Stewart’s Black Spider

W.C. Stewart was a Scottish lawyer and soft hackle aficionado. In 1857 he published the highly popular fly fishing book The Practical Angler. Though long out of print, you can easily find an archival copy online, or even a dog-eared used volume.

Today, Stewart is most remembered for his three spiders. These sparse, impressionistic soft-hackles wouldn’t get a second look in the modern fly shop’s bins. That these patterns would wantonly be ignored is, of course, a huge mistake. Let’s see if we can remedy that.

In a recent column, George Will referenced a line from an Alan Bennett play: “Standards are always out of date — that’s why we call them standards.” Don’t be dismayed by the absence of tungsten beads or UV mega-super-duper-sparkle flash. This pattern has been fooling trout for centuries. And the fish aren’t getting any smarter. Three cheers for James Baillie!

W.C. Stewart’s Black Spider

Hook: 14-15 (from Leisenring). I used a Partridge SUD2 #14.
Silk: Brown
Hackle: Cock starling
Body: Working silk
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Tying Notes: This pattern is widely interpreted, as evidenced by an image search. The good news is that the design is so simple, it’s probably hard to tie one “wrong.” Let’s start here: I’ve always found it curious that a pattern titled “Black Spider” doesn’t contain anything purely black; I suppose “Dark Spider” doesn’t have the same swagger. The silk body should cover only the front half of the shank. Select a purplish-black hackle from a starling skin, fibers about as long as the shank. To make a more durable fly, Stewart suggested twisting the hackle around a silk tag before winding. Here’s how I did that: Start the silk at the head, winding rearward. Leave a 3″ tag about 3/4 of the way down the body. Continue winding the working silk. At the halfway point of the shank, proceed back toward the head. When you get to the silk tag, tie in the feather at its tip, and continue winding your working silk toward the head. Now, twist the feather around the silk tag, taking care not to break the spine (starling is fragile!). Wrap the feather toward the head, 3-4 turns, preening the fibers so they don’t get covered (a bodkin or needle may help). Tie down the feather and whip finish.
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James Leisenring was a big fan of the style, writing, “I have found W.C.Stewart’s spiders to be a deadly combination on every stream I have ever fished.” Many iterations have the hackle wound along the length of the shaft, producing a hyper-sparse look, but as you can see from this drawing from The Practical Angler, the hackle is condensed and confined to the front half of the fly.
 
 
 

The Best Of North Country Spiders in list form and photos

Last winter I posted a very popular series, the Best Of North Country Spiders, a list of thirteen of my favorite ancient and traditional Yorkshire soft hackles. What was missing was a single reference list of the bunch. And now, the remedy: the list, a photo of each pattern, and a link to the original post with my comments and tying instructions.

Best of North Country Spiders. “With the soft-hackled fly, the trout throws caution to the wind…” — Syl Nemes

Winter Brown

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Greensleeves

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Black Magic

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Sandy Moorgame

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Snipe and Purple

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Partridge and Orange

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Poult Bloa

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Yorkshire Greenwell

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Smoke Fly

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Grey Partridge (Grey Watchet)

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Snipe Bloa

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Orange Partridge

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Waterhen Bloa

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There you have them. Fish these patterns with confidence: North American trout have no idea that they’re not in an English chalk stream 200 years ago. As always, if you have trying or fishing questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Tying and Fishing Wet Flies with Steve Culton” class added to Marlborough Fly Fishing Show

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be part of the “Classes with the Experts” series at the 2020 Marlborough Fly Fishing Show, Saturday, January 18, 2pm-4:30pm. Here’s the course description: “Learn to tie and fish classic North Country spiders and other wet flies that trout can’t resist. The course also covers basics like leader construction, fly selection, where to fish wet flies, and how to fish them. Intermediate.”

