A week or so back I fished on a section of lower river with two good friends. Despite my best efforts I struggled to make contact with some very fussy wild trout. On return to the hut for lunch I enquired how my two fellow piscators had fared. Vaughan had struggled for two small browns on a dry fly and Tim had had fourteen...yes fourteen!..... to North Country Spiders.
Up until this point I had always discounted this style of fishing as a bit dated and traditional for my liking. After lunch I accompanied Tim down a through a fantastic boulder strewn run which had pocket water to die for. He on the spiders and me on the dry fly. Despite a good hatch and many rising fish I came away with one and Tim about half a dozen. I had seen enough.
On my return home I hastily looked up Tims patterns, A Water Hen Bloa and a Partridge and Orange. Materials were sourced (very precisely) from Steve Cooper at Cookshill Flytying and Phil Holding at Spiders Plus and I set to work tying-up a few of my own.
The patterns are simple and even someone with my agricultural tying skills soon had a few tied-up and ready to go. The trick is to dub the body very sparsely (with water rat substitute!) and not to overdo it on the hackle (two turns maximum!).
On Saturday I returned to the same beat of lower river and for the sake of scientific rigour, I fished the exactly those runs as I had with Tim. After what seemed like an age (5 mins!) I had a very positive take which resulted in a 'bonnie wildie' of about half a pound....and they kept coming too. I finished the afternoon with fourteen fish. I'm also encouraged to report I also caught a few sea trout smolts, which were as silvery as new Christmas decorations. One of the smolts was also intercepted by a very large brown trout, who let go when all didn't quite feel right!
There will be no prizes for guessing that I am now convert to this historic method of fishing. As Oliver Edwards puts it "anyone who fishes upstream North Country Spiders is helping to uphold a dying angling tradition" As I wandered back to the hut I pondered over a hundred and fifty years of spider tradition that in my eyes is as relevant today as it was when described by Pritt in his book North Country Flies, printed in 1886. That evening I raised a glass of something strong, golden brown and smokey to that great angler of the Eden, William Nelson who fished these very same methods, in the later part of the nineteenth century...I only hope he would have approved!