A Busy April: Speaking Engagements and the Marlborough Fly Fishing Show!

It’s a busy month for me, between fishing and writing and speaking about fly fishing. Here are the details:

Monday, April 11: “The Little Things” with the Miami Valley Fly Fishers. This is a members-only Zoom. I mention it in case you’re the person in charge of finding a a speaker for your fly fishing club. Thanks to the wonders of technology, we can meet up even if we are geographically undesirable. Here’s a link to my current presentation menu. I’m really looking forward to making some new fishing friends in Ohio.

Tuesday, April 12: “The Little Things 2.0” with SEMASS TU, at the Mitchell Memorial Club in Middleboro, MA. This meeting is open to the public, so if you’re in the area, stop in and enjoy the show.

Thursday, April 21, “Tactical Advantage: Angler vs Trout” with FVTU, at the Back Nine Tavern in New Britain, CT. Another meeting that is open to the public, and a presentation that most people have not seen.

Friday-Sunday, April 22-23-24, The Fly Fishing Show, Marlborough, MA. On Friday 4/22 at 2:30pm, I’ll be the Featured Fly Tier. Come watch me tie up Spiders, Winged & Wingless Wets. (I had a blast doing this in Edison!) Don’t go away, because at 4:30pm I’m presenting my new seminar, Modern Wet Fly Strategies. I think this is my best program to date, and I’m counting on you to be there. Both are included with the price of your admission ticket. On Saturday 4/23 I have a class, Tying and Fishing Wet Flies. This is a chance to get some basic tying instruction, along with tips on rigging and presentation, geared toward making you a dangerous wet fly machine. This is paid class; you have to pre-register to attend. I’m hoping to see plenty of currentseams readers at the show — please come say hello!

You can see me tie the Magic Fly, aka the Pale Watery Wingless, hear about how to fish it, and learn why it makes such a deadly sulphur imitation at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough. Plus — need I say it? — tons more information on soft hackles, wet flies, and wet fly fishing.

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
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.
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.