'Spider' dry flies

From Halford's early dries to the Catskill dry and everything else that floats on the surface.
Bamboo&Brookies
Posts: 737
Joined: Fri May 08, 2009 4:44 pm

'Spider' dry flies

Post by Bamboo&Brookies »

All,

We visited a used bookstore in the Catskills this week and I picked up a copy of 'The Compleat McClane,' a collection of A.J. McCclane's essays from the 1950s through 80s. It's filled with wide-ranging writings, from the evolution of the spinning reel, to catching bonefish on dry flies (which I did not even realize was possible).

In one of the essays, McClane holds forth on the merits of spider dry flies.

"Of all trout flies, the one you can least afford to be without is the spider," he writes.

Now he's not referring to the chalk stream spiders -- a.k.a. North Country spiders -- that as you know are wet flies meant to be fished subsurface or in the film.

He's referring to large-hackled dry flies simillar to Neversink skaters.

But they are not quite skaters because Mr. McClane mentions tinsel bodies and tails on his spiders.

He does not set down an actual dressing for any of them but mentions they should be tied with the stiffest spade hackle on small, light hooks.

These spiders sound similar to the variants that Art Flick recommends in 'New Streamside Guide.'

So my question -- can anyone here expand on the spiders Mr. McClane is talking about ( ? ) ... are they the same as Flick-style variants, or are they different in some way.

A search of fly dressings online does not come up with much. I did find some photos of what are described as Elsie Darbee-tied spiders but I can't tell what actual materials were used.

Sounds like spiders have kind of fallen off the map. McClane is a huge fan of them, though, saying they will bring trout up on top and draw savage strikes when little else is working. (Hewitt makes similar claims about his skater).

It's intriguing to me, so maybe someone here can shed some light.

-Rob J.
Give a man a fly rod, a shotgun and a bird dog and he'll never be worth a d*mn.
-Old New England saying

ted patlen
Posts: 1987
Joined: Thu Apr 30, 2009 10:03 am

Re: 'Spider' dry flies

Post by ted patlen »

I can't respond to all the questions but about those big hackle flies, but back before genetic tampering of barnyard stock, chinese imports and indian necks were the working stock for hackles. Finding the smaller hackles; 16 and smaller; was very difficult , hell finding a good quality dry fly neck was tough, but when you did you found dry fly hackles that could tie 10's and even and 8 if you were lucky. So big hackles required for the spider and variants was common. Now, finding a decent size 12 is tough but hackles for 26's are pretty easy to get.

I never understood why super small hooks were used, possibly because of the use of gut or something else.

BTW these flies used by Hewitt and Flick were constantly casted and fished with a very short line without anything touching the water except the fly.

So if you can find some old necks with good hackles for tying those big "highly effective" patterns ( bi-visibles included) please give me a call !!!

squish67
Posts: 520
Joined: Thu May 05, 2011 9:56 am
Location: Greenwich, New York

Re: 'Spider' dry flies

Post by squish67 »

45 years ago the Badger Spider was a great fly on the Battenkill, it still is today. Tied on a 14 hook with a tinsel body, and a size 10 hackle. The problem today is finding a Silver Badger neck to tie it with. Used be tons of them around with large spade and neck hackle. The pattern is McClane's Encyclopedia, and you could probably google it. Also check out the spiders and variants in Atherton's Fly and the Fish.

wiFlyFisher
Posts: 812
Joined: Tue Feb 02, 2010 11:15 pm
Location: Wisconsin
Contact:

Re: 'Spider' dry flies

Post by wiFlyFisher »

squish67 wrote:
Sat Feb 24, 2018 5:26 pm
45 years ago the Badger Spider was a great fly on the Battenkill, it still is today. Tied on a 14 hook with a tinsel body, and a size 10 hackle. The problem today is finding a Silver Badger neck to tie it with. Used be tons of them around with large spade and neck hackle. The pattern is McClane's Encyclopedia, and you could probably google it. Also check out the spiders and variants in Atherton's Fly and the Fish.
Your reply about Badger Spiders reminded I had tucked away in one of my hackle drawers a silver badger cape and saddle that I got a few years ago. I have never used it, nor have I ever tied or fished spider patterns before. Do you think this hackle will work for tying spiders?

Image

Image

John

squish67
Posts: 520
Joined: Thu May 05, 2011 9:56 am
Location: Greenwich, New York

Re: 'Spider' dry flies

Post by squish67 »

I think somewhere in there are some very fine Badger Spiders. :D

we would often use 3 or 4 spade hackles to tie one spider if those shorter hackle were especially stiff.

bearbutt
Posts: 525
Joined: Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:36 pm

Re: 'Spider' dry flies

Post by bearbutt »

Bamboo&Brookies wrote:
Sat Feb 24, 2018 11:45 am

He's referring to large-hackled dry flies simillar to Neversink skaters.

But they are not quite skaters because Mr. McClane mentions tinsel bodies and tails on his spiders.

He does not set down an actual dressing for any of them but mentions they should be tied with the stiffest spade hackle on small, light hooks.

These spiders sound similar to the variants that Art Flick recommends in 'New Streamside Guide.'

