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At the Vice - Gentle Sparkler

Category: Flies for Fly Fishing | Author: Ála Richie

This time I've decided to show you a fly for year-round use, which is very typical and favored for lake fishing in England.


Gentle Sparklers

This time I've decided to show you a fly for year-round use, which is very typical and favored for lake fishing in England. I mainly use this to entice trout - a lure of various sizes - and it is called a Sparkler. This name comes from the attractive reflective material used to tie it, combined in a way to best attract a fish's attention and get it to strike whether it is sunny or cloudy.

I have modified this type of fly for my favorite and most-frequented rivers, and for the conditions under which I usually fish. Overall I have made the appearance of the fly more "gentle", creating a decent but still effective pattern which I call the "Gentle Sparkler".

I remember by first experience fishing and tying with sparkler flies, when I mainly improvised, since the materials which are readily available today were not at that time, but mainly I remember how eager fish were to take my sparklers. For instance, for the sparkler wing in the beginning I used fine silver tinsel, like that used for Christmas trees. This was just a minor amount of glitter, which was surprisingly effective - especially in faster currents, and so I started to give more attention to tying and developing this pattern and experimenting with it on the river and lake.

How to fish

I first started to fish with sparklers on my favorite stabilization reservoir. By this, I must say that this was not classic lake fly fishing (standing water), since I effectively used these flies during the daily filling of the reservoirs. To familiarize you with this phenomenon, this type of reservoir is drawn down during the day and then re-filled at night, and the fish that were forced down toward the dam return again upstream and seek food that is brought with the fresh influx of water. During this filling, the water first fill the main channel, but eventually also floods the surrounding shallows, where small fish make their way. And as we know, from small fish come bigger fish, which feed in these shallows. This cycle of predatory feeding of course doesn't just apply to reservoirs, but also for rivers, and thus the Gentle Sparkler is effective not just in standing water but also in running water with fry and small fish.

In cases when I fish in such running water, I usually use slow sinking intermediate line, or floating line with a sinking tip, with which I cast 2 sparkler flies to the shallows. I then retrieve using medium quick pulls across the main current. At the place where the shallows begin to meet the main corridor of the main current is where most strikes occur. The predators (be they trout, chub, asp, etc.) which noticed and watched our flies in the calmer water now are in a situation where their prey may be lost. They aggressively strike, and we have to be prepared! Significantly setting the hook isn't necessary, as the fish usually hook themselves during the strike while taking the fly and heading for calmer water. This type of fishing can be even more truly compared to an active wet-fly style than streamer fishing.

On lakes the key is casting as far as possible, then leading the sparkler flies on intermediate line in one of two ways, of course with the same principle - regular movement with occasional pauses. The first style is intermediately quickly up to very quickly leading the flies back-and-forth, during which we hold the rod constantly in our hands. The reaction to a strike is thus immediate, but a minor disadvantage is the limited speed of retrieval, which is not as regular as in running water where the current helps. The second style is the Roly-Poly - which is a great way to constantly pull flies at a specified depth in the water column. The disadvantage of this method is we don't hold the rod in our hand but under the arm, so the reaction to a strike is often slower and clumsier, since we set the hook by hand with the free line. With a bit of practice, however, skillful hands can be turned into an effective weapon.

On lakes I most often choose a combination of 2 different sparklers (as in running water), but on the upper dropper I put on a more distinctive pattern to attract the fishes' attention, and put a less colorful fly on the lower dropper (like the "Gentle Sparkler" seen in the vise). Another variation is to use a Sparkler as the end fly plus a bright blob (orange, flou pink) on the upper dropper.

As for equipment, briefly: 5wt (intermediate rivers) - 7wt (lakes) rods in lengths from 9'0" - 9'6" are excellent for fishing sparklers in these styles.


Brown trout

Tying materials used

Before listing the exact materials used, I would like to compare the original UK Sparkler with my Gentle Sparkler from the point of view of these materials. The most important factors of a sparkler for provoking fish are: wings and tassel, body and head. My pattern differs from the original mainly in the body and wing.

*The English sparkler patterns have a much simpler body using various glittering and dense chenilles - Chenille sparkler, Ice; Flash; Tinsel; Luminous chenille - the possibilities are many, in short the basics are a short tassel and very glittery chenille or flash dubbing. In contrast to English patterns, my patterns have a smooth body tied from tinsel and fixed with wire.

*Wing and tassel (Tip) - the UK classic pattern uses singular material like Flash Attack sparkler (most often in Gold & Silver) which really give an impression of burning sparklers. For my pattern I use much more modest and mainly translucent material, which gives my Sparkler lightness and life - imitating realistic prey.

