On a recent trip to the USA I found that North Country Spider wet flies were being sold in tackle shops under different soft hackle names. They were being marketed as some new revolutionary design. I had to laugh and some of the shop owners were upset when I informed them this pattern style was over three hundred years old and one of the oldest in the history of fly fishing.
SOFT HACKLE NORTH COUNTRY SPIDER WET FLY PATTERNS. Hook size 12 14 - $US each
One hundred years ago the British Angling authors Harfield H Edmonds and Norman N Lee published a famous fly fishing book "Brook and River Trouting" in which they sang the praises of 34 wet fly patterns. Top of their list was the Partridge and Orange soft hackle fly pattern for trout fishing. Unlike some old patterns, that used hard to get plumage, this very old traditional fishing fly has not faded into oblivion. This pattern is now dressed using modern substitute hackles and works just as well as the original. It does what it was designed to do, catch fish. When America was having her war of independence with the British, rich landowning English Gentlemen were using soft hackled flies for sport on the rivers and lakes on their private country estates.
Although they originated in the North of England, the so called North Country, news spread of their effectiveness. They were found to be equally deadly on stony quick rain fed rivers that originated on the highland moors and mountains to the softer rolling hills of the south. Over dressing is the sign of a badly made soft hackle wet fly. They should be delicate just like the swimming aquatic insect they are trying to imitate. The hackles should always be long. They should look like an untidy umbrella skeleton that has lost its rain resistant material.
The Partridge and Orange soft hackle is one of my favourite wet flies. Most articles will tell you that this fly pattern works best on rocky waters such as that found on the river Wharfe in Yorkshire. I have had great sport with Partridge and Orange wet fly on chalkstreams in southern England like the river Test and up to the East Riding’s Driffield Beck. It works where ever there be trout.
I have been unable to pin down the original designer and the year when this version of this version of the soft hackle wet fly was developed. I have an extensive fly fishing library with some very old books and drew a blank. They mentioned the fly as one that works well but I cannot find anything on its origins. I have to conclude that it is a very old fly pattern indeed.
I have often wondered what the artificial fly represents. John Walker hills in his book "A history of Fly-fishing for trout" (1921) suggested that the patter was a fair representation of the blue-winged olive in its nymph stage. Other authors have suggested it being used to represent a February Red stonefly When the unwaxed orange silk body soaks up the river water it does take on a rich mahogany hue that matches the stonefly nymph’s body.
Most fly fishing anglers treat it as a ‘catch all’ fly pattern that just works time and time again. When used as a middle dropper in a team of three flies I take more trout on this fly than on any of the other positions. I have seen many anglers fish the Partridge and Orange soft hackle downstream, but I find that much more fun can be had it is fished upstream and allowed to sink.
This is a photo of a nice fish I caught last year in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Boone, North Carolina USA. I was swinging one of your #14 partridge and orange flies on a SAGE 4 wt rod with a 4X tippet. (I’m the one on the left, in the red shirt—the guide is letting me pretend to hold the fish.) It was just before noon and the skies had cleared. Previous to this fish I had caught two smaller ones, one brookie and one rainbow, on your #14 snipe and purple (my favorite). This fast moving stream is about four meters wide and this spot was free of the rhododendron bushes that line most of these waterways. This was a catch and release day so they all went back in. - Gregory P. Chacos, USA
The Light Hendrickson Mayfly
A natural "Hendrickson" dun up-winged mayfly has an orange ginger body and dark wings. After it has emerged from the split thorax of its nymphal shuck, it will sit on the water surface and wait for its wings to dry and harden. If it is not eaten by waiting predatory birds or trout, it will fly off to find a mate. The temperature effects the time it takes for the dun’s wings to be strong enough for flight. The colder the weather the longer it will take. On windy days, in choppy water conditions, many of the duns will topple over and get trapped in the water surface film. On very windy days some of these new airborne insects get blown back into the water where they drown.
Rivers with lots of riffles will often have a large number of duns trapped in the film, much to the delight of the feeding fish. Many will sink and this is when the soft hackle wet flies are ideal. On stretches of popular water that have a lot of fishing pressure, trout will seldom rise for a dun on the surface. Instead they prefer to feed on rising nymphs, emerging nymphs and cripples. The orange and partridge soft hackle wet fly is an ideal imitation fly pattern to use in these situations. Cast your fly upstream and let it drift drag free towards your target fish, by itself or as a dropper tied on to a light Hendrickson dry fly
When fishing the River Tees in North East England my favourite fly is the Partridge and Orange Soft hackle. I normally fish it with a weighted shrimp on point to drag it down in the water. I even get a few takes on the shrimp pattern but it is the Partridge and Orange that is the most productive of the the two flies. I put that down to the movement of the hackles.. They produce grayling in equal numbers as trout. Dave Woods Pickering
Beautiful North Country patterns from northern England. Some of these patterns go back to the 15th C. Snipe and Purple, Partridge and Orange... classics, and deadly when fished across and down! The light dressings of these flies influenced the over-heavy dressings on the southern English chalk streams, when fly-fishing really took off in the 19th C. The rest is history.... Gregor Fulton McGregor, Hong Kong
FACEBOOK READER'S COMMENT
I fish them across stream and swing. I found they work better in choppy, faster water 3 to 4 ft. Deep. Especially across deeper pockets or bowls. Mike Beaver, USA