In this step-by-step guide, I’ll teach you how to tie the Griffith’s Gnat. If you love dry fly fishing as much as I do and target trout regularly, you will encounter scenarios where most of your favorite dry flies don’t work.
You may see trout feeding right in the surface film, but your go-to Klinkhammer or Elk Hair Caddis simply gets ignored. This is when you need to throw a Griffith’s Gnat.
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- Difficulty Level: Easy
- Tying Time: 5 minutes
- Materials: Hook, tying thread, peacock herl, and suitably-sized cock hackle
- Hook Size: 14–24
What is a Griffith’s Gnat?
A Griffith’s Gnat is a general impressionistic dry fly that covers a wide range of aquatic insects depending on the size you tie.
In small sizes it imitates a clump of midges all bunched together. Midges form a vital part of a river trout’s diet. Here on the Cape Streams in South Africa, trout feed selectively on black mountain midges from time to time. A size 20 Griffith’s Gnat is the perfect imitation.
Tied in larger sizes (14–18), the Griffith’s Gnat imitates mating adult caddis or even spent mayflies.
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How to Fish a Griffith’s Gnat
First off, the Griffith’s Gnat is a dry fly, which means that it is fished on the water’s surface. The three techniques I use to fish the Griffith’s Gnat are determined by the fly’s size and what the fish seem to be feeding on.
The easiest is when you’re using a size 14 – 18 Griffith’s Gnat. A single fly may be cast out to where fish are rising. The fly is large enough to keep track of and detect any takes.
When I’m using a size 20 or smaller fly, I struggle to see the fly. If you’re like me in this regard, the Griffith’s Gnat can be used in tandem with a larger fly. Use the larger fly as a sighter and strike if you see any fish rise around it. The chances are that they ate the gnat.
The third method is more of a modification to adapt to where the fish are feeding. If you see fish rising right in the surface film, instead of breaking the surface, trim the bottom hackle off the fly. This modification allows the fly to sit lower in the surface film, just like many hatching midges do.
As always, with any dry fly, proof well before using the fly.
Materials You’ll Need to Tie a Griffith’s Gnat
You’ll need the following materials to tie a Griffith’s Gnat:
Your favorite dry fly hook in sizes ranging from 14 to 24 will suffice. Things to keep in mind when selecting a hook is hook wire diameter, hook weight, and gape.
I prefer using barbless hooks as this is easier on the fish’s mouth, penetrates deeper, and comes out easily when you hook yourself or a fellow angler. Some of my favorite hooks for the Griffith’s Gnat are:
I recommend a fine thread that lays flat and is sized according to the hook you’re tying it on. The color of the thread determines the color of the head on the fly. Here is a list of good thread choices for the Griffith’s Gnat:
- Griffith’s Sheer 14/0 (my go-to dry fly thread)
- UTC Ultra Thread 70 Denier
- Semperfli Nanosilk 30 Denier (for the smallest of small flies)
Depending on the size of fly you’re tying, you’ll need one to three strands of peacock herl. I always say to my fellow tiers that not all peacock herl is created equally. Some of the herls you buy are dull, worn out, and very brittle. I try to avoid these packs at all costs.
Find out where you can buy or trade some high-quality full peacock feathers. The shine and iridescence on quality herl make a massive difference. You’ll also notice, once you’ve started tying with it, how strong the material is.
The Hackle serves two primary purposes on the Griffith’s Gnat. First and foremost, it makes the fly float. Without this, your gnat will simply be a hook with some peacock herl strapped to it. It won’t float.
Because the hackle provides the support to suspend the fly on the surface, it needs to be stiff. For this reason, only high-quality cock hackle should be used. Both neck and saddle feathers can be used, but the stiff fibers are a must. I recommend feathers from these reputable suppliers:
The second function of the hackle is that it creates the illusion of legs. Quality cock hackle has a definite sheen to it, which adds to the finished fly’s success and fishiness.
Tools Needed to Tie a Griffith’s Gnat
You’ll need the following tools to tie a Griffith’s Gnat:
Step-by-Step Guide to Tying a Griffith’s Gnat
Now that we know exactly what materials and tools we need, let’s jump into tying the fly.
Griffith’s Gnat Recipe
The specific materials I use are:
- Hook: Hanak 130BL Size 18
- Thread: Griffith’s Sheer 14/0 Olive
- Body: Peacock Herl
- Hackle: Whiting Grizzly Cock Neck
Step 1: Insert the Hook into the Vise
Place the bend of the hook between the vice’s jaws and secure it by flipping over the cam lever. The hook shank must be level, and you need to be able to access the entire shank.
Step 2: Lock the Thread in Place
Hold the thread’s tip with your non-tying hand and place the thread over the shank about 1/3 of the way behind the eye.
Make five touching wraps forward and then back the thread over itself to lock it. Trim off the loose tag end.
Step 3: Lay a Thread Foundation
Wrap the thread backward with touching turns. Remember to open the thread by spinning the bobbin counterclockwise from time to time. You’ll know the thread is opened up when it lays flat.
Stop when you reach the bend of the hook, and then move forward again until you reach a point on the shank roughly ¼ of its length behind the eye.
Step 4: Tie In the Peacock Herl
Remove a single herl fiber from the peacock feather and trim the tip. Place the fiber on top of the hook shank and secure it with a pinch wrap where you left the thread in the previous step.
Cut or break off the excess peacock herl tip.
Step 5: Advance the Thread Rearwards
Wrap the thread backward, securing the peacock herl on top of the hook shank as you go.
Stop once you reach the bend of the hook, where the thread foundation stopped.
Step 6: Prepare the Hackle
Remove an appropriately-sized hackle from the skin and pull all the fibers forward so they are perpendicular to the stem. Strip off 1/5” of the fibers to give you a clean stem to tie on.
With the hackle’s dull side facing you, strip off a small section of the fibers on the right-hand side of the feather. This will help to ensure that the dull side faces forward as you palmer the hackle.
Step 7: Tie In the Hackle
Tie in the hackle on the stripped stem created in the previous step, with the dull side facing away from you. Cut off any excess hackle stem.
Step 8: Create the Body
Advance the thread forward, leaving a small space behind the eye of the hook for the head. Wrap peacock herl forward in the same direction as the thread.
Use touching turns until you reach the position of the thread.
Step 9: Tie Off the Peacock Herl
Make two wraps over the peacock herl to secure it. Hold it up and make two wraps in front of it. Break or cut off the excess.
Step 10: Palmer the Hackle Forward
Palmer the hackle forward in the same direction as the tying thread. Make sure that the dull side of the feather faces forward.
Step 11: Tie Off the Hackle
Tie off the hackle in the same manner you secured the peacock herl. Once it’s secure, cut off the excess hackle material.
Step 12: Finish the Fly
Pull back any fibers obstructing access to the eye of the hook and form a neat head. Whip finish the fly.
That’s How to Tie a Griffith’s Gnat
As you can see, the Griffith’s Gnat is fast and easy to tie and uses minimal materials. It fishes incredibly well and has produced fish for me when all else failed. Serious river trout anglers will always have a range of Griffith’s Gnats in their fly boxes.
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Until next time.