Thank you Santa: I shall tackle spiders with renewed optimism next season.


I woke up on Christmas morning to find that Santa had left a hefty tome in my stocking:

The North Country Fly: Yorskhire’s Soft Hackle Tradition by Robert Smith is a lavishly produced history of classic northern flies. It’s a nice addition to my modest collection of books on spiders and their ilk. When I first started fly fishing up here in North Yorkshire some 20-odd years ago I was keen to use traditional flies. I first bought Leslie Magee’s Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition:

Like Smith’s it’s a glossy, well-illustrated history book. But I wanted something a little more instructive, and came across just that in Roger Fogg’s A Handbook of North Country Trout Flies:

This contains dozens of recipes for spider patterns and I duly sent off for the various shades of Pearsall’s silk and a multitude of feathers. The next few weeks were spent tying spiders to the best of my (somewhat limited) ability. Spiders have much to commend them, not least their elegant simplicity and the fact that they are not difficult to tie.

So I set off to the beck with a boxful of my creations and caught…very little. And therein lies my problem with spiders. I want to fish them and invariably at the start of each season I put a partridge and orange and/or a snipe and purple onto my leader and fish with gradually diminishing enthusiasm as I fail to connect. Then I swap to a goldhead hare’s ear and start picking up. It is dismaying. I’d so much rather say ‘I caught this on a traditional North Country spider pattern tied with a few turns of silk and a sparse hackle from a snipe’s wing’. Instead I say ‘I caught this on a gaudy little creation which has a gold bead for a head and some fluorescent, vulgar, synthetic floss for a tail’.

Maybe part of the problem is that the rivers that seem to have produced these patterns are the large, stone-bottomed rivers of the Yorkshire Dales, the likes of the Ure, Wharfe and Swale. I fish mostly on small overgrown becks, often no wider than a country lane and usually narrower than that. So I can’t fish with a long rod and ‘high stick’, which is apparently the way that these flies should be fished.

And yet, and yet. I’m going to perservere. Next season I shall rev up my enthusiasm and give it another go. Maybe 2018 will be the year of the spider for me. But I’ll take some goldheads just in case.


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  1. Happy New Year Simon, hope it’s a good one. Completely agree about the spiders – love the idea, tie plenty, very rarely catch on them….back to the GRHE or a PTN and it’s as if I’m fishing a different river. Then again they say that it’s a bad workman who always blames his tools, so maybe I’m just not fishing them right! Cheers, Chris Leggett

    1. Thanks Chris, that makes me feel a bit better! Happy New Year!

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