Photograph by Steve Barnett

Wednesday 6 April 2011

"Twisting by the Pool?"

Not with the Poly Prop Spent Gnat (PPSG) you won't!
The keywords statistics for the blog recently showed quite an interest in twisted tippets and leaders.  Following the tracks of the readers, who were seeking information with Google searches including the keywords “twist”, “tippet” and “leader” in close proximity to each other, showed that some of you are indeed interested in how to avoid this devastating, time-wasting and potentially damaging condition.

Apart from always removing any accidentally hooked up leaves from the fly before casting, what else can be done?

Some of the worst twists I ever experienced were when I used to use fan winged mayflies during the festivities with the Drake.  They looked truly wonderful but they used to make fishing at mayfly time a frustrating exercise in repairs and replacement.  This frustration led to the preference for hackled patterns with no wings.  Where wings were certainly needed, it was necessary to devise patterns that didn’t behave like a propeller on a model aeroplane, spiralling up the tippet and leader as if they were part of some extended rubber band motor.

Here follows an example of a fly that has very obvious wings and yet it never spins up and spirals the tippet.  It is another fly for the Drake and is my attempt at the “Spent Gnat” or more accurately named (but not traditionally) the mayfly spinner.

The adult female mayfly (Imago), once her eggs have been fertilised by one of the males dancing nearby, in the lee of anything on the bank, including any conveniently seated angler, will make her way to the river again accompanied by great numbers of her sisters.  In low, swooping flights they pass up and down over the water until ready to make their bombing runs.  During these seemingly exploratory flights many of these adult females will fly a little too close to the surface and be plucked from the sky by acrobatic trout leaping out to seize these tempting morsels.  Unable to work out a strategy for presenting a fly to catch fish feeding in this way, the tactic is to sit and wait until the flies are actually managing to touch the water and deposit their eggs.  As they do this some will have accidents and end up stranded on the surface.  Their oviposition unfinished, they struggle to release themselves, writhing and squirming, bodies curved and maybe one wing up with the other hopelessly down, glued to the surface.  These flies are usually taken vigorously, as struggling prey so often is.  Maybe a struggling meal might be successful in extrication and escape now and then, so it has to be secured decisively and speedily?

Most of the ovipositing flies will succeed in completing the cycle.  They will dive down to the water and at the last moment curve themselves to scrape off the eggs against the surface as they fly back up to their approach height and repeat the process.  Their work complete they continue the same flight pattern until the last few calories of their energy stores, which they had spent up to two years in the making, are finally used up.  Then with wings outstretched they fall.  Some are already dead in the air, others are dying.  They land with outstretched wings and lay there, cruciform, completely flat to the surface.

There are no struggles, apart from the odd slight twitch.  No signal is made that they may escape.  None of them will escape because that is how it should be.  Now the trout will feed on these flies in a very different way from previously...

The whole process is calm and easy.  There is neither fuss nor sense of urgency.  The flies are drifting down river on a seemingly endless conveyor belt.  Each fish positions itself on its own station, holding a level pose, a few inches at most below the surface.  The rise is made as a tilting action in just the same way as we considered last July with the Sherry Spinner stage of the Blue Winged Olive.  The nose breaks surface, followed by the back and dorsal fin, then the tail and the fish returns back to the original level pose.  The rise form is elongated just like the rise to the Sherry Spinner.  The only difference is that the flies are so big we can see them more easily and so judging where to place our fake on the conveyor full of real ones is also easier.

Under these conditions, when the artificial is right, it gets the same easy, steady, no-fuss rises.  If the rise is splashy...  it means the fly is not quite right.

This “Spent Gnat” really is “right” in more ways than one.  It is right for the angler because it is easy to tie, lands gently and never twists up the tippet, in despite of its prominent pair of wings.  It is right for the fish because it has enough of the triggers to convince the fish it is indeed one of the flies it is busy eating and so it is accepted in a calm and serene way.  A fish eating a fake spinner in the same innocent way that it eats a real one is a sight that can give you a, justifiable, feeling of pride.  It is surely the one true moment when Vanity is not a sin but, because you earned it, is a solid virtue!

You need the following:


Size 8 or 6 LS Hooks

Brown tying thread

Cock Pheasant centre tail feathers

White Polypropylene yarn

Black or Dark Blue Polypropylene yarn

Large Badger Cock Hackles

Dark Brown Permanent Marker Pen

Debarb the hook and put it in the vice as shewn.  At the bend start the thread and with tight turns build up a tiny ball of thread.

Take a good bunch of cock pheasant centre tail feather fibres, here I am using a mixture of black and natural red fibres.  Gauge them to be one and a quarter times longer than the length of the hook shank.

Tie them in against the ball of thread and splay them out, locking them in position by tight turns against the ball.

Continue forward to make a slim base of tied in fibres and thread, leaving about of an inch clear behind the eye.  Trim off the waste ends.

Tie in a strip of the ethafoam, taking the thread in tight touching turns back to the bend.  This is to keep the underbody slim.

Wind a slim body of the ethafoam in tight overlapping turns making a thin carrot shaped body finishing with the ethafoam at the bend.  Tie it in with four tight touching turns.  Trim off the waste ethafoam strip and if there is a tiny bit showing, tie that in with a couple more turns of the thread.

Rib the body with the tying thread.  Continue forward with tight turns making a bed of thread about ¼ of an inch long.

Take about five inches, just over a hand’s breadth, each of the white and the black (or dark blue) polypropylene yarns.  Lay them side by side and carefully split them up into separated fibres and mingle them together side-by-side.  When they are evenly dispersed, gently twist them together into a “yarn”.  You may need to halve the result with your dubbing needle to get the yarn slim enough, say about as thick as one of the original yarns.

Take your mingled yarn and tie it on top of the hook with two turns of thread and leaving just over a hook’s  length of yarn pointing forward over the eye and the long remaining yarn back over the hook bend.

Take the long end and pull it towards you, holding it horizontally at 90 degrees to the hook, take a turn of thread under the hook and bring it over the yarn from the bend side and then over the hook.

Now hold the shorter end of yarn out in the same way but on the other side of the hook. Bring the thread over the hook in front of the yarn and then make figure of eight turns to lock the yarn in place making an untidy cross shape.

With the thread dangling in front of the yarn, take hold of both ends of yarn and pulling them back tightly with the fingers and thumb of the left hand (right hand if you are a Southpaw), gauge their length to be just about level with the end of the hook, a little longer is OK as you can always trim them again, snip them to length with the scissors.   Take care not to cut the tail fibres!

That takes care of the wings.  The fly would work like this but it would spiral your tippet in a few casts.

Prepare the badger cock hackle and tie it in as shewn, with the concave side facing you and the stalk over the hook bend.  Take the thread to the start of the body as you tie in the hackle.  Let the thread dangle there.

Wind the hackle fully taking care to trap the wings out at their 90 degree angles.  Tie it in and wind the thread quickly through the wound hackle.  Make a whip finish and varnish the head well, remembering to clear the eye of varnish whilst it is still wet.
You now have a fly that would catch the occasional fish and would never twist your tippet.  However, as a “Spent Gnat” it is almost useless.  We have one more job to do.

Turn the fly upside down.  Take your fine point scissors and very carefully cut off every bit of down pointing hackle from the centre as close to the hackle stalk as you can manage without cutting the stalk itself.

Dab two or three little blobs of brown permanent marker on the sides of the last two or three segments of the body as shewn.  Now you have the finished fly.  This fly, done like this, is now perfect for the job we had in mind.  The trout will eat this in calm, serene innocence.  Please do use it with restraint.  In unkind hands it could lead to excess...

Regular Rod

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