Robert Smith on tying North Country spiders

Since we’re in fly-tying mode, I wanted to share this. It’s written by Robert Smith, a new friend and fellow aficionado of the soft-hackled fly.

“As some of you will may know, I am a descendant of a famous North Country angler/author. And this simple quirk of fate has in many respects dictated my views in regards to tying the patterns. (Best not mention number of hackle wraps!)

But for the most part, it is the beauty of the materials we use in dressing spiders that has always driven me. I revel in using hackles from antique and obscure sources from the likes of Fieldfare, Owl and Wren. Each hackle has its own individual quality, both from a tying point of view and an aesthetic point of view. As you change individual hackles, the individual barb count changes, and as a result your tying technique changes to compliment these barb counts. (One of the reason why I don’t prescribe to the two turns of hackle mantra!) On some of the denser hackles I strip on side off, on others I wrap with a full hackle. Stripping one side of the hackle allows me more control of the barb count and also produces a neater fly, providing you strip the leading edge of course!

The subtle colouration and shading found in many of the birds we use in dressing spiders is to me at times breath-taking. Simple things such as a Magpie tail or Starling skin, shimmer and radiate an amazing spectrum of colours. Others such as the brown speckle of a Partridge hackle, just seems born to compliment orange silk and bright gold wire! Last year, a friend sent me a Lapwing that he picked up from the field. I was stunned at the beauty of the plumage when I opened the Tupperware box, so much so, that even now utilising its hackles within a simple fly has become a reverential act. The bird and plumage was beautiful, and to my mind, it is only right that the fly I fashion matches this. For me, there is something spiritual about using a fly constructed in some part, from materials obtained from the very landscape that surrounds me.

Though dubbings are often rather overlooked when discussing spiders, I love using old standards such as Fox ear and yes Water-rat. Though modern synthetics have their place, and we have to give Davy Wotton a big thank you in regards to the quality of modern synthetic dubbings. Nothing beats natural dubbings. Years ago after buying a collection of tying materials, I came across an old dried small tin of Crawshaw’s Red Spinner dye, the same used in the dressing of Edmonds & Lee’s March Brown. I’m not afraid to admit that I had tears rolling down my face, as mixed up enough to dye a rabbit skin so I could follow the original tying recipe. And even more so when the fly landed a 12” brownie from the same pool illustrated in their book.

Though the techniques involved in dressing spiders is somewhat simple compared to the complexity of other fly types. They are nevertheless, in many ways harder to master. Simply put, when dressing spiders, you have nowhere to hide! Each wrap of silk has to be deliberate and precise, because a poorly placed wrap of silk has a habit of becoming obvious on a finished fly. The hackle fibres that slant backwards because the first binding wrap of silk is crouching in and collapsing the desired umbrella spread. Peacock herl heads that show tying silk in front. All these things are easy to avoid, but surprisingly often go un-noticed until we hold up the finished fly.

Unlike other fly types, tradition dictates that I can’t even hide my deficiencies under a bulky fur coat of dubbing. Because I’ve taken the words of Pritt, Edmonds & Lee, Leisenring and Hidy to heart, and cover my silks with only a sparse misting of dubbing.
To sum up, there is a quiet confidence exhibited in a well tied spider or soft-hackled fly. They don’t need to scream out with the use of modern materials or convoluted tying techniques. They simply need to be dressed neatly and proportionally, and with a sympathetic understanding of the materials involved.”

One of Robert’s lovely ties, the Black Snipe, No. 62 from Pritt’s book.

rsmithblacksnipe

Winter 2017 Appearances and Presentations

There’s still fishing, but winter is prime presentation season. Hope to see you on the river, at a club meeting, fly shop, or a show. There may be more additions to this list, so stay tuned. (Like right now. I’m adding a date on January 17th.)

“The Little Things,” Wednesday, January 11, 7pm, at Candlewood Valley TU, Bethel, CT. This is the original Little Things (there are currently two with a third on the way) presentation. From the CVTU website: Our meetings are free and open to members, guests and the general public. They are held at Stony Hill Fire Department, 59 Stony Hill Road, Bethel and start at 7:30 p.m. but doors open at 7 p.m. for pizza, soda and some good conversation with fellow anglers. For more information, visit cvtu.org.

“The Little Things,” Tuesday, January 17, 7pm, at Thames Valley TU, Bozrah, CT. Like above, this is the original Little Things. From the TVTU website: Fly tying starts at 6:00 p.m. and the meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. Meetings are open to the public and there is no charge so come and join us. For directions and stuff, visit thamesvalleytu.org.

“Wet Flies 101,” at the Fly Fishing Show, Marlborough, MA, Friday, January 20, 1pm, Catch Room. We’re in the big room for this one, so come out and support your friendly local fly fishing writer guy! I may be tying after the presentation. I’ll let you know if that’s so. For more information, visit the Fly Fishing Show website.

“Wet Flies 101,” at the Fly Fishing Show, Marlborough, MA, Saturday, January 21, 10am, Destination Theater, Room A. Smaller room, same energy and information. Ditto maybe tying after the presentation. For more information, visit the Fly Fishing Show website.

