The English Fly Fishing Shop
Soft Hackle North Country Spider Wet Flies
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Click the name of each fly to see a close up photograph
WEB1. Greenwell's Glory Soft Hackle
WEB2. Tup's Indispensable
WEB3. Black Soft Hackle Spider
WEB4. Partridge and Orange
WEB5. Partridge and Yellow
WEB6. Partridge and Red
WEB7. March Brown Soft Hackle
WEB8. Red Soft Hackle
WEB9. Snipe and Purple
HACKLE SPIDER WET FLY
Let me say first of all that these wet flies have NOTHING to do with imitating Spiders. It is a name they have been given over the years because when dry and out of the water the soft hackle looks like the legs of a large spider. These flies are over 300 years old. They are older than the United States of America and they still catch fish. The are not an imitation pattern. They are an impressionistic pattern. The soft hackle represents the legs and wings of a subsurface insect, but it is the movement in these flies that make them work
Soft hackled wet flies are extremely successful patterns on streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs. the hackle responds to every movement of current as it is pulled through the water on the retrieve, thus suggesting to the fish this imitation is alive. The hackles are swept back over the hook as it is pulled through the water. They can suggest wings and legs of a hatched out insect, drowning or drowned, tumbled in the current. It can also imitate a struggling or swimming subsurface insect . In both cases the mobility of the hackle suggests life and food to the fish.
Trout do take static food like pupae in the surface film or spent spinners yet they also take subsurface food that is moving. Even the famous G.E.M. Skues in his classic book 'The way of trout with a fly' stresses the importance of movement in the design of flies. This maybe a strange concept to those fishermen who are dry fly purists who leave their flies to float dead adrift, but under the surface there is life and movement. Fly fishermen have to try and imitate that. A trout has the opportunities to investigate a static dry fly floating on the surface to see if it recognizes the silhouette as food. A trout's recognition of a subsurface insect is not just on shape it is a combination of silhouette and swimming movement. When insects swim, their legs cling to their sides as they are propelled through the water. As their momentum slows their arms move forward to make the next stroke to propel them forward again. This is the exact movement duplicated by the soft hackles on a spider fly. As you retrieve the fly the hackles are forced back against the body of the fly and on the pause the hackles move forward again just like the real insect about to make another swimming stroke.
On a recent trip to the USA I found that North Country Spider wet flies were being sold in tackle shops under different soft hackle names. They were being marketed as some new revolutionary design. I had to laugh and some of the shop owners were upset when I informed them this pattern style was over three hundred years old and one of the oldest in the history of fly fishing.
During hatches of midges and olives the fish become preoccupied with eating as many emerging insects as they can. They catch them on their journey up to the surface, stuck as they emerge in the surface film and as they wait on the surface for their wings to dry before they fly off. I have found during a lull in the hatch if you use a buzzer, diawl bach or pheasant tail they sink too fast and most patrolling trout will not move down to attack an artificial fly. They are looking for their food in the top 12 inches of water. To keep your success rate up you must place your buzzer and rising nymph pattern in this zone. You need a pattern that does not sink as quick. This is where North Country Soft Hackle Spiders come into their own. They are such a good representation of nymphs and midges in the final stages of their assent to the water surface. The soft hackle acts like a parachute on its decent through the water column. The hackle has a high degree of water resistance which helps. When you see the fish 'bulging' they are taking food just below the surface. 'Bulging' is the name given to the undersurface rising movement of fish that is visible to the fly fisher. If you look hard you will notice that the fish's mouths never break the surface.
When I first start fishing I use three different spider patterns as feeding fish cruise at different depths. This allows me to search for the correct pattern and it reduces the time it takes to catch the first trout. Once the fish has been spooned I then choose the pattern to match what the fish had been eating. I then fish three identical flies of the correct color match on the same cast to match the naturals they are taking. When fished 'wet' soft-hackled spiders perform best fished on the swing, slowly down and across in the current, in water that is slightly riffled. Add some floatant to the fly and try fishing them on the surface dead drift. The soft hackles resemble crippled or drowned mayflies. The amount of time that an insect is emerging is very brief, but it is a time when they are very vulnerable. Insects trapped in the surface film are like "fast food" for fish. An easy quick meal for a hungry trout.
THE COLOR CLARET
Color will change under different light conditions. A natural insect may appear black when viewed in the hand but it may look a deep claret color if you place it in a glass of water and look at it against a bright sky. This way you will be experiencing the same view of a bottom feeding trout that looks up at the ascending nymphs on their way up to the surface to hatch.
Too many fly dressers view the imitation fly they are making in reflected light, with a solid background behind it. A fish will view their creation from underneath looking up towards the water surface against a bright sky. In 1676 Charles Cotton understood this fact. He recorded in his book how the master instructs his student to hold the black dubbing he was using up towards the sun. The student complied with the instructions and was amazed that the material now had a red appearance around the edges.
The lava of some species of midges (Chironomidae) that live in oxygen-poor or stagnant water are called bloodworms. Their red coloration is due to the presence of haemoglobin in their body fluids. They live either on the bottom among debris inside small tubes made of a gelatinous substance coated with silt particles or some types swim freely. They are an important source of food for many freshwater fish. There can be as many as four generations in a year. Fish your bloodworm fly deep and retrieve it very slowly whilst quivering your hand. If the water in your area has bloodworms you will also need the Red Suspender Buzzer fly 81 in your flybox. It is ideal to use when the bloodworm hatch into the flying insect after its pupal stage.
