What Are North Country Spiders / History
The Noth Country Spider (Sometimes referred to as a Soft Hackle Fly) is an ancient type of dressing with a fascinating history of over 300 years. The term spider is a bit of a misnomer as it doesn’t imitate a spider. Some spiders are tied to imitate more specific flies, but often, a spider design is more a general impression of food – most likely an emerging, stillborn or drowned fly just under the surface.
The key to a good North Country Spider is the soft hackle, which, when slightly sunk and buffeted by the moving water, creates an irresistible lifelike movement in the fly. Well tied Spiders are typically designed to have a thin body, allowing them to effectively imitate the slender natural bodies of emerging flies and nymphs in the water. Spiders come in a wide variety of colours and types. They are incredibly useful fish catchers as well as being easy to cast.
- Stewarts Black Spider
- Partridge & Orange
- Snipe And Purple
- Waterhen Bloah
- Partridge & Yellow
- North Country Selection
When & Where To use
Never say never is very applicable in fly fishing and indeed, these flies are going to catch fish anywhere. I’ve even had success in saltwater using small black spiders to tempt fussy mullet in the estuary. That said, there’s no doubt these flies come into their own on faster flowing streams and rivers, the kind of water where the feather will spring into life, and the fish are on the lookout for emerging flies and insects moving quickly down the stream. Still, slow pools or the gin clear even flow of the chalk streams are more likely to be suited to using dry flies although there may be times when the spider will work on these waters. These Spiders came into prominence in the north of the country precisely because there are many fast-flowing, turbulent streams in this locality, perfect for this type of fly.
Equipment, Set-Ups & Leaders
Your usual river outfit should be perfect although I don’t like anything more than a four weight for my spider fishing. I would also avoid a tip or fast action rod, often when fishing upstream, only a small amount of line will be outside the tip ring, and a medium of softer action river type rod will load and present a shorter line with ease.
A 9-foot tapered leader with a few feet of tippet will be just fine. If you are fishing a team, then you can buy a tapered leader with droppers of them them in the tippet section yourself. In terms of strength, something around a 6x should be excellent for most of your fishing for wild trout and grayling. If you are targeting bigger specimens, then a 5x leader should be okay.
Set Up / Grease etc.
A high floating line is essential, both for presentation but also the constant recasting becomes difficult and can disturb the water if your line starts to sink. An application of Mucilin grease on the last few feet of fly line should fix a sinking fly line tip. You can grease your leader up to the tippet if you want to present your spider in the surface film, or you can leave it ungreased for the spider to sink a little deeper.
Across & Down
Probably the most common method of fishing a spider but in my opinion the least effective. If you are a total beginner, then this method may be best as the other methods listed below are harder to learn. You should progress to the different techniques described here as soon as possible.
With the angler facing downstream, the fly is cast either straight across or across and slightly downstream. The fly is then allowed to swing around with the current until it is hanging directly beneath the angler, let the fly hand for 5 seconds or so and then repeat the cast, moving downstream every so often to cover new water. If you absolutely must fish this method, then I would advise you to keep a high rod tip, so there is a curve of line hanging from the rod to the water. This curve will cushion the hard pull from the fish and give you a better chance of hooking up.
Advantages of this method:
It’s easy, and complete beginners can do it.
- Your fly swings in an arc and isn’t replicating the natural direction of travel of insects which are moving with the current, not across it.
- The hackles in the spider will not be moving properly and instead will stick to the shank of the hook.
- You are upstream of the fish and therefore more likely to spook fish below you.
- You will get plucks on the fly which can often result in missed takes, or weak hook holds resulting in lost fish.
- You end to catch smaller fish as the bigger ones will often ignore a fly presented in this fashion.
This method provides an excellent presentation of the flies and is particularly useful on larger rivers. The angler stands facing the opposite bank and casts across the stream, so the flies land slightly above the angler’s position. The angler allows the flies to travel down with the current until they are somewhat below him, at which point the line is picked off the water and recast. The angler can edge upstream between each cast to keep covering new areas of the river. It’s important not to let the flies swing around; this way, the flies are always moving with a drag-free drift.
Advantages of this method
- The natural direction of travel of flies
- Drag free drift
Disadvantages of this method
- Quite a short drift
- Limited fishing zone
Upstream Spider Fishing
I think this is probably overall the most effective way to fish spiders. However, it’s very repetitive casting, and the angler will have to recast many hundreds of times during a session. This method is especially useful for very fast-flowing rivers and streams. The “non-rod” hand is pretty much redundant using this method and is often employed holding a wading stick until you kook a fish. Fishing with around a 9-12 feet of fly line, the angler is facing directly upstream and taps a cast out ahead, turning over the line and leader, so everything lands nice and straight. Then the angler proceeds to lift the rod tip to pick the slack line off the water as it develops during the drift, after a few seconds the angler then speeds up the rod hand to cast behind and then tap the line back out in front. The angler can repeat the process in a fan shape on the water above him to cover as much water as possible.
- A near-perfect presentation of flies.
- Makes swift and turbulent water fishable.
- Very repetitive casting.
- You can only ish at a limited distance.
Across & Down With Reach Cast
This technique improves the across and down method by using a reach cast. The reach cast significantly reduces any swing in the flies. I learnt this method from Oliver Edwards, who is a superb spider angler. This method is especially useful for the large river where you need to cover water than is unreachable using any of the other methods.
Facing downstream, the angler casts across and slight down, instead of letting the line land on the water, the angler swiftly moves the rod back upstream allowing a loop of line to slip through the rings so as not to jerk the flies back through the air. The rod tip finishes, pointing slightly behind the angler’s position and also above head height. The rod tip then tracks back down the stream allowing the flies to move down the river in a drag-free drift. Once the rod tip has moved downstream, and the arm is fully extended, the flies will start to swing around, I tend to let them swing and hang them for a few seconds before recasting. The angler can move down a step in between casts to keep covering new ground.
- A good drag-free drift
- Allows the angler to cover water inaccessible to other methods
- Complicated cast
- Flies still swing at the end of the drift.
Detecting takes may be slightly different depending on the method you employ. Sometimes, when fishing upstream, you may see a boil on the water as the fish take the spider just under the surface. If you are fishing slightly deeper, you may see a stop in the fly line. When fishing downstream, the first realisation you have a fish could be feeling a bump on the rod. It’s essential to have a good floating fly line when spider fishing, especially when fishing upstream. Apply some Mucilin silicon dressing to your fly line and loop to keep it floating high. You will be able to see the take far more quickly. A hi-viz braided loop will also help you quickly pick out the end of the fly line and see the line stop when a fish takes.
The key to spider fishing is to present the flies in a drag-free drift. Imagine how the natural insects will be following the current in the river and try and replicate that movement with your artificial fly. Spider fishing can open up areas of rivers that are unfishable with dries and nymphs. Use this to your advantage by covering any turbulent fast riffles and pocket water that you might typically skip through; you will be surprised how may fish are lurking there! Tight lines.