People have asked me what it is that inspires me to tie a new fly pattern. To be honest, the ones I created in my dreams never worked well. Let’s face it; good flies don’t appear out of thin air, especially not my personal favourites. I need visual inspiration from something that lives near or in water that may likely fall prey to a fish.
A sequence of events that are either blatantly obvious, such as a caught fish regurgitating a sand-coloured crab right in front of your eyes, or reveal clues that lead to an idea, such as the noise of a craw-dad that may sound appealing to a trout or a bass, are necessary for me to tie something that’s worth-while. The tying procedure is not a simple task. When I come across a fish delicatessen, it requires the guidance of systematic principles, like an anatomy sketch of Leonardo Da Vinci, formed by a series of rational thoughts to ‘shape’ the imitation. A careful study of an organism’s main ‘body’ features, including shape, colour, movement, size and often position of the eyes, as well as behaviour, habitat and life-cycle may be necessary to capture the likely ‘triggers’ in the fly that will provoke fish to eat it.
This systematic sequence is then topped up by the time of day, or season in which to fish the fly. Trout, for instance, can be particularly fussy when picking out insects during a fall hatch. The low water levels we experience on the Western Cape Rivers two or three months before winter complicates the presentation of a fly to a trout. Matching the hatches in the clear and slow-flowing water makes it even harder to get a positive response from a fish. Hence, you often need to tie a few different patterns, try them all during the course of a season and then decide if you have been successful.
However, it is not only live morsels that inspire us to imitate with feathers and other materials; often, it is an existing fly pattern that we find fascinating and end up tampering with to suit our own style of tying. We may tamper with these ‘traditional’ flies to the extent where original patterns look entirely different when they are ‘re-created’ in our own vices.
I enjoy copying live food items the most, especially by creating dry flies that imitate floating ‘bugs’. My favourite dries are the ones I tie for small stream trout. It is this preference for dry flies and small streams that lead me to tie floating spider imitations. The wolf spiders (family Lycosidae) and long-jawed water spiders (family Tetragnithidae) that I use as templates for the two patterns are abundant on the banks and in the bankside vegetation of our Cape Fold Mountain streams (these spider genera have a global distribution and the flies should work for trout in most other countries).
Wolf spiders float well and I have seen them ‘running’ on the water surface across even fast flowing water. This made me believe that trout may get the opportunity to eat them, even though they are athletic land-based arachnids and do not spin webs in bushes or trees (from which they can fall into the water).
Long-jawed water spiders on the other hand cling to branches, hide under leaves or sit with a ‘dry stick’ pose on their spiral-shaped ‘orb webs’ near or above water. This brings to mind an incident involving a rainbow trout and a long-jawed water spider. I observed the spider making a bum-scrape escape when the fish jumped into the air and tried to eat it sitting in its web, directly above the deeper and faster current in the inlet of a pool. These clumsy-looking spiders are often knocked off the stream-side vegetation when we enter the water through bushes and will scramble back to bank-side cover with their long legs. Something very irritating about them is when a fly gets stuck in a web above a perfect trout holding area.
I used the spider flies, the Wolfspider and the Tetrapheasant spider, to catch trout in the stream where I saw the trout leaping after the real thing. Both spider patterns worked charmingly well. Fish ate them with more aggression if compared to other dry flies I had with me, like small Stimulators and parachute Adams flies. I even took testing to the extreme and caught over one hundred rainbows on the Wolfspider in one day. It happened on the Elandspad River in the Western Cape a couple of years ago when Stanton Hector and I fished a high river early in the Cape Piscatorial Society trout season. I used two flies, the Wolfspider and a Krige nymph dropper, and stopped fishing when I counted trout number one hundred and fifteen.
Besides my success catching brown trout and rainbow trout on the Wolfspider and the Tetrapheasant spider in the Western Cape streams, I have also caught trout on these flies in many other parts of our country, including Eastern Cape streams and the Drakensberg rivers in Natal and the Free State. Even the Lenok trout and arctic grayling of Mongolia could not resist the Wolfspider.
Hook: Grip dry fly 11011BL or Knapek Wet Fly hook, #14.
Thread: 14/0, Gordon Griffiths Sheer, black.
Abdomen: Black foam [either covered with thin layer of hare’s ear dubbing, with Egyptian goose (or partridge) chest feather fibres folded over the top or just straight black foam]; the egg pouch attached to the abdomens of female spiders can be imitated with a ball of white poly yarn, which also helps to float the fly.
Legs: Four pheasant tail fibres, two pares each side facing backwards and forwards, respectively.
Parachute: Egyptian goose chest feather fibres (or any ‘high-viz’ poly yarn).
Hackle: One white grizzly hackle (wrapped in first) and one brown hackle (wet the base of the post with varnish before spinning the hackle around the post).
The Tetrapheasant spider
Hook: Tiemco TMC200R #12-14.
Thread: 14/0, Gordon Griffiths Sheer, black.
Abdomen: Four pheasant tail fibres twisted into a noodle and wrapped over varnished thread.
Legs: Four long pheasant tail fibres, two pares each side facing backwards and forwards, respectively.
Hackle: Two palmered brown hackle feathers form the thorax.
Love stuff like this!
There are many reasons we continue to explore new patterns, new possibilities, Finicky fish and desperation probably being the biggest factor. But this is simply a pure sort of passion and joy.
Great post Leonard.Your Wolf Spider pattern rates in my book as an exceptional fly and I have been singing its praises ever since a day on the Bushmans when you introduced me to it, probably 6 years ago now