The General Practitioner or ‘GP’, as it is affectionately known to many, is a staple pattern for most British Columbia steelhead fly-fishers. The GP was originally designed as a prawn or shrimp imitation for Atlantic salmon by an Englishman, Colonel Desmond Drury in the early fifties. As with many Atlantic salmon patterns and techniques, the GP soon emigrated west. GPs can be complex and time consuming to tie. The GP’s prawn imitating concept soon spawned other simplified prawn or shrimp patterns such as the Squamish Poacher, Borden Prawn, along with numerous Spey and Intruder designs. The GP has also benefitted from this evolution. It seems no two fly tiers dress their GPs the same. Some variations remain complex. Others are simple in nature. Either approach has value. Ultimately, it comes down to your own preferences and the personality stamp you provide to your GPs. I enjoy tying complex GPs more out of nostalgia than anything else. My first Dean River fish, a beautiful 12-pound hen, fell to the charms of a black GP over 15 years ago. As a result, my GP tying philosophy has changed little since that time.
I find the GP more ‘fiddly’ than difficult to tie. Complex versions have a number of components. Maintaining proper proportioning is critical to success. The larger the GP, the easier it is to tie. Try tying larger versions before dropping down to smaller, low water sized GPs. Mix and match colours. I prefer large bright versions for winter fish, small sombre darker versions for summer runs. You can also blend both approaches. The look of a black or purple GP with a carapace of reddish orange Golden Pheasant breast feathers is eye catching.
GP’s tails are sparse, ranging from shank length or longer. Popular materials include dyed bucktail, squirrel or calf tail. Calf tail is useful on smaller GPs. Polar bear is a personal favourite but it is getting difficult to find good reliable sources. No matter the tail material, most add a dash of Crystal Flash, either a matching colour or pearlescent. Make a point of stagger cutting the Crystal Flash to varying lengths so it shimmers throughout the tail. Use this technique for other Crystal Flash applications as well including streamers.
The shellback or carapace is the distinguishing feature that provides the eye appeal the GP is noted for. Constructed originally out of Golden Pheasant breast feathers, the carapace can be tied in as one single pair extending over the entire length of the body, or, in multi- layered sections, typically at the one third, two thirds, and at the head areas of the fly. Single sections are best suited for smaller GPs. Larger GPs often dictate a multi-layered approach. For darker GPs, dyed golden or Ringneck pheasant breast feathers work well. Others use narrow hen back feathers. Paired feathers can be laid one on top of each other to accent the humped look of the fly, or concave-to-convex to cancel the natural curvature of the feather. Whatever method you choose make sure the shiny side of the pairing faces out.
In order for the fly to swim properly the carapace feathers must lie flat, cupping the body. Exposed feather stems can be challenging to tie in as they love to roll around the shank. Once the feather or feathers have been prepared squashing the stems flat using your thumbnail or a pair of flat nosed pliers eliminates this frustration. Try tying the feathers in slightly longer to start. Use a gentle thumb roll towards the head of the fly and pull the feathers to length. This practice also sweeps the feathers down along the body. Be careful, a brazen approach may result in knocking the feather or feathers out alignment or worse pulling them out completely.
Most GPs use dyed neck or saddle hackle palmered over the body. Other materials offer interesting looks such as Schlappen or Blue Eared Pheasant. Most tyers tie in and palmer their body hackle from the back to front. I tie mine in front and palmer back over the body. Secure the hackle in place by winding the rib forward. This method increases the durability of the fly allowing the hackle fibres to sweep back augmenting the prawn profile the pattern is intended to suggest. Make sure that your hackles are even in length over the entire body or taper narrower towards the tail.
Once the hackle is in place a path must be cleared for the carapace and distinct pheasant tippet eyes the GP is famous for. Rather than trimming the hackle use a combination of Velcro comb and your thumb and forefinger to brush and train the fibres beneath the shank. Any errant fibres that remain are easily trimmed.
Golden Pheasant tippet eyes are common to most versions of the GP. Select a suitable feather that has an equal balance of fibres on each side of the stem. Snip out the tip section and then starting from the butt of the feather strip away the fibres on each side of the stem so approximately a dozen remain. Keep the tips together by coating them with flexible cement such as Soft Body or C-Flex. Once dry, the eyes are typically tied in at the one-third point on the shank, just forward of the hook point. The tips extend back even with the single Golden Pheasant breast feather that is often used to veil the tail. Squashing the stem flat keeps the tip eyes lying flat over the body. Tying the feather in long and pulling into place tucks the eyes smartly along the body. Some omit the eyes completely. Others secure a bunch of Golden Pheasant tippet fibres over the tail. The choice is yours.
