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Stewart's Spider

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Stewart's Spider - a pattern designed by W.C. Stewart Stewart's Spider - a pattern designed by W.C. Stewart

The year 2007 saw the 150th anniversary of a well loved publication, The Practical Angler by Mr. W. C. Stewart. During 1857 alone there were at least two reprints with the last full reprint complete with colour plates in the late 1900's - such was the popularity of his work.

W.C. Stewart, described as a “dour” Scot, held firm opinions on fly fishing and in particular the spider patterns and the methods of fishing them. He was a great advocate of the upstream method and seemed to be constantly in contention with other authors south of the border, to the point of being verbally aggressive at times, such was his belief.  He would also argue vehemently regarding the best colours for flies. Like Henry Ford, Stewart’s favourite colour appears to have been black, his argument being that, in water, a fly between the fish and the light above is in silhouette, therefore colours are indistinctive, his opinion being that the movement of the hackle (legs) of the fly is the attraction, and this seems to make a lot of sense! Stewart also fiercely maintains that the fly dresser could never truly imitate nature and that Man’s interpretation of what a fly should look like can never ever be truly attained and I quote “Those anglers who think trout will take no fly unless it is an exact imitation of some one of the immense number of flies they are feeding on, must suppose that they know to a shade the colour of every fly on the water, and can detect the least deviation from it – an amount of entomological knowledge that would put to shame the angler himself and a good many naturalists to boot”.

Although Stewart mentions his three “killing spiders”, it is the black spider tied 'Stewart style' that, even today, is one of the most loved flies by many. A fellow angler, James Baillie, introduced Mr Stewart to this pattern in the early 1840’s and it became his trusted favourite to the point where he says “We were first shown it by James Baillie, and have never been without it on our line ever since”.

With regard to the actual technique of fishing his spiders, without going into too much detail, Mr Stewart, as we have said advocated the upstream method with a team of three or four spiders. However he goes on to say “The number of flies that should be used at a time is a matter upon which great diversity of opinion exists; some anglers never use more than three, while others occasionally use a dozen”. Oh come on Mr Stewart! Twelve flies on a leader on three inch droppers, twenty to twenty four inches apart! I will leave it to the reader’s imagination regarding the outcome of casting that lot!

W.C. as we shall call him now, maintains that “dressing a spider is a much simpler operation than dressing a fly” and in the book he goes on to describe, in detail, the tying method as used in the 1800’s and please do not forget they tied their flies without a vice and without an eye on the hook.

Here I can only conclude by saying thank you to W.C. for 150 years of The Practical Angler and most of all for the Stewart's Spider, a fly that I and many of my colleagues and friends appreciate fishing with so much both in rivers and stillwaters.

Read his book on line by clicking here!

Stephen Cheetham - GAIC Trout, GAIC Fly Dressing

Stephen Cheetham is a qualified member of the Game Anglers Instructors Association (GAIC) and member of the Angling Development Board (ADB). He has fished for trout all his life and runs various fly fishing courses for the Salmon andTrout Association and is also a demonstrator and a course tutor at Otley Prince Henry's Grammar School in Fly Dressing. Stephen, a published author to various magazines, is heavily involved in a monthly fly fishing column in The Yorkshire Post newspaper. Stephen is a firm believer that: "Fishing should be fun".

See Stephen Cheetham's Instructors page for further information.

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