Tying at the CFFA Fly Fishing Expo & Banquet, Saturday, February 4, Maneely’s, South Windsor, CT. Come see why the Expo is the best little fly fishing show going. I’ll be there from the morning thru early afternoon. For more information, click here.

“The West Branch of the Farmington River,” Wednesday, February 8, at East Jersey TU, Rochelle Park, NJ. Have Farmington River enthusiasm, will travel. For more information, visit the EJTU website.

“Farmington River Favorites” Tying Demo, Saturday, February 11, 10am-2pm at The Compleat Angler, Darien, CT.  At this demo, I’ll be tying some of my favorite patterns for the Farmington River. There will be a little bit of everything: wets, dries, nymphs, and streamers, from traditional classics to new designs. These are all high-confidence, proven patterns, and I’ll also discuss how and when I like to fish them. For directions and stuff, visit the CA website.

“The Little Things 2.0,” Thursday, March 16, 6:30pm, at Farmington Valley TU, New Britain, CT. This is the followup to the original Little Things, and it’s currently one of my most popular presentations. For more information, visit the fvtu website.

Whew! That should keep me busy. I’m still trying to finalize some tying classes/demos as scheduling permits. Thanks for your support, and as always, if you come out to see me, please be sure to say hi.

Moving up to the big room in Marlborough, Friday, January 20, at 1pm.

Wet Flies 101

Big room news: “Wet Flies 101” at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA

Once again, I will be presenting “Wet Flies 101” at the the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA. Only this time, on a bigger stage.

I’ve been elevated to Seminar status for Friday, 1pm, January 20th, as I present “Wet Flies 101” in the Catch Room. On Saturday the 21st, I’ll be making the same presentation at 10am in Room A of the Destination Theater.

And so, dear reader, I’d like to ask you a favor: if you’re planning on going to the show, please try to come to the Friday the 21st show in the big room. I’d to have as full a house as possible. If you can make it, good fishing karma and positive tight line energy shall be bestowed upon you. And of course, if you’re there, please come say hi.

For more information, visit the Fly Fishing Show’s Marlborough website.

Here’s your chance to visit Yorkshire without ever leaving New England.

Soft-hackles

Cheeseburger in wet fly paradise

There’s one sure way to get this presenter in a good mood, and that’s to offer to take him out to dinner before the engagement. And so it was that I found myself last night with several members of the Farmington Valley TU Chapter at the Whinstone Tavern in New Britain, CT, with a lovely medium-rare burger, crisp, tasty fries, crunchy deli pickle slice, and a moderately-hopped IPA. Wonderful!

And so, thank you. Thank you for feeding me. Thank you for being so welcoming. Thank you for finding that most excellent venue. Thank you for your technical support. And thank you for providing me with such a rapt, curious audience. I counted about fifty people. A decent crowned is always a positive.

Overheard last night: “That was the best presentation we’ve ever had.” Such kind words. Speaking of presentation, the trout below took this Magic Fly — fished wet — on a dead drift at the edge of a plunge pool current seam.

Brown PWWwet

Currentseams Q&A: attaching a soft-hackle to the hook shank

Q: When tying soft-hackled flies do you tie in the tip of the feather or the butt?

A: I’m almost always a tip guy. The stem of any feather is more flexible at the tip, and therefore easier for me to wrap. Also, feathers like starling are quite fragile — when I try to grip the tip of a starling feather with my hackle pliers, I often break off feathers to the point of rage. We don’t like rage when we’re tying. Maybe I just need to dial back the wrapping pressure. Or quit lifting weights.

Tying in by the tip is neither right nor wrong. It’s just the way I like to do it. I originally learned from Dave Hughes’ book Wet Flies, and he advocates tying in by the butt. I tried it that way, then tried it this way, and here we are. I encourage you to do the same in your tying and fishing: try different methods and pick the one that suits you. If I am tying a pattern like Stewart’s Black Spider, where I am starting at the head then winding the hackle rearward along the body, I will tie the feather in by the butt. This results in a tapered flow of hackle from large in front to small in back.

These hackles were all tied in by the tip. They look OK to me, and the trout certainly like them. So I must be doing something right.

Soft-hackles

The Black Caddis Spider

Last week on the Farmington I noted a substantial number of black caddis, about a size 16, hatching in the afternoon. I’d never seen them in that number before. While I had some patterns in my box (Stewart’s Black Spider, Starling and Herl) that matched the hatch, I wanted to tie up something that I could pretend was my own. This borrows from Leisenring’s Black Gnat and the S&H. On a stouter hook –and with a bead head — it would make a fine steelhead fly as well.

Black Caddis Spider

Image

Hook: Size 14-16 wet fly
Thread: Black
Body: Black pheasant tail
Rib: Extra fine copper
Hackle: Starling
Tying notes: A very simple tie. I used three pheasant tail fibers for the body. Counter-wrap the rib to reinforce the body, and play around with different color wires. I went for a longer-fibered starling hackle with this fly.