina Institute for Marine Science. Could you please make your angling friends aware of this drive? Its a worthy cause…tax deductable too.


Stripers Forever, the conservation organization advocating for responsible stewardship of wild striped bass along the Atlantic Coast, has announced an outreach initiative to raise money for research on mycobacteriosis, a deadly fish disease that is increasingly prevalent in the Chesapeake Bay where the bulk of stripers that migrate up and down the Atlantic Coast are spawned. “Myco” is believed to be nearly always fatal to infected striped bass and can create serious health problems for anglers and anyone else handling those fish before they are cooked. Fishery scientists estimate that more than 75 percent of all striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay system are infected with myco.There is at present no known cure for this insidious disease which represents a major threat to the well-being of stripers and thus the future of recreational and commercial striped bass fishing from Maine to North Carolina.

The fund raising appeal being administered by Stripers Forever is called The Mycobacteriosis Research Initiative (MRI). Donations to MRI will benefit Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), the leading authority on myco. Checks should be made payable to “VIMS Foundation” (write “For Myco Research” on the memo line) and mailed to VIMS Foundation, P.O. Box 1693, Williamsburg, VA 23187-8779. A link to a secure site for credit card donations appears along with more information about myco under featured links on the left side of the Stripers Forever home page (stripersforever.org). All contributions are tax deductible and will go into a dedicated myco research account. Visitors to the site can sign up for membership in Stripers Forever at no charge.

Here’s a fact sheet on mycobacteriosis