Jack Gartside’s Sparrow is a fly that, in general, represents a whole bunch of things fish like to eat but not really one thing in particular. Although he tied his using primarily pheasant feathers, I”m going to tie this one using Brahma Hen.
Jack recommended tying them in sizes 4 to 14. Here, I’m going to go with a size 12 Dai-Riki #730 Nymph hook. Begin by mashing the barb and getting the hook firmly secured in your tying vise.
For thread, UTC 70 Denier in brown is a really good choice. Get your thread started on the hook shank just behind the eye and take wraps rearward to about the 1/4 point and break or snip off the tag in the process.
A Whiting Farms Soft Hackle with Chickabou Pelt, dyed tan, will provide all the feathers you need for the Sparrow. Start by selecting a single Chickabou feather and plucking it free from the skin. Locate where the stem dramatically narrows and strip away everything below that point. Wetting the small plume with water or saliva will help to make it much more manageable during the tie-in process.
Measure to form a tail about as long as the distance from the back edge of the eye to the hook point. Transfer the measurement to just above the barb and then begin securing the feather to the top of the hook at that 1/4 point. Continue taking thread wraps down the hook binding the feather to the top as you go. Once you reach the hook barb, advance your thread back up to the 1/4 point. You can then lift the excess butt end of the feather up and snip it off close.
I like to add a rib of small gold Ultra wire to segment the fly and add a little bit of shine. A 6 inch piece is enough for a few flies. Attach the wire to the near side of the hook and, as you take securing thread wraps rearward, allow it to migrate to the far side of the hook. This will ensure it doesn’t jostle the tail during it’s first wrap. Advance your thread a little ways up the hook in preparation for dubbing.
You can use many things to dub the body but I like to follow Mr. Gartside’s lead and use a mixture that includes the underfur and guard hairs from a gray squirrel skin. The guard hairs on either side of the spine are a wonderful mix of brown, gray, tan and black. The dubbing mix should be about 2 parts gray squirrel to one part natural rabbit fur dubbing, which helps bind everything together. Adding another part of Golden Tan Antron helps to add a bit of shimmer that looks really nice.
Although it’s an extra step, I like pre-blending the materials by hand before they go in the blender. I’ve also found snipping up the Antron beforehand allows it to mix better with the other materials. You don’t have to go nuts, just a light little blending. Then place the whole mess into a small coffee grinder and give it a few pulses. Once it looks pretty well blended, you can remove it to a small plastic bag or, in this case, a dubbing dispenser, which is real handy.
Create a fairly substantial, 4 inch or so, dubbing noodle on your tying thread, enough to cover all the way up to that 1/4 point on the hook shank. Begin wrapping the dubbing noodle so it starts right at the base of the tail and continue taking wraps forward to create a more tapered body than I did here. Do try to end right at that 1/4 point.
Get hold of the gold wire and begin making open spiral wraps to compress the dubbing and segment the body. When you reach the thread, tie off the wire securely and then helicopter to break if off close. Put the excess wire in a safe place for use on the next Sparrow.
With a dubbing brush, rough up the dubbing really well. The materials for such a brush are available at La Craft Store.
Select a single, well marked and well fluffed soft hackle feather from the lower part of the skin. Identify where the fluffy stuff starts and pull it down but don’t strip it from the stem. Then reach in with your tying scissors and snip the tip off. Remove some of the shorter pieces of fluff from the base of the stem then set the segment aside as it will be used in the next step. Pick up the tip and strip away about 1/4 inch of the lower fibers then pull another 1/4 inch of fibers down and snip off the tip leaving a small triangle as a tie-in anchor. You can even save that tip end for smaller soft hackles if you want.
While holding the lower fibers back, secure the anchor to the near side of the hook and take a few thread wraps to make sure it won’t pull out. End with your thread about 1/2 way to the hook eye. Get hold of the exposed stem with hackle pliers and fold the fibers together so they point rearward. About two wraps is all you really need. Once the wraps are made, secure the stem with your tying thread and then snip the excess off close. Preen the soft hackle rearward and take thread wraps to lock it in place.
The original recipe calls for a pheasant phylo plume or after-shaft head but I’m going to use that fluff set aside earlier. Give your bobbin a counterclockwise spin to uncord and flatten out the tying thread. With a fine needle, split the tying thread and hold it open with the index finger of your left hand. Retrieve the fluffy segment and insert it between the strands like so with the tips extending just past the hook point. Carefully reach in with your tying scissors and cut the fibers off, halfway between the thread and the stem. You should be left with something that looks like this. Reach down and give your bobbin a clockwise spin to cord up the thread. You want to cord it up quite a bit. Allow the twist to carry up the thread to spin up and trap the fibers. Starting just in front of the soft hackle, take wraps to form a nice fluffy head on the fly. Ideally, the turns should end just behind the hook eye. You can then do a 5 or 6 turn whip finish and snip or cut your tying thread free.
In terms of materials, this fly differs markedly from Jack Gartside’s original but I think the overall effect is the same. The versatility of the Sparrow can’t be overstated.