Peter Gathercole ties a nymph that will serve you well around the weedbeds
“The Cruncher profile has proven so effective, it finds itself in many a fly box.”
AS RESERVOIR water levels fall the expansive weedbeds that formed during summer become exposed. They provide trout with a rich larder, offering a perfect habitat for coarse fish fry, snails, corixids, hoglice and shrimps. Trout will cruise the shallows close to these beds and through channels that have formed within them, picking off these small creatures. Unsurprisingly then these expansive areas become a target for anglers looking for some great end-of-season sport, especially the chance of catching big, grown-on rainbows and brown trout. While fry-feeding trout provide the most dramatic example of what’s on offer, it’s not always the most consistent. A nymph pattern of some form can often be more effective than a fry imitation, though it’s possible to fish both at the same time, increasing your chances. An effective set-up is to combine a medium-sized Popper Minkie with one or more nymphs used on droppers. This technique is in essence a version of the ‘washing-line’ where a buoyant point fly is used to control the depth at which other flies on the leader are fished. It works well in shallow water or where trout are cruising close to the surface where, even a lightly-tied nymph, can all too readily sink beneath the depth at which the trout are cruising. Among the most useful patterns are the Hare’s Ear nymph, the Diawl Bach and the Cruncher, which – being hackled – sinks nice and slow. The Cruncher first came to prominence in the title ‘ TroutFlyFishing’ jointly written by Martin Cairncross and John Dawson, both of whom are highly-skilled fly fishers. Their stated intention was to improve upon the Pheasant Tail Nymph and, while that might seem like an overlyproud boast, at least from a stillwater perspective, it has possible proved correct. Originally tied with a body of pheasant tail fibres and a peacock herl thorax, over time the Cruncher has morphed into a vast range of interesting and effective variations. As with the Diawl Bach, the Cruncher profile has proven so effective that it finds itself in many a fly box. And, given the propensity of fly tyers to constantly tweak even an already deadly pattern, to make it just that little bit better, the Cruncher is now tied in all sorts of colours and materials from stripped peacock quill to Flexi-Floss. The fibres found on the tail of a cock pheasant range from dark chestnut to a light brown, depending on the age and individual colouration of the bird. In the classic Pheasant Tail Nymph the feather of choice is the darker more distinctive type: however in Crunchers the reverse is true with its originators preferring the paler feather. The way that the Cruncher differs from the pattern it is intended to improve upon is that its profile is actually a cross between a nymph and a hackled wet fly. The hackle is a soft-fibred pale Greenwell type – with a dark centre running either side of the hackle stem while the tips are a pale brown. As the fibres need to have plenty of movement they should be either a soft-fibred cock hackle or a hen hackle. What you don’t want is a dry fly grade hackle which has fibres much too stiff. And don’t be afraid to use the pattern in small sizes. While anything on a size 16 hook is better tied as a simple Hare’s Ear, a slim size 14 Cruncher can be very effective indeed. This is especially so when the water is calm and clear. Using a fly of this size and profile often makes all the difference with fish that are ignoring a bigger version.
Red Flashback Cruncher
Having fixed the hook in the vice, run the thread down to the bend in touching turns, then catch in a few fibres of Greenwell hackle. If you don’t have any hackle of this type, don’t worry, a pale brown or ginger one will be fine. The tail fibres should be roughly half the length of the hook shank and, with them caught in place, the next step is to attach a length of fine silver wire. This will form the rib, which helps give a segmented effect to the body, but also affords some protection to the pheasant tail fibres which make up the body. In this flashback version of the Cruncher, the tinsel used to create the back is added now. So take a length of small red holographic tinsel and catch in at the same point as the silver wire. To form the body, first take four or five pale cock peasant tail fibres and catch them in by their tips at the base of the tail. Pheasant tail fibres have a slight taper to them and when wound over the hook impart a similar, natural-looking taper to the body. With the tail, rib, tinsel strip and pheasant tail fibres caught in, carry the thread two-thirds of the way back towards the eye covering the waste ends of these materials, securing them in place. Now it’s decision time. In order for the rib to best protect the pheasant tail fibres, the turns of each should cross rather than running in the same spiral. It’s not the end of the world if they do, it’s just that the wire will bed in a little more and the fly won’t be so robust. In order for the fibres and wire to cross they must be wound around the hook in opposing directions. When wrapping any material on a hook, it’s normal – if you’re right-handed – to wind it away from you over the top of the shank bringing it back underneath each time a turn is made. To reverse the direction, simply do the opposite, winding it under the hook then towards you over the top of the shank. You’ll soon get the hang of it. Wind the pheasant tail fibres allowing them to spread flat until two-thirds of the shank has been covered. At that point secure the ends with the thread then trim off the waste. That done, evenly-spaced turns of wire can be wound over the entire body length after which the loose end is secured and the waste removed. If you now look closely you’ll see that the turns of wire actually cross those of the pheasant tail fibres locking them in place. The next step is to add the thorax which – in the original – comprised a few turns of bronze peacock herl. While this material works well, it’s possible to inject a touch of brightness by using a coloured dubbing of some sort with red, orange or even pearl being particular favourites. Here, it’s formed from a small pinch of red seal’s fur or a similar coloured substitute. To add a little extra sparkle at this stage, simply use red Lite-Brite or Glister instead of the seal’s fur. Dub the fur onto the thread to form a thin rope then apply three or four turns to create the thorax, leaving a small gap between it and the eye to accommodate the hackle. Select a soft-fibred cock hackle or alternatively of the same Greenwell or light brown colour. Strip away some of the fibres from the hackle’s stem then trim it with scissors to leave a short stub. Catch the hackle in by this stub then, using hackle pliers, wind on two or three turns. The intention is to create a hackle with plenty of life to it so the effect should be light and relatively sparse. With the hackle in place secure its tip with thread then trim off the waste. Finally, build a small head with the thread then cast it off with a whip finish.
Red seal’s fur.