*In one of the rear points, both patterns are similar - in the transparent and, compared to the whole fly, contrasting brightly-colored head!

The hook: For sparkler type flies I use heavier wet or lake hooks without barbs marked Wet & Stillwater sized 8-10 (for instance CZW 260 BL). The advantage of these hooks is in their heavier weight (so thin flies don't have to be weighted) and hardness. They also have a deep bend which hooks and sets well in the fishes' mouth and reduces the number of fish lost. The point is slightly bent upwards, so a barb is useless, and if the fish is kept under constant pressure the chance of it getting off are limited.

Leaded wire: A lead wire 0.4 - 0.6 mm in diameter (according to the size of the fly) is completely adequate. For sparkler flies and also general lake flies with "wings" I weight (if at all) the fly along the whole hook length. The aim is not for the fly to provoking jump like for lake lures and streamers with tails which are weighted in the head, but to evenly drop to the desired depth where we can lead and control the fly's movement.

Thread: In this case I use strong thread (Grall binding thread), though in smaller diameters, so the that pattern doesn't become too robust, which fish take with less confidence than flies with a narrower silhouette. I use either light colors, grey or white are best, or bright fluo or Effect thread (orange, green, yellow, red, pink, blue). The reason for these two variations are the following. In the first case I like to ensure that the body underlay doesn't influence the effect of the translucent tinsel which have their own visual effect and gives the fly a more natural feel - like fry or small fish. The second variant with flou and Effect thread are used when I want the thread itself to show through the tinsel and act more enticing and multi-dimensional - and excellent choice for fish that we need to entice into striking.

Tail/Tip: I make the small tip from frayed or unwound material called Pearl Scudback or Braidback, which is a fine ribbon of high-gloss fibers of multiple colors designed for forming the bodies of nymphs. For our use the various colored variants are perfect  - White pearl (giving the same visual effect as the body tinsel), Dark peacock, Green dark, Rusty red, Violet, etc. After unwinding, the winded thread Twist hair excellently enhances the affect for the Sparkler "wing", resulting in a larger shiny area to reflect light than do straight materials, and fulfills the meaning of the word Sparkler.

Winding wire: Serves to stiffen the whole fly. For winding the Sparkler I use thin but strong steel wire in various colors. My favorites are silver, gold, green, red and orange colored wire.

Body tinsel: It is of course possible to use various types and colors of tinsel. Classic single-colored (silver, gold), holographic tinsel, transparent, lightly flittered... the possibilities are many. I personally love to tie the body of my Sparklers from translucent tinsel, which gives off green and pink reflections. The above-mentioned transparency of fluo thread gives an excellent effect, shining through the tinsel and giving the whole fly a special effect that can entice fish to strike in any kind of weather.

The wing: The classic material is Flash attack sparkler hair, with is a highly frayed material specially designed for typical English sparkler flies... of course as every idiosyncratic tier knows, it's not enough to just perfectly copy a known classic, and often small changes to original designs can have great effect. For this reason I started to use the material Twist hair. These twisted streamer fibers have great potential - used for tying wings or tails of streamers, sparklers of various sizes, but also complementing the wings of dry caddis flies, where I use these fibers to imitate the membranous wings below a layer of hollow deer fur. My favorite color variants are pearl white, orange, pink, olive and grey (for natural sparklers).

"Fins": To imitate lateral fins I use the same material as for the tail/tip - Pearl Scudback or Braidback. This serves to fine-tune the design of the fly, and if using distinctive scudback colors (e.g. red) against a more muted body this also excellently triggers strikes (especially when tying a head of non-distinctive colors such as white).

The head: A most important and dominant part of the whole fly, an attractor, and trigger for strikes. I consider this part of the fly to be fundamental, and treat it as such. I use majestic conical distinctive colors that contrast with the rest of the fly. This should be a shiny and immediately noticeable point on the fly. I therefore use transparent thread in gaudy colors, and make sure it is well formed and tied off. Thread such as Effect thread is great for this purpose!

Lacquer: The first use of lacquer is to firm up individual step while tying, where I use thicker more sticky lacquer that gradually dries and hardens and firms up the whole fly. The second and critical use is to make the head sturdy and indestructible.  To make a perfect head, I use clear thin lacquer. Because a well-tied head has quite a lot of thread, I apply the lacquer in 3-4 layers. The first two layers soak into the head foundations and wing attachments, and the last 1-2 layers are for putting on the finishing glassy look. The effect is then similar to when using various colored coral type beads or cone heads.


