Here’s a pattern that comes to us from across the pond and that goes way back to 1857 when it was first described in a book published by W. E. Stewart. I’ve found it to be a great fish-getter. Fished either across and down like a standard wet fly or up and across to feeding trout, this fly seems to get the job done all the time; whether there’s a hatch on or not.
It’s a very simple pattern, but can be tied in a variety of ways. I tie it differently than Oliver Edwards; closer to the way that Davie McPhail ties it, but still somewhat different. The twisted Starling hackle is what gives this fly so much action in the water; even in stillwaters.
1. Here are the materials that you need: 1. Hook: Daiichi 1180, #16, 2. Thread: Danville FlyMaster 6/0, tawny brown, 3. Cobbler’s wax, black, 4. Starling shoulder hackle, iridescent green. That’s it.
2. Thread the hook from the eye back to the half-way point between the eye and the bend using tying thread.
3. Next, wax the thread with the black Cobbler’s wax (this stuff is hard, but 5 seconds in the microwave gets it very workable, and it stays that way for a good long time). It’s the blackened tawny brown thread that gives the fly its body color. Wind the thread back towards the bend until the blackened thread begins to wrap. Then, wind it forward to a point one eye width back from the eye. You’ll notice the color change immediately when it starts to wrap on the hook.
4. Reverse the thread and wind it back towards the bend; to a point midway between the eye and the bend.
5. Next prep a Starling hackle. To do this, take one of the iridescent green hackles from the shoulder of either wing. Pull off the fuzz at the bottom until you get to the green barbs. Then, put the cream tip of the hackle in your hackle pliers and pull the exposed barbs back away from the tip. Next, hold the hackle in your left hand (pinching the barbs to hold them in place), remove the hackle pliers and cut the tip of the hackle off flat; leaving an inverted pyramid “anchor” at the tip of the fly. Tip tie in the hackle on the top of the hook at the anchor point. Then wrap the thread forward up to a point one eye width back from the eye.
6. Now, take the hackle stem and put your hackle pliers on it. Twist the hackle 5 full turns, being careful not to break the hackle in the process, since Starling rachis (stem) is very thin and fragile before it’s wound onto the hook. The twisted hackle causes the barbs to splay apart from each other and gives you a structure that looks like an inverted Christmas tree. This is the key step in the pattern; the splayed barbs give the fly its motion in the water. If they stick together on you during the twisting process, then separate them with the tip of a needle.
7. Palmer wind the hackle up towards the eye; pulling the barbs back towards the bend as you wind. Three wraps should do it. Tie off the hackle stem just behind the eye and clip off the waste end.
8. Finish off the head with non-waxed tying thread (you have to be careful how much thread you wax) and coat with head cement; I use SHHAN. Here’s the finished fly:
9. You can also twist the hackle an additional half turn on your last wind. If you do, you’ll send the last wind of barbs forward towards the front, which some people like better:
And that’s it; Stewart’s Black Spider.
This pattern can also be tied up as Stewart’s Red Spider and as Stewart’s Dun Spider, but nowadays those two variations are not often seen.
Have fun fishing it!