Nymphs represent insects in their under water aquatic life stage. This stage comes before the adult stage where the insects emerge out of the water and fly away, normally to mate and lay eggs (dry fly). Technically the term 'Nymph' means the juvenile stage of a Mayfly but it is commonly used to refer to any insect in it's aquatic life stage. Nymphs are, perhaps one of the most deadliest ways of taking most species of freshwater fish. In a river or stream, they can be fished anywhere from just beneath the surface to imitate emerging or drowned flies to right to the bottom to imitate the unhatched larvae. These flies weigh a little more than a dry fly, and weight is often added to them in order for them to achieve the proper depth. This additional weight makes them a little harder to cast but the good news is that there is almost no wind resistance. Generally fish nymph flies along the bottom, move them slowly and smoothly. Every now and then dart the fly forward as if it is attacking its prey or trying to escape from the advances of a predatory large fish. Such movements hopefully may induce a following trout to take your fly.
All fly fishing men and women dream of being on the water during a hatch or a spinner fall and watching our fly being gently sipped under the surface of the water by a large trout. This is one of the most exciting times in our sport but what about the other 90% of the time when there is not and action on the surface? The fish are still feeding. Yes you can keep casting away at likely spots with dry flies but you would have more success if you placed your fly where the fish were feeding and that is under water.
If the water is not clear and you cannot see your target fish you will have to read the water to try and find out the best place to cast your fly. Large areas of the river will hold no trout at all. Trout are usually solitary feeders and can normally be found next to something solid like a big boulder, patch of weeds, or the river bank. They lie up in stretches of the river where there is a high concentration of food. Look for creases on the water surface. These are lines that normally run downstream. They are caused by bodies of water, flowing at different rates, colliding. Trout food is concentrated in and around these creases. Food is carried by the current and concentrated where the current is funneled in the fast water of runs, riffles, creases plus the heads and tails of pools.
There is often slack water by the river bank and fast flowing water a few inches away. This is why a lot of trout can be found near the bank. Boulders and weedbeds cause the water to speed up to as they get past them. A crease is formed between the fast and slow water that traps floating aquatic insects in the eddies. Fish the crease and providing the trout are feeding you will catch fish. Fish like to conserve energy and hold in slower moving slack water on the edge of faster water. This enables the food to come to them and they are close enough to nip out into the faster water to intercept their target food as it drifts past. Look for seams of foaming turbulent water as it pass over submerged boulders. Even though there is a current of fast moving water on the surface there is a pocket of slower water beneath it and some of these pockets will hold fish.
If the nymph does not drift naturally the trout will refuse it. Try to keep as much of the line off the water as possible and follow the end of the line as it travels down stream with my rod tip. Set the hook at any tightening or unnatural movement or flutter of the strike indicator. Some of these will be the snagging of the nymph on the bottom but a number will be fish. If you find you are not getting any takes change the nymph to a smaller size. If it is clear water choose natural colored patterns and longer leaders with lighter tippets. If the water is dirty or colored use a more brighter colored and large pattern to help the trout see what is being offered to them.
Over 100 years ago past masters like G.E.M Skues fished his nymph imitations close to the bank. " I am always amazed at how many fly fishermen overlook the large trout lurking close to the bank. I call them 'Bankers'." Just choose a small weighted nymph like this one. It will cut through the surface film and sink to the bottom. Approach your selected spot from down stream without spooking the fish. Caste upstream and drift your fly to a trout feeding in one of these near to the bank spots. Watch the trout strike the fly.
DEEP WATER BOAT FISHING
Chris Reeves is a local guide and active competition fly fisherman. His favorite match fishing deep water boat fishing technique involves having a very long leader the same length as the depth of the water. He ties on four buzzers. Pheasant Tail nymphs or soft hackled 'Spider' wet flies. the trick is to make a long cast down stream, then wait until the boat has floated directly on top of the flies. The flies have had time to sink to the bottom. he then begins the retrieve. The flies move up to the surface vertically mimicking the natural emerging insects as they make their way up to the surface. He keeps his rod tip near the surface above them and makes a stop start gentle retrieve with no slack line. When the fish take they are slightly disorientated at first and move up towards the boat but then hang on as they realize what has happened and try to swim off
A BRIEF HISTORY OF NYMPH FISHING
Many of the very early flies fished below the surface were being used in the North of England and Scotland. Many of these wet fly techniques were being developed into a fine art. Down in the South of England , during the Victorian era, on the clear chalk streams of Hampshire and Wiltshire it was the floating or Dry Fly technique that became popular in fly fishing circles. It was considered the most sporting method of tempting trout. By the end of the nineteenth century the rule of 'dry fly only' had become entrenched on most rivers. this was despite knowing fact that large river fish rarely feed on the surface. These values were transported around the British Empire.
However this dogma was challenged by one G.E.M. Skues, who fished on the famous River Itchen. Skues made himself very unpopular with the Victorian dry fly traditionalists, by singing the praises of a nymph pattern fished just beneath the surface to represent a hatching fly. Eventually Skues' arguments won the day and on most chalk streams the rules were changed so Gentlemen could fish either a floating fly or a nymph.
With the 'rot' having set in, Frank Sawyer, a South England, Hampshire Avon river keeper, publicized his new 'induced take' method of fishing a heavily weighted nymph from near the river bottom. A method still widely used on both chalk and rough water streams.
With the building of reservoirs for public water supplies the opportunity for trout fishing increased in areas that previously had poor fishing resources. Many of the reservoirs are extremely deep and new nymph fishing techniques and lures have been developed to tempt the huge trout that live at the bottom. The growing popularity of stillwater trout fishing has led to many farmers and landowners digging trout pools as an extra source of revenue. These small stillwater lakes and ponds make fly fishing accessible to more people.
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