Effective Flies – Griffiths Gnat

If there are midge about, Craig says you want this fly in your box.

After the HEC’s failed attempt to build a second dam on the Gordon River below its junction with the Franklin River, it turned its attention to other catchments and an alternative dam was built on the King River near Queenstown, creating Lake Burbury. Whilst Lake Burbury the did not produce the huge fish Lake Pedder was famous for in its early years, Burbury has matured and become one of Australia’s great midge fisheries.

During late summer into autumn, this part of the west coast of Tasmania sometimes experiences relatively stable weather, an exception to the more typical westerlies which give the ‘Roaring Forties’ their name. This stable weather can produce excellent wind-lane fishing, with schools of hungry rainbow trout actively feed on millions of Chironomid (midges). This produces some excellent boat-based flyfishing, and to take full advantage of it, I have a share with some other fishing tragics in a shack located in the thriving metropolis of Gormanston! This puts us 15 minutes from the boat ramp and only another 5 minutes from the first wind-lane.

The shack.

This year however, Tasmania (along with much of Australia) has been experiencing a very cold and wet summer thanks to La Nina. So rather than chasing rising rainbows, I am looking out the shack window at the third day of torrential rain. I suppose I should not be too surprised as this part of Tassie has an average annual rainfall of 2.4 metres. My shack confinement has caused me to reflect on my two favourite patterns for trout rising to midge. They are a Zulu Tag and the Griffiths Gnat, which was created by one of the founders of Trout Unlimited, George Griffiths.

Looking across a Burbury wind-lane under kinder conditions than those at the time of writing!

The Griffiths Gnat was originally designed to imitate balling midge. Balling midge occur as adult midge form mating clumps, with multiple midge clinging together in grey balls that range from the size of a pea to the size of a marble; occasionally even bigger. Midge balls can be so dense that from a distance, they can resemble (and even drift like) a single insect.

Like many effective flies, the Griffiths Gnat is a remarkably simple design and easy to tie. As I use this fly predominantly in stillwater, I pimp mine up a little from the original by adding a hot tag to the fly; some commercial ties use a couple of strands of crystal flash instead. Either way, these additions can help get your fly noticed from among the thousands of real midge and other insects trapped in the wind-lane.

When chasing midging trout in wind-lanes, I position the boat upwind. I use an electric motor to manoeuvre the boat, preferably with the bow pointing down the lane. This gives the boat the smallest and least-alarming profile from the trout’s viewpoint. Let the fish come to you and try to present the fly 1.5 metres in front of where the trout is headed. Fish feeding this way swim high in the water and therefore have an exceedingly small window to see the fly, often only 10 to 20 cm wide. If the wind-lane is broad, the trout may amble around in it, being less directional in their feeding behaviour. This may require presentations to be made even closer. This can be challenging to achieve without spooking the trout through clumsy deliveries or excessive false casts.

As with most flyfishing situations, the fly itself is not a silver bullet. The angler’s success will largely be determined by fast, accurate casting.  But all up, these conditions can produce challenging, top-quality fishing. (See Peter Hayes’ recent column for further reading – Ed.)

The Griffiths Gnat is a fly that can be used all round the world. It may not be one of the trendiest patterns in your box, however if there are any midge about, it will be one of the most useful. I like to carry them in size 14 to 18.


Hook – Dry fly, size 14 to18

Thread – 8/0 Black

Tag – Pink floss

Body – Peacock herl                                                                                                                    

Hackle – Cock saddle grizzly

Tying instructions

1. Tie in a base of thread, returning the thread to just behind the eye of the hook.

2. Tie in the tag for the full length of the body to the bend of the hook; again returning the thread to just behind the eye.

3. Tie in the saddle hackle with the natural cup facing towards the eye of the hook.

4. Tie in one to two strands of peacock herl (depending on the size of the fly), using touching turns to create a plump, uniform body.

5. Wind the hackle with close turns back down the hook to the bend of the hook.

6. Trap with your thread and wind back through the hackle towards the eye and whip finish.

(This tying method makes a more robust fly than tying the hackle in at the rear of the hook and winding forward.)