So my question -- can anyone here expand on the spiders Mr. McClane is talking about ( ? ) ... are they the same as Flick-style variants, or are they different in some way.
Rob,

I've done a little research into this; it's not as exhaustive as I'd wish, I still need a trip to look at the Preston Jennings flies in the Manchester AMFF collection--but here's my take on things:

1) Hewitt did propose making a distinction between the "spiders" and "skaters". The spiders were larger than Flick-style variants, generally tied without tails, but tails might be added on request; and the skaters were larger than the spiders.

Here's Hewitt's description of spiders from his 1937 catalogue:

Image

And here's his description of skaters from the same catalogue:

Image

A couple of years years ago, Paul Kearney shared with me some spiders that were tied on tinsel and quill bodies, and had tails. They were about 2 inches in diameter--some a little smaller, some a little bigger--here's a pair of pics:


Image


Image

You can see in these pics how much bigger these are than the usual Flick-style variant. According to Paul, these flies came from the estate of George Stagg, a sports writer for the New York Times, via Stagg's grandson, who passed them on to Paul. The Stagg stash had a signed plate of flies by Jennings, whose Book of Trout Flies includes spiders with tinsel bodies. Atherton also tied spiders with tinsel bodies.

What’s especially interesting about the Stagg flies is the fact that there are both tailed and tailless versions (as noted in Hewitt's catalogue), including tailed versions of Skater-sized proportion—plus, tailed Skaters with red quill bodies—so these are very idiosyncratic ties, not extant in any published descriptions from the period that I am aware of, and their murky provenance suggests there may be a good story behind them. Whoever tied them tied with exceptional skill, and had access to very high quality spade hackle.

cwfly previously shared a link to information about the Stagg collection that was donated to the AMFF included flies tied by Preston Jennings; this can be read by following this link: http://www.amff.org/wp-content/uploads/ ... No1web.pdf. Wther the flies shown above were tied by Jennings is anyone's guess--I would need to go through the AMFF archive to see what I could discover in the way of like dressings.

bb
Last edited by bearbutt on Mon May 13, 2019 9:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

wiFlyFisher
Posts: 812
Joined: Tue Feb 02, 2010 11:15 pm
Location: Wisconsin
Contact:

Re: 'Spider' dry flies

Post by wiFlyFisher »

squish67 wrote:
Sat Feb 24, 2018 8:46 pm
I think somewhere in there are some very fine Badger Spiders. :D

we would often use 3 or 4 spade hackles to tie one spider if those shorter hackle were especially stiff.
I ended up trying with just two of the longer, stiffer hackles on a size #14 dry fly hook. Since I have no clue how they should be tied, I tied one hackle front back to front and the other hackle from the eye back through the first hackle and then carefully wound the thread back through the hackles to the eye of the hook.

Image

So how long should the tail be?

Are you supposed to wind all the hackles from back to front of the hook?

How do you fish a spider?

Thanks,

John

tailwater
Posts: 73
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2014 5:00 pm

Re: 'Spider' dry flies

Post by tailwater »

For a number of years there were a few of us who fished the Battenkill at night. We used mostly #12 94840 hooks. Tails were two porcupine guard hairs with at least 6/8 cream or light ginger spaded hackle. Some locals called them bat catchers and they did.

squish67
Posts: 520
Joined: Thu May 05, 2011 9:56 am
Location: Greenwich, New York

Re: 'Spider' dry flies

Post by squish67 »

I remember those! Except Ted's fly of choice was a Flatfish! ;) :o

As to the Badger Spider, tail and body would be the normal length for a Catskill dry (shank length), I use gold oval tinsel for the body, and the hackle tied in as you would for a Catskill dry, two hook sizes larger than normal. Also see John Merwin's The Battenkill for a picture.

Those are very fine Badger Spiders!

Bamboo&Brookies
Posts: 737
Joined: Fri May 08, 2009 4:44 pm

Re: 'Spider' dry flies

Post by Bamboo&Brookies »

Folks,

Thanks for all the great responses. The depth and breadth of knowledge here is exceptional.

BB, thank you for posting the Hewitt catalog entries, they help to show the difference between skaters and spiders. Also, the vintage spiders you posted are genuine artifacts, artfully tied... I don't even know where to start looking for stiff, large hackle like that. (I do have some Collins spade hackle, and while it is high quality it's nowhere near as long in the barb.)

John, for your first crack at tying spiders you nailed it! Those badgers look awful tempting.

I have used Flick-style variants but never dry-fly spiders or skaters.

But as far as methods of fishing them, Hewitt recommends making the skaters gently skip and dance on the water. If you have a copy of "A Trout and Salmon Fisherman for Seventy-Five Years," in about the middle of the book there's a lengthy passage where Hewitt describes how he developed the skater to imitate butterflies that alight on the water and draw strikes from large trout that otherwise had lockjaw. He describes big fish launching themselves clear out of the water and taking the fly as they come back down -- on streams and lakes. He says he tied them with hackle two inches across, and that you have to keep the fly moving and fluttering. He confides that few fly fishers have the right touch (you can seldom accuse Hewitt of humility).

In the McClane essay I mentioned, he fishes the spider much the same as any dry fly. But he points out that the oversize hackles and light hook allow it to dance and skip along the surface when stirred by a breeze or when the current drags your leader.

I think Catskill John is one of our resident experts at tying skaters, and I know he has fished them as well... maybe he will chime in here.

Thanks again for all the information.

-Rob J.
Give a man a fly rod, a shotgun and a bird dog and he'll never be worth a d*mn.
-Old New England saying

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 1 guest