Skaters, Spiders & Variants

From Halford's early dries to the Catskill dry and everything else that floats on the surface.
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Joe Fox
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Skaters, Spiders & Variants

Postby Joe Fox » Sat Apr 25, 2009 10:15 am

For some reason I have a great interest in these over sized hackled flies. It could be because I'm a hackleholic and enjoy the challenge in finding select large hackles for these flies. What ever the reason I have spent a lot of time finding out every little piece of information I can find about them. These two quotes, the first from Ed Hewitt in his 1937 Trout Fishing Specialties Catalog and the 2nd from Harry Darbee in Catskill Fly Tier, I feel provide a lot of insight into these flies.

Hewitt's Words:
VARIANTS. This type of fly is very popular in England but those usually sold in this country are not as well suited to our conditions as they should be. They are most effective when tied on No. 16 hooks with gold body. Hackles are made Brown, Blue, Cream, and Black. All thse patterns have been found excellent under different water conditions. Many of best dry fly anglers prefer the variant to any other dry fly.

NEVERSINK SKATERS. These are spiders which are exceptionally large but tied on No. 16 hooks. The purpose of this is to make a fly which can be made to alight lightly on the water and the move over the surface without stopping to rest on slides and skips without getting soaked or wet at all. The very light hook is necessary for this. The reason for this type of dry fly fishing is that I have often noticed that large trout take small butterflies when they get close to the water, when they will not rise to any form of dry fly. After many attempts to immitate the actions of the butterfly I developed the Skater which seems to have the same attractions and can be cast and worked, whereas a fly with a large enough feather wing, will not cast well on the light leader which it is necessary to use. It is generally found that if this fly is cast lightly on the water and not allowed to get damp but moved in skips and jumps over the surface that the largest trout will jump for it like porpoises and come many time for the fly if they miss it. I know of no fishing which is so exciting. It is hard to do this casting which requires great skill, and it is also hard to hook these fish but it is great sport. The fly must never be allowed to become wet or damp. If it does, it must be careful dried before casting again. This is the most skillful and the most amusing forum of dry fly fishing and one which I have developed entirely myself. These flies are carried in Brown, Cream, Yellow, and Badger. All are good at different times.

SPIDERS: I revived the use of this fly although it had been made many years ago. It is the easiest dry fly to fish with and is very effective for large fish and excellent in still water. Tied only on #16 hooks (in order to get light weight). Diameter of fly from 3/4” to 1 1/4”. Tied without tails or body unless specially ordered. I found this design works best. Color, Brown with white wisp like Bivisible, Cream, Ginger, Badger, Only the best hackles are used in these flies. They are tied in a new way so they will better retain their shape and not wilt readily in use.

Harry Darbee's Words:
The Neversink Skater, best know of Hewitt's flies, is patterned after butterflies he saw being taken in broad daylight be large leaping trout. How I happen to think his skater looks as much like a butterflies as a goose looks like God, but he certainly caught big fish with it. Basically it is a spider with no tail, tied on a light wire size 16 Allcock Model Perfect hook with large, light ginger hackle to make a fly 2 inches or greater in diameter. The fishing method, is prescribed by the master, required great casting precision to keep the fly moving on the water, high-and dry-at all times. The Neversink Skater was to be fish oiled, and the moment it got soaked or caught in a fish Hewitt put on a fresh one.
Elsie and I tied most of Hewitt's skaters. We saved our longest, stiffest hackle for him. Besides the favored light ginger variation, the Neversink Skater also came as bivisible (brown and white), badger, ginger, dun, grizzly, grizzly with brown, grizzly with ginger, and furnace.
To tie properly, the extra wide and stiff spade or saddle hackles of the required color are tied in just forward if the hook point, but far enough forward to clear the hook point when they are wound in. The fron hackle has its bright side forward, the back has it bright side to the rear. The center hackle may face wither way. The tying tread is carried forward leaving room to finish off with plenty of room to clear the eye. When hackles are wound and finished off with a whip finish, apply thin spar varnish to head cement to the base of the hackles from fround to rear. Be careful not to allow the varnish to be soaked up into the hackles. This would stiffen the fly and make it almost useless.

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Re: Skaters, Spiders & Variants

Postby redietz » Sat Apr 25, 2009 10:47 am

It's interesting that he was down on variants. I wonder if that's because he didn't invent them? I used to fish them a lot, and was pretty successful with them.

I've always wondered how skaters were supposed to sit on the water -- hook bend down or on the tips?

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Re: Skaters, Spiders & Variants

Postby ewpeper » Sat Apr 25, 2009 11:09 am

The Hewitt quotes are wonderful. A man of few opinions. :D Harry's comments following are equally priceless.

Variants were the first dry flies I ever got from Orvis (early '60s), and they were tied to Hewitt's description with gold tinsel bodies. I caught a lot of Catskill fish on those flies. Once I began tying my own a few years later, I didn't have much luck tying decent dryfly wings, so I ended up fishing a lot of variants, and I did very well with them for many years. I never had hackle suitable for the skaters or spiders, but I've always admired their appearance, tho' I seldom fish a wingless fly anymore except for the softhackles.

Great post!

A mountain is a fact -- a trout is a moment of beauty known only to men who seek them.
Al McClane in his Introduction to The Practical Fly Fisherman . . . often erroneously attributed to Arnold Gingrich

cast cane
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Re: Skaters, Spiders & Variants

Postby cast cane » Wed May 06, 2009 10:19 pm

I did the same thing as eric , the fish took my variants well enough I guess, but my wings kept twisting my leaders back then [ AND SOMTIMES STILL DO] so variants just made it quicker to me to tie a few befor bed at night rather than pain myself to tie 1or 2 flies with worthy wings. ahh those were the I tie mostly parachutes , compara duns and emergers for mayfly impressions...I did fish some fan wing pink ladies that were a real treat that Bill Newcomb gave me to try, La Branch pattern..but twisting of leaders is a problem with 5x mono, it's just not as stiff as gut. fun anyway with an old cane rod.

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Joe Fox
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Re: Skaters, Spiders & Variants

Postby Joe Fox » Thu May 07, 2009 12:15 pm

I just tied 1/2 a dozen skaters for a customer the other day, 3 lt ginger & 3 brown.

There are no tricks this fly is standing on its own.
Sometimes you are just able to get some amazing hackle.


northern cane
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Re: Skaters, Spiders & Variants

Postby northern cane » Fri May 08, 2009 9:02 am

Hey folks, newbie in this forum. Deffenetly the keyword on skaters is stiff and LONG fibers in hackle. So hard to find thesedays. IMHO skater is suberb fly for the trout and here in Finland we use it lot for searching pattern. But the good hackle.....!

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