There are few things as fun as throwing a big streamer from a moving boat. The repetitive rhythm of “cast, strip, strip, cast, strip, strip” as you ply each likely looking hole creates anticipation for the inevitable strikes that follow. Watching a big brown trout flash and chase your fly is reward enough, but the grab is what keeps you casting. Seeing a big predator close in, open his mouth, and hit your fly like it owes him money is a spectacular sight.
My lead-eye Gonga is a pattern I have worked at perfecting for many years. Like most of my flies, it has been through several revisions, additions, and subtractions to dial it in both from a tying and fishing perspective.
The original version of the Gonga featured a complicated three-color marabou wing tied into and lashed over the body of the fly, like a Matuka. I added a short marabou collar to imitate a natural sculpin’s large pectoral fins, and completed the fly with a spun craft-fur head and lead eyes. This beta version worked well, but the tying process was far too complicated. I began to tinker with the design.
The ubiquitous Woolly Bugger is, to this day, one of the best streamers ever devised, but its inherent lack of detail leaves room for improvement. By coupling the best attributes of the Woolly Bugger with the highlights of the original Gonga, I produced a fly that surpasses both patterns.
Over time, I’ve changed the Gonga from a complicated-to-tie fly, to something quite simple. I start with a pair of medium lead eyes, painted with both an iris and a pupil, to create a lifelike head that gives the fish something to home in on. I tie the eyes to the bottom of the hook shank to keep the fly riding with the hook point down.
Tying the eyes on the top of the shank results in the fly swimming with the hook point up. While this is a good way to prevent snagging bottom, I find that flies tied this way tend to hook poorly, and more frequently and more seriously damage the fish. The large hooks I prefer for flies like the Gonga simply dig too deeply into the roof of a fish’s mouth when tied in this way, and the hooking mortality can be more than I am comfortable with.
Working from the inspirational Woolly Bugger, I use a heavy marabou tail. Marabou should be included in just about every streamer, as this lively feather gives a convincing lifelike illusion when stripped through the water, and creates a large profile without a lot of casting bulk. While there are situations that call for a sparse, delicate streamer pattern like Chris Schrantz’s Platte River Spider, I firmly believe in the power of “the meat”—weight and profile—much of the time.
I use a thick, oversized schlappen feather to palmer the fly body. Schlappen feathers come from the base of a rooster saddle, and are extremely webby, creating a soft, breathing fly body. I wrap the schlappen with several evenly spaced turns, creating a solid profile without adding too much actual weight. I finish the body with a couple more turns of schlappen at the front to create a shoulder on the fly, which replicates the taper of a natural baitfish. I think of the schlappen, rather than the dubbed hook shank underneath it, as the body of the fly.
I use Ice Dubbing along the shank in a thickly dubbed rope to create a soft bed for the hackle wraps to bite into, and to add a slight bit of flash on the finished product. Brushing out the dubbing and hackle once the fly is completed leaves some straggling fibers of flash peeking out along the body, rather than an obvious, and sometimes overwhelming, chunk of Krystal flash or Flashabou. Even a fly like the Gonga needs some subtlety.
Chrome Sili Legs give this fly extra movement. Many streamers incorporate rubber legs to provide life and movement; these new metallic-color silicone-based legs enhance the fly with a mottled glimmer. I like the action of these Sili Legs, particularly in slower pockets along the bank where I can finesse the fly a bit by pumping the rod tip. The legs open up and collapse along the sides of the fly, contributing even more life to its profile and replicating the fluttering pectoral fins of the real thing.
The head of this fly is perhaps its best attribute. Conventional sculpin-esque streamers are tied with a heavily spun deer-hair head. A head like this pushes water to create sound waves that can help fish find the fly even at night or in dirty water. Unfortunately, a deer-hair head creates several liabilities, not the least of which is a propensity to float. I needed a material that could create the same type of profile without the buoyancy or time requirements of deer hair.
Using soft Polar Fibre for the head of the Gonga turned out to be just the solution I was after. By placing the butt ends of these fibers into a dubbing loop, I could create a thick, flowing chenille that could easily be shaped with scissors, and wrapped around the lead eyes. This type of head sinks like a rock, and sheds water on the backcast. Applying the material with the dubbing loop has also proven to be incredibly durable—a feature I enjoy when faced with the prospect of tying more of them. I hate having a productive fly get chewed beyond recognition after a bit of use.
I tie the Gonga in four main colors: tan/yellow, olive, rusty, and black. I also tie a black Double Gonga using 30-pound-test Fireline Stealth Braid and four 6/0 green glass beads threaded over the connecting braid.
Lead-Eyed Gonga Ingredients
Hook: #2-4 Tiemco 5263.
Thread: 3/0 Danville’s Monocord.
Eyes: Lead, painted yellow.
Tail: Sculpin olive marabou.
Hackle: Olive grizzly-variant schlappen.
Body: Olive Ice Dub.
Legs: Green/black Chrome Sili Legs.
Head: Olive Polar Fibre.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of Charlie’s Fly Box (Stackpole Books, Headwater Books, 2011). He is also the featured tier in the iPhone app FlyBench, available at the iTunes store.