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Black Gnat Dry Fly: A Comprehensive Guide

30 May 2024

Fly fishing is both an art and a science, where the choice of fly can make the difference between a successful day on the water and a frustrating one. Among the myriad of flies available, the Black Gnat dry fly holds a special place for its simplicity, versatility, and effectiveness. This blog post delves into the rich history of the Black Gnat, the fish species it targets, the techniques for fishing it, and the essential equipment needed. Whether you're an experienced angler or a beginner, understanding the Black Gnat dry fly can significantly enhance your fly fishing experience.

The History of the Black Gnat Dry Fly

The Black Gnat dry fly is one of the oldest and most enduring patterns in the fly fishing world. Its origins can be traced back to the 19th century, making it a staple in traditional fly fishing. The fly was originally designed to imitate small, dark-bodied insects that are common on many trout streams, particularly midges and gnats. Its simple yet effective design has remained largely unchanged over the years, which is a testament to its success.

The Black Gnat has been mentioned in numerous fly fishing literature, including the works of notable anglers such as Frederic M. Halford and G.E.M. Skues, who have praised its versatility and effectiveness. Over the years, it has been tied in various sizes and with different materials, but the core elements—a dark body and wings—remain consistent.

What Fish Will Bite the Black Gnat Dry Fly?

The Black Gnat dry fly is known for its ability to attract a wide variety of fish species. Here are some of the primary targets:

  1. Trout: The primary target for the Black Gnat dry fly is trout, including rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout. The fly’s design mimics small insects that are a significant part of the trout's diet, making it a reliable choice for any trout angler.

  2. Grayling: In regions where grayling are present, the Black Gnat can be particularly effective. Grayling are known for their selective feeding habits, and the Black Gnat’s realistic appearance can entice these fish to strike.

  3. Panfish: Species like bluegill and crappie are often attracted to the Black Gnat, especially when they are feeding on small insects near the surface.

  4. Bass: While not a primary target, smallmouth bass can sometimes be caught using the Black Gnat, particularly in streams and rivers where they coexist with trout.

How to Fish the Black Gnat Dry Fly

Fishing the Black Gnat dry fly requires an understanding of dry fly techniques and the behavior of small aquatic insects. Here are some effective methods:

  1. Matching the Hatch: One of the key strategies in fishing the Black Gnat is to match the hatch. Observe the insects on the water and choose a fly size that closely resembles the natural gnats or midges present.

  2. Dead Drift: The dead drift is a fundamental technique for fishing dry flies, including the Black Gnat. Cast upstream and allow the fly to drift naturally with the current, ensuring there is no drag on the line. This presentation mimics the way real insects float on the water’s surface.

  3. Upstream Cast: An upstream cast can be very effective when fishing for trout. Position yourself downstream of the target area and cast the fly upstream, allowing it to float naturally back towards you. This technique helps keep the fly line and leader out of the fish’s line of sight.

  4. Mend Your Line: To achieve a drag-free drift, it’s often necessary to mend your line. After the cast, use a quick flick of the rod tip to reposition the line upstream. This helps prevent the current from pulling the fly unnaturally and can make a significant difference in fooling wary fish.

  5. Sight Fishing: When conditions allow, sight fishing can be an exciting and rewarding way to use the Black Gnat. Look for rising fish or those holding in shallow water. Present the fly delicately to avoid spooking the fish and watch for any subtle takes.

  6. Emerging Flies: During a hatch, gnats and midges often struggle to break through the surface film, making them easy targets for fish. Consider using an emerger pattern or adding a drop of floatant to the body of your Black Gnat to mimic this behavior.

Equipment for Fishing the Black Gnat Dry Fly

To fish the Black Gnat dry fly effectively, you’ll need the right equipment. Here’s a detailed guide on what you should have:

  1. Fly Rod: A 9-foot, 4- to 6-weight fly rod is ideal for most situations involving the Black Gnat. For smaller streams and more delicate presentations, a 3-weight rod can be a good choice.

  2. Fly Reel: Choose a reel with a smooth drag system that balances well with your rod. The reel’s primary role in dry fly fishing is to hold the line and provide a smooth, controlled release when casting.

  3. Fly Line: A weight-forward floating line is suitable for most dry fly fishing situations. Look for a line with a long, fine front taper to help achieve delicate presentations.

  4. Leader and Tippet: Use a tapered leader that transitions smoothly from thick to thin. A 9- to 12-foot leader is ideal for most situations. Attach a 4X to 6X tippet, depending on the size of the fly and the water clarity.

  5. Floatant: To keep your Black Gnat floating high on the water, use a quality floatant. Apply it sparingly to the fly before casting and reapply as needed.

  6. Fly Box: Include a variety of Black Gnat flies in different sizes (16 to 24) in your fly box. Having multiple sizes allows you to match the hatch more accurately.

  7. Waders and Boots: Quality waders and boots are essential for accessing prime fishing spots. Look for breathable waders and sturdy, well-fitting boots with good traction.

  8. Accessories: Include hemostats, nippers, a landing net, and polarized sunglasses to reduce glare and spot fish more easily.

Tying the Black Gnat Dry Fly

For those interested in fly tying, creating your own Black Gnat dry flies can be a rewarding experience. Here’s a basic recipe:


  • Hook: Dry fly hook, sizes 16-24
  • Thread: Black, 8/0 or 12/0
  • Tail: Black hackle fibers or microfibbets
  • Body: Black dubbing or quill
  • Wings: Black hackle tips or synthetic wing material
  • Hackle: Black dry fly hackle


  1. Start the thread at the hook eye and wrap a smooth base back to the bend.
  2. Tie in a small bunch of black hackle fibers or microfibbets for the tail, about the length of the hook shank.
  3. Dub a slender, tapered body with black dubbing or wrap a black quill body, wrapping forward to about two-thirds of the way to the hook eye.
  4. Tie in the black hackle tips for the wings, ensuring they are upright and divided.
  5. Tie in a black dry fly hackle and wrap it forward in evenly spaced turns to create a collar. Secure and trim the excess.
  6. Whip finish behind the hook eye and apply a drop of head cement for durability.


The Black Gnat dry fly is a testament to the timeless appeal of well-designed fly patterns. Its rich history, coupled with its ability to attract various fish species, makes it an essential pattern for any angler’s fly box. By understanding the history, target species, fishing techniques, and necessary equipment, you can maximize your success with the Black Gnat dry fly.

Tying your own Black Gnat flies can add a personal touch to your fly fishing experience, allowing you to tailor the fly to specific conditions and preferences. So, next time you head out to the water, make sure you have a selection of Black Gnat dry flies in your arsenal. This classic and effective fly has the potential to turn an ordinary day of fishing into an extraordinary adventure. Happy fishing!

By diving deep into the Black Gnat dry fly's history, effectiveness, and practical application, this blog post aims to equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to make the most of this exceptional fly. Whether you're a fly fishing veteran or just starting out, the Black Gnat offers opportunities for learning, experimentation, and, most importantly, successful fishing trips.

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