Jack’s Sprat Trout Fly – An old favourite for targeting rainbow trout in the lakes and rivers of the central North Island

By Allan Burgess

Jack’s Sprat trout fly is an excellent New Zealand smelting pattern. It can be used to imitate common smelt, and in smaller sizes makes a good whitebait fly. It is popular with anglers seeking rainbow trout in the lakes, rivers and streams of the central North Island. Used both for fly casting and jigging. It is also fished in the South Island by anglers seeking sea-run brown trout near river mouths and the lower tidal reaches of coastal rivers.

The Jack’s Sprat was created by Jack England who according to Keith Draper, had a tackle store on the Tongariro River and later moved to Rotorua where he entered into a partnership with Bill Hamill.

This fly is “closely related” to another early New Zealand streamer pattern the Badger. It differs in that it uses white chenille in place of flat silver tinsel for the body. 

Jack’s Sprat Trout Fly Variations

There are also a few variations of the Jack’s Sprat. You can change out the flat silver tinsel body for pearl Mylar. Pat Swift of Rotorua produces a “gorgeous” Jack’s Sprat with an epoxy head and painted eyes.

Another handsome variation is the addition of jungle cock eye feathers. As you can see in the picture above they produce an elegant fly sometimes called a Jack’s Sprat Imperial. These are shockingly expensive to buy as you will find if you look them up on eBay. I have been very fortunate with two retired fly tiers passing capes onto me now that they are too old to use them. The grey junglefowl is endemic to India. It has been bred domestically in England since 1862

It may be frowned upon by some but you can also add a couple of strips of pearl Flashbou at the head and running alongside almost the length of the fly. This addition will add extra flash and sparkle. Easy to do when you tie your flies yourself.

To be a Jack’s Sprat you must use badger hackles which come from the cape and saddle of a rooster. For Jack’s Sprat, you want grey, silver or natural-coloured badger hackles as opposed to honey or furnace. I only use two hackles for my flies as an economic measure, especially when tying in the smaller sizes. Some will use two pairs of matched hackles but I don’t think it matters. 

As for a hackle collar, you can omit this entirely particularly for the smaller sizes. Some suggest a collar wrapped around the hook while others prefer a pinch of badger hackle under the body only. 

Should You Include a Red Tail?

In Trout Flies in New Zealand, first published in 1971, Keith Draper doesn’t mention red hackle tips being used to form a tail. Hugh McDowell in New Zealand Fly Tying – The ten-thumbed beginner’s guide published in 1984, also doesn’t mention a tail. Derek Quilliam, in his excellent book The Complete Guide to New Zealand Trout Lures published in 1999, also makes no mention of a tail red or otherwise. 

At the risk of boring the poor reader, Tony Busch in Trout Fishing – A Guide to New Zealand’s South Island, first published in 1994, has a good colour photograph of a Jack’s Spratt trout fly (note the different spelling of Sprat) which is also missing a tail.  

However Keith Draper, in his later book New Zealand Trout Flies Traditional and Modern published in 1997, has included a red tail. It looks like the tail comprising of red hackle tips is a later addition to the Jack’s Sprat. Almost all the commercially available versions of this fly sold online incorporate a red tail. In my opinion either version is correct.

Hooks

Hooks Kamasan 175 or similar. For sea-run trout use a larger size #2 if the river is carrying a little colour. In very clear water a smaller size #8 or even a #10 may produce more hits. 

Jack’s Sprat from Flyshop .co.nz is based in Methven, Canterbury.

Jack’s Sprat tied with a pair of furnace-coloured badger hackles and a badger hackle collar. The body is silver diamond braid. Grey or white badger hackles produce a better-looking smelt fly.

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