Gentle Sparkler

Description of tying

Step 1: Fix the lake hook without barb in the vice, and wind on it a leaded wire of diameter 0.5 mm. For this pattern about 7-10 winds is sufficient. Keep in mind that we will need space both at the bend of the hook - for tying on the tip and banding wire from the body tinsel - and at the hook eye, where the Sparkler wings will be tied in and shaping the head. Fix the weighting with a drop of lacquer or superglue between individual windings, so that the torso of the fly doesn't start turning around the hook after a period of fishing.

Step 2: attach the tying thread at the hook eye and fix the lead wire using a few winds, moving toward the hook bend, where we attach the white Pearl Scudback for making the tassel-tip of the fly. To do this, I use plenty of the Pearl scudback and tie it doubled. In this way I form a sort of loop, which I then cut to the desired length. The tassel is then thicker and contains twice the amount of fibers, than if I had tied it just singly.

Step 3: I now fasten well the silver winding wire. For this we must watch the silhouette of the body and based on this wind the wire for either the whole length or just near the hook bend - (only in the case that we don't create an unbalanced or uneven look to the fly from using a large amount of thread and material at the fly tip).

Step 4: The translucent tinsel for the body will be coming up next. I always tie this tinsel over the whole fly body, but now is the moment for refining the shape using thread before finalizing the body and tinsel. For this we use classical tying thread. If we want the thread to shine through the tinsel and enlighten the body, we can use fluo thread of various colors here, for instance the Effect thread mentioned in the materials section.

Step 5: If tying a more moderate Sparkler pattern - without the Effect thread under the tinsel (see picture), then I coil the tinsel in three layers. The first layer is coiled from the bend to the eye, the 2nd layer covers the first, starting from the eye back to the bend, and the 3rd layer returns back to the hook eye where it is fixed and cut off. In this way we create a dense balanced body, with individual layers overlapping and the effect of each layer thus multiplied. When using colored Effect thread for the body, I wind the tinsel in just one layer from the hook bend to the eye, where I fix and cut off. In this case the tinsel creates a fine shiny touch to the colored body, making for a very interesting effect!

An extra tip

Keep in mind, that tinsel is a quite resilient material that has a tendency to slide off the underlying materials. I solve this problem first by lacquering the body foundation so the first tinsel layer slightly sticks to it, but mainly by winding the tinsel tightly under pressure and pulling each loop, which keeps them from sliding. It also helps to tilt the hook slightly toward the rear. The tinsel has a tendency to slide toward the hook eye and the loops stay in place better (in other words, winding the tinsel "uphill").

Step 6: To make the body segmented, I circle the body with wire in the same direction as I wound the body tinsel. I don't use opposite winding for this Sparkler, and I've never had a problem with the fly wearing out or coming apart because of this. Of course I don't recommend completely leaving out the wire circles, since as I mentioned in Step 5 the tinsel tends to slip, and if the body wasn't well lacquered this slipping will decrease the visual effect of the fly. (For an alternative way to firm up the body - paste up the whole body into epoxide, making it practically unbreakable, plus giving it extra effects like bubbles. This procedure takes quite a long time, however, and I find it unnecessary for most practical purposes, and don't often do this).

Step 7: At this point we have the fly body completely formed and firmed up with wire, so we can go onto two steps at one. First we tie in the "lateral fins" from one layer (as opposed to the tassel) of white Pearl scudback on the underside of the fly, trim it off, and fray it. At the same time we tie in Effect threat to the fly wings and shaped head. The original grey tying thread is fixed and cut off.

Step 8: With clear red Effect thread tie in a dense wad of  Twist hair - pearl white material and shape the head to the desired cone-shaped massive silhouette, finished off with a lost knot. At this step we should also irregularly cut the fly "wings" so that they are thicker near the head and thinner farther back (like pulling tails from marabou feathers). When wet the fly should imitate the narrow cone-shaped silhouette of a fry or small fish.

Step 9: In the final step we carefully lacquer the Sparkler head. As mentioned in the section "tying materials used", lacquer the head in 3-4 layers with clear dilute lacquer. Give this step the proper attention, so the head is really well lacquered and gives a glassy appearance when dry. If the head is poorly lacquered, it could gradually slough off from the effects of moisture. Such a fly will be useable of course, but won't act or look like it should.


Early season river

A word in conclusion

The theme of this issue was a very simple-looking fly. Its effectiveness doesn't reflect the tying difficulty, though, or some special irreplaceable magic material without which the fly would be useless. It is in fact just its simplicity, underlying principles, and faith in them that create its potential. Approach this fly from that point of view and you will see that each fly you tie will be irreplaceable and original in its own way. Improvise, reflect, and mainly enjoy as much as possible the flies you tie and fish with. Looking forward to the next issue of "At the vice".

Catch & Release Forever!

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