There is something about the charm of the GP that all west coast steelhead fly fishers are drawn to. I find them a balance of elegance and function. The moment I knot one on the end of my leader my confidence
instantly rises. A trait I find common with other fly-fishers.
Hook: Mustad SL53UBL #1/0-#8
Thread: 8/0 or 6/0 Hot Orange
Tail: Hot Orange Bucktail Mixed With Pearlescent or Hot Orange Crystal Flash
Topping: Golden Pheasant Breast Feather
Rib: Gold Oval Tinsel, Small
Body: Hot Orange Seal’s Fur or Substitute
Hackle: Hot Orange Saddle
Eyes: Golden Pheasant Tippet
Carapace: Two Golden Pheasant Breast Feathers tied in at the 1/3 Point, 2/3 Point and Head off the fly
Tying Note: This pattern can be tied in a variety of colours and colour combinations including black and purple.
Cover the hook shank with tying thread. Close the return on the hook eye. Secure in a sparse shank long tail of bucktail along the entire length of the shank. Tie in 6-8 strands of Crystal Flash. Stagger cut the Crystal Flash so it flickers throughout the tail. Secure in a small golden pheasant breast feather so the tips extend back about half the length of the tail.
Tie in the ribbing material along the underside of the hook. Dub the first body segment to the 1/3 point on the hook. Tie in a hot orange saddle hackle in front of the first body segment. Choose a hackle with fibres that are no longer than twice the hook gape. Palmer the hackle back over the first body segment 3-4 times. Still holding the hackle tip wind the rib forward three times securing the hackle in place. Tie off the rib but do not trim the excess. Trim the hackle tip. Using a Velcro brush and your fingers stroke and train as many hackle fibres as you can down the sides and underneath the body. Trim any errant fibres on top clearing a path for the eyes and first carapace segment. Secure the remaining ribbing material back under the shank to the end of the first body segment.
Take a single golden pheasant tippet feather trim out the tip of the feather creating a V Strip away the fibres from the sides of the feather so there are roughly 12 fibres remaining on each side of the stem. Coat the tips of the prepared feather with Soft Body or similar flexible cement.
Tie in the golden pheasant tippet eyes flat along the top of the hook directly in front of the first body segment. The black tips of the tippet eyes should extend back even with the golden pheasant breast feather veil. Take two golden pheasant breast feathers and lay them one of top of each other so the tips are even. Strip away the flue and excess feathers at the base of the feathers so enough fibres remain to reach back about half the distance of the tail. Crush the stems of the feathers with your thumbnail or flat nose pliers to stop them from rolling around the shank during the tie in process. Tie in the prepared breast feathers at the front of the first body segment concave side down on top of the golden pheasant tippet eyes so the tips reach back about half the length of the tail. Trim the excess stems.
Dub the second body segment to the 2/3 point of the shank. Tie in a second saddle hackle and palmer it back over the second body segment 3-4 times. Wind the rib forward securing the hackle. Tie off and secure the remaining ribbing material underneath the hook shank. Trim the excess hackle. Prepare two golden pheasant breast feathers in the same fashion as the pair used to from the first section of the carapace. Tie in the prepared breast feathers concave side down so the tips reach back about half the length of the first carapace segment. Crush the stems flat to ease the tie process. Trim the excess breast feather stems.
Form the last body segment covering the remaining third of the hook shank. Leave enough room to form the head. Tie in and palmer a saddle hackle back over the last body segment. Wind the ribbing material over the body 3-4 times locking the hackle in place. Tie off the rib. Use your thumbnail to strip the covering from the remaining oval tinsel ribbing.
Secure with a few additional wraps and trim away the excess. This practice reduces bulk, helping to create a neat head.
Prepare two golden pheasant breast feathers in the same fashion as the first two carapace sections. Tie in the prepared breast feathers concave side down so the tips reach back about half the length of the second carapace segment. Remember to crush the stems flat. Trim the excess breast feather stems. Form a neat tapered head, whip finish and apply head cement.