Late afternoon into early summer evenings can be a highly productive time to fish wet flies, especially if you have a strong hatch and active feeders. Of course, it’s a good idea to fish a team of three (give the trout a choice) and match the hatch (you can match multiple hatches with a team of three wets). If you hit it right, you’ll be the angler that everyone wants to quiz in the parking lot.
Wets will often out-fish dries during the early and mid-stages of a hatch. But there comes a time when you should stop fishing wets and switch to dries. Some of the cues are visual: you begin to see trout taking insects off the top of the water, or the rises leave a bubble (indicating the fish has broken the surface while eating). Others are self-evident: you’ve been pounding up fish on wets for an hour, the feed is still in full swing, but you’re no longer getting hits. Learn to find this moment in time consistently, and you’ll be on your way to catching more fish. Keep a dry fly leader in a handy pocket so you can make the switch even faster.
I have not been fishing Stewart’s Dun Spider nearly enough this summer. This soft hackle has sulphurs written all over it. Change the silk to a light olive for Attenuata? Hmmm…
I recently published a short feature series on W.C. Stewart’s spiders, three ancient and traditional Scottish soft hackles. They first appeared in print in Stewart’s 1857 book “The Practical Angler or the Art of Trout Fishing, more Particularly Applied to Clear Water.” Here now is a single reference list of the trio: the Black Spider, Red Spider, and Dun Spider, a photo of each pattern, and a link to the original post with my comments and tying instructions. If you’re interested in reading an online copy of Stewart’s Book, you can find one here.
W.C. Stewart on the soft-hackled feather: “So soft are they, that when a spider is made of one of them and placed in the water, the least motion will agitate and impart a singularly life-like appearance to it.” — W.C. Stewart
I don’t know if W.C. Stewart had yellow sallies or sulphurs on his wee Scottish burns. But we have them here in the States, and Stewart’s Dun Spider does a bang-up job of imitating those hatches. Try fishing this on a small stream as a dropper off a bushy dry — or as a dry-wet tandem during a sulphur emergence. (You can thank me next time you see me.)
Every fly tier has a good supply of dotterel on hand…uh…hold on…dang! Turns out, not so much, even in Stewart’s time (mid-19th century). You can substitute with webby dun hen, or heed the sage advice of the man himself:
Stewart’s Dun Spider
Hook: 14-15 (from Leisenring). I used a Partridge SUD2 #14.
Hackle: Dotterel (I used a feather from the inside of a starling wing)
Body: Working silk
Tying Notes: The silk body should cover only the front half of the shank. Select a feather with 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!). If you look closely at the photo, you can see the silk reinforcement around the spine of the feather. 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.