Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Minor Riff On Leisenring's Black Gnat

Black Gnat tied by Steven Bird

     When true simplicity is gained... 

This was one of Leisenring's favorite patterns, & for good reason. As a universal fish getter this pattern deserves a spot beside the venerable Hares Ear & Pheasant Tail Nymph. Tied in #12 through #18, this one will cover a lot of water. Leisenring’s Black Gnat embodies the basic values of the soft-hackle style: simplicity; motion; obfuscation.

What’s in a [fly] name? Sometimes not much that is useful at first glance. I suspect the main reason Leisenring’s Black Gnat doesn’t get the play it merits is that most anglers nowadays relate the ‘Black Gnat’ moniker to a chenille-bodied, winged (both wet & dry) version with an impossibly red tail, popular since the Victorian Era. Yet the name Black Gnat has been applied to basic black fly patterns since before it was first mentioned in the literature of 1600’s Britain; & those ancient versions more similar to Leisenring’s than the chenille version most of us know as the Black Gnat, in our time. And there is some repellent confusion about the ‘Gnat’ part of the name, obviously. However that may be dispelled with the knowledge that the name has come down from very long ago, a time when Saxons referred to streamborn insects, simply, as ‘gnats’. Drawing water from the long stream, Leisenring had no problem applying the old name to his pattern.

I like to fish this one behind a weighted skwala in winter/early spring, as the LBG serves to simulate midges & the water-born little black winter stoneflies. Later, in spring & summer  when there is a mixed smorgasbord of small insects on the slick, a Black Gnat is excellent dressed to float & fished on or just beneath the surface film, & I tie some on dry fly hooks for that purpose. Leisenring’s recipe is thus:

Leisenring’s Black Gnat

Hook: #12-#18 standard wetfly

Thread: Claret or vermillion

Body: Black silk or swords taken from a crow secondary wing feather (lacking the crow feather, the bronze/black portion of a turkey tail feather provides an excellent substitute), twisted with the tying thread

Hackle: Starling shoulder feather (or natural bronze/black hen ~ & finish with a full, tapered head.

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird: http://ucflyfishing.blogspot.com       


  1. Kudos to Doris!

    There are much better ways to put oneself in the zone without resorting to standard toxic head cement.

    I have used water based Loon for a couple years now and it holds well but I do miss the shiney aspect of toxic.

  2. Yes, Barry, there are safer ways to enter the zone, & without going into detail about those ways, suffice it to say that D's domain is now free of mind-altering chemical vapors. And you need not forego the shiny aspect of toxic if you apply the Loon Hard Head, which is shiny, over your finished heads.

  3. I have enjoyed your recent posts very much. In the spirit of minor riffing everywhere, here is a treat just for you.

    Minor Swing - Django Reinhardt & St├ęphane Grappelli


  4. Thanks, Bert. We applaud your taste in music. That one goes on the Fat Camp hit list & will be blared out over the meadow on evenings while the jug is passed. Like Coltrane, Davis, Shepp or Monk, or Khan, Reinhardt/Grappelli must be listened to outdoors for full affect.

    '...we been workin so hard & we got to get down to the Swing Town'

  5. I sometimes throw smaller gnats in late summer, but after reading this I think might tie some in the 14-ish range for the grannoms that are popping up at my next outing.
    Also want to let you know that I really appreciate all the great patterns and info.

  6. Thanks for reading, Anonymous. The Black Gnat does work to simulate a lot of the smaller stuff, but wouldn't be my first choice for grannom, as grannom nymphs are an olive coloration, an outstanding characteristic. I will be posting some good grannom imitations very shortly, so stay tuned.