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To attend you must register, and you cannot do that through me. You need to go to the Fly Fishing Show website. Here’s some more info:

Note: Most tying classes require some experience and others may require more. Ask us when you call. Beginners are welcome, but be prepared for more than basics. All students must bring their own tying vise, tools, lamp if needed, and a sampling of materials. Most classes will provide adequate materials for the patterns being taught.  If a class is cancelled, you will be notified 5 days prior to the show and permitted to switch or receive a refund. Bring your own lamp, vise, tools & a basic selection of materials.

To insure quality instruction class size is limited. Call us for more class descriptions or availability. Classes will fill and close, so register early. The tuition charge of $85 includes admission to the show for that day. There are no refunds unless the class is cancelled. You MUST register in advance. For more information call 814-443-3638.

A civilized outing at the private fishing club

Being an internationally famous fly fishing personality (or not — but let’s go with the former for the sake of the story) gets me all kinds of cool invites. Yesterday I took advantage of the opportunity to fish some private club-owned waters.

It’s a challenging stream at this time of year, with no canopy, low flows, clear water, and brilliant sunshine. The stream wanders through the woods, mostly longer flat runs and shallows, but pockmarked with intriguing bends, riffles, deep dark holes, and plunges. It’s on the large side of small, or the small side of medium, depending on your point-of-view.

The fishing today was tough. I fished a dry/dropper and streamers. One bump on an olive Squirrel and Herl, and one nose bump on the dry, but I was finally able to connect with a hefty rainbow on spider dropper. My host, John R, managed three. Many thanks for a glorious day on this gorgeous piece of water.

My catch has a great fish story. See that pile of rocks to the right? I had made a cast into the center of the pool from the back side of the pile, and was crawling forward a few feet to get into a better position to manage my drift. When I looked up, my dry fly was gone. So I set the hook, and to my delight found a fat rainbow attached to the North Country spider dropper. Painfully slow currents and mirror-like surfaces made the fishing a triple black diamond challenge.

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Here’s my host John doing battle in the same spot. Many thanks for the invite, kind sir. And if you, dear reader, have issued a similar invitation, I plan to take you up on it — this is simply the one that worked best for me on this day. I appreciate all the offers!

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They’re called classics for a reason. Once again, Our Lady of the Blessed Snipe and Purple did not fail me. Funny thing! On a day where hatches were at a bare-bones minimum, I saw a little black stone, size 18, crawling on my waders moments after I took this photo.

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“Wet Flies 101” in Bridgeport November 19

Someone recently asked, “When are you going to be presenting Wet Flies 101 again?” I have your answer: Tuesday, November 19, Nutmeg TU, 7pm, Port 5, Bridgeport, CT. If you’re interested in this highly effective and underutilized subsurface method, Wet Flies 101 provides an overview and gateway into this ancient and traditional art. Hope to see you there!  You can find the Nutmeg TU Facebook page here and their website here.

This nearly two foot-long wild brown is one of the best fish I’ve ever taken on a wet fly — and provides testimony to the devastating efficiency of the method.

Wet Flies 101

A little Leisenring, a little Culton, a little North Country Spider

Soft hackles and wingless wets ready to swim. Clockwise from upper left: Pale Watery Dun, Grey Watchet, Old Blue Dun (and a random Partridge and Rusty Brown), Squirrel and Ginger, Pale Watery Wingless AKA Magic Fly.

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700 Followers Contest Swag

Congratulations to Ron, Toby, and Michael, our three winners in the Currentseams.com 700 followers contest! Each will be receiving a selection of a dozen wet flies, including classic North Country spiders, Leisenring’s favorites, traditional American wet patterns, and a couple Culton originals. Some of the flies are the actual ones featured in the photos for this winter’s wet fly series.

I had hoped to get these out today, but it will have to wait for the weekend or Monday. I’ll let the winners know when I ship.

A heartfelt thank you to everyone for reading and following currentseams. Without you, I wouldn’t be able to do this. Tight lines to all, and on to 800!

Gentlemen, start your drooling. From left to right, Ron’s, Toby’s, and Michael’s dozen. Get these wet and do us proud, gentlemen — and of course, we want to see photos.

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