Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dun Spider

This spider is dressed essentially as a thread-bodied, soft hackle palmer, a method that results in a fundamentally more vulnerable fly than the ones W. C. Stewart preferred to fish. It uses the starling substitute that Stewart suggests. It would best be dressed on a shorter shank that the dry fly hook used to regularize the blog's dressing. suggests..It would be best tied on a shorter shanked hook than the blog standard.



Blue Dun

Starling undercovert

W. C. Stewart Practical Angler (1857) made famous the spider style of dressing soft hackles with three specific dressings, the Black Spider, the Red Spider, and the Dun Spider. He 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”], since “their superiority consists in their much greater resemblance to the legs of an insect, and their extreme softness. So soft are they, that when a spider is made of one of them and placed in the water, the least motion will agitate and impart a singularly life-like appearance to it.”

The Dun Spider “should be made of the small soft dun or ash-coloured feather, taken from the outside of the wing of the dotterel. This bird is unfortunately very scarce ; but a small feather may be taken from the inside of the wing of the starling, which will make an excellent substitute.”

Stewart notes that the “only objection to spiders is, that the feathers are so soft that the trout's teeth break them off, and after catching a dozen or two of trout, little is left of them but the bare dressing, rendering it necessary for the angler to change them; and if the trout are taking readily, this has to be repeated two or three times a day.” The life-like effect and overall effectiveness of the dressings, however, outweighs this objection. His method of dressing the fly strengthens the hackle stem and binds the hackle fibers in buggy positions. 

In his Wet Flies (1995), Dave Hughes suggests dressing Stewart’s spiders by winding tying thread from the eye of the hook halfway down the shank, tying the base of the hackle in from the middle of the shank to the eye, and then winding the tying thread back to the halfway point on the shank. To dress the fly, Hughes directs the fly tier to “take three to five evenly spaced turns of the hackle back to the midpoint of the hook. Catch the hackle tip with three turns of thread,” and he recommends breaking the tip off rather than clipping it with scissors. To finish the fly, Hughes gives another step: “Work your thread forward through the hackle to the hook eye. Wobble the thread back and forth as you go forward, to avoid matting down any hackle. This step is critical; without it, the fragile hackle stem will break and unwind on the first fish you catch.” The fly is finished at the eye of the hook. 

This dressing follows Roger Woolley’s suggestion that Stewart’s spiders might be dressed as hackle palmers: “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," but uses the end of the tying thread as a rib, somewhat in the manner of Hughes.


  1. Interesting to read the thoughts of great fly tyers over time. I tell you what, if I tie a fly that catches a couple of dozen Trout or bluegill or whatever, I have no problem tying another one on and starting again. Job well done, Soft Hackle/Spider....