Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Red Spider

This dressing substitutes American woodcock undercovert for landrail covert. W. C. Stewart's spiders are better dressed on a short shank, light-midwire hook, but in keeping with the established pattern of the the blog, this is dressed on a regular size 14 dry fly hook.



Yellow Pearsall’s gossamer silk

American woodcock undercovert

W. C. Stewart—famous for the straightforward simplicity of his Practical Angler (1857)—states that “killing spiders may be made of all the feathers we have mentioned [“starling, landrail, dotterel, mavis, grey plover, golden plover, partridge, and grouse”], but the three following are all we consider necessary”: the first is the Black Spider; second, the Red Spider; third, Dun Spider.

Stewart dressed his Red Spider “of the small feather taken from outside of the wing of the landrail, dressed with yellow silk.” He notes that it “is deserving of a very high rank, particularly in coloured water.” Much like the namesake hackle of the traditional Dotterel, landrail is, as Robert L. Smith points out, "almost impossible to obtain." In his North Country Fly: Yorkshire's Soft Hackle Tradition (2015), available from Coch-y-Bonddu Books, Smith notes that landrail hackles "are of a ruddy brownish coloration" and suggests that "a suitably dyed starling feather is reasonable replacement, or the marginal covert feather of a jay." On the other hand, Sylvester Nemes in Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2004) suggests using "a reddish-tinged hen feather," but the illustration he includes shows a fly dressed with red silk and a red grouse hackle. 

Stewart dressed spiders differently than soft-hackled flies are traditionally dressed. Roger Woolley elaborates on how to dress Stewart’s spiders: “Commence tying half-way down the hook shank and wind typing silk to the shoulder, tie in hackle by its stem, then laying the waxed tying silk along the centre stem of the inside of the hackle, twirl them round together until the feather is rolled round the tying silk, and in this state wrap it round the hook, taking care that a sufficient number of fibres stick out to represent legs. This is a difficult operation to do neatly and well, though it is a method of dressing that makes a strong, hard-wearing fly.”

Woolley also suggests that Stewart’s dressing was, as the Red Spider above, “just a soft hackle taken half-way down the hook, palmerwise, no body as in the usual type of fly, half the hook left bare.”

John Turton also gives a dressing for a Red Spider in the Angler’s Manual (1836) that shares elements with Stewart’s own. He describes it as a hackle rather than winged fly, “for March and April,” describing it as a dressing “made with yellow silk; wing, a red mottled partridge rump feather; body, hare’s ear, dark coloured at bottom, and grey at top, twisted around the yellow silk.” Turton recommends a color combination of yellow and red “in summer, for dark waters,” when “yellow dubbing is used.”  

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