Best of North Country Spiders: Snipe and Purple

I will not go small wild trout stream fishing, big stream trout fishing, or steelhead fishing without the Snipe and Purple in my box. I particularly like this fly as a midge imitation, seductive hackles fluttering in the current. One day on the Salmon River in Pulaski, my only steelhead came on a Snipe and Purple as it rose off the bottom and swung toward the surface. Try it as a dropper off a bushy dry on a small stream.

Snipe and Purple North Country Spider

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Hook: Wet or dry fly 12-18
Body: Purple silk
Wings: Snipe wing over-covert
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Tying Notes: When I tie this fly for steelhead, I use a 2x strong 1x short size 12-14 hook. I’ll also add a gold rib. Like all North Country Spiders, you can add wiggly leg and wing mass by making more hackle wraps. If you can’t find snipe, try starling. Bonus! The video tutorial for the standard issue fly is right here.

Best of North Country Spiders: Sandy Moorgame

Like a soft-hackled Pheasant Tail, the Sandy Moorgame can look like nothing in particular, but a lot of things in general. Think smaller mayfly nymphs (this is a terrific pattern to place as the top dropper in your nymph rig) and little brown stones when you tie on this classic North Country spider. I have no proof, but in any given year I’m guessing that I’m the only angler on the Farmington River fishing the Sandy Moorgame. (You should do something about that.)

Sandy Moorgame

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Hook: Wet or dry fly 14-18
Body: Dark brown silk
Wings: Hackled with a dark reddish-brown feather from the back of a grouse
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Tying Notes: Simplicity rules the day. If you’re being a stickler for authenticity, use English grouse, which is different from some of the other grouse skins available. You could dress the fly more heavily than I’ve done here (two wraps of hackle) — try three or four for some extra wings/legs creepy crawly emerger action. You can find a general North Country spider video tutorial here.

Best of North Country Spiders: Greensleeves

As you can see, currentseams is on a North Country Spiders kick. The goal here is to show you some of my favorite classic Yorkshire soft hackles, including the recipe, brief tying directions, and match the hatch notes.  I have to confess that I haven’t fished Greensleeves as much as I would like. I tend to tie it smaller, say 14-18. It makes a fine BWO emerger, as well as caddis (and even microcaddis is you wanted to cross the size 20 and smaller Rubicon). It certainly works nicely as the top dropper on your nymph setup.

Greensleeves North Country Spider

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Hook: Wet or dry fly, 14-20
Body: Green silk (this is Pearsall’s Gossamer Highland Green)
Hackle: Hen pheasant neck or inside of a woodcock wing (this is woodcock)

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Tying notes: This is a fairly straightforward tie. While not as fragile as starling, woodcock isn’t as robust as partridge, so don’t pull too hard as you’re winding. You can find a general North Country spider video tutorial here.

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.

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