Snipe Hackles and North Country Spiders
(Gallinago gallinago & Lymnocryptes minimus)
Snipe hackles are synonymous with the tying of north country spiders, and have along with waterhen and partridge become for many, the very essence of what a soft-hackled spider represents. And no wonder, as various snipe hackles appear in numerous soft-hackle fly dressings from early North Country manuscripts to the modern American publications of Leisenring, Hidy and Nemes.
Yet, as with all things related to the tying of traditional north country spiders, things become complicated when we fly-tyers seek to dress patterns in accordance with traditional fly dressings. For modern tyers a snipe is simply a snipe. However, our flydressing forefathers had other ideas and used a combination of Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) hackles and the rarer Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) for their dressings. Evidence of which can be seen in the famous north country pattern the Dark Snipe and Purple, which originally prescribed a dressing of Jack Snipe overcovert and not the common snipe that is used today.
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
The Common Snipe is the larger of the two species and has a generally lighter colouration. It has two neat sets of stripes down the back and prominent stripes down its head, including a pale central stripe down the crown.
Due to the nature of supply most flytying shops only offer the possibility of dressing with common snipe hackles, either through the sale of whole skins or pairs of wings. This is a pity for those seeking to dress north country spider patterns as near to their original dressings as possible, who really ought to be using hackles from the Jack Snipe.
Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus)
The Jack Snipe or “Judcock” as it was more commonly known, is a smaller than the common snipe and has an overall darker appearance. The Judcock has a blackish purple back with striking pale yellow central stripes which are more striking than on its common cousin. The Judcock also has the central crown stripe missing from its head, shorter beak and does not have the white leading edge that is prevalent on the Common Snipe’s wing.
Though it is fair to say it makes no difference to either trout or grayling, there are a number of subtle differences between hackles from the two birds. Generally, the secondary over-coverts of the common snipe have distinctive pale barring on the hackles which is not present in over-coverts of the jack snipe. The lesser-wing coverts are also appreciably darker on the wing of the Jack Snipe, which is where the term “Dark Snipe” comes into its own with reference to the Dark Snipe & Purple. Fortunately for those wishing to dress patterns such as the Snipe & Yellow or Snipe Bloa, there is no distinct difference in the colouration in the under-coverts of the two birds.
Snipe primaries, though now often over looked by modern fly-tyers, were also used to wing traditional patterns such as Bainbridge’s Hawthorn Fly and Yellow Dun as well as Theastone’s Tortoise Shell Beetle. Interesting they also offer a good alternative to Hen Blackbird, for those wishing to dress Greenwell’s Glory.
As well as wing feathers, the two species of Snipe give us a range of interesting body and tail hackles which can be utilised to create various spider and soft-hackle fly patterns. The most famous example being the 8b March Brown from Edmonds & Lee’s Brook and River Trouting. This pattern uses the barred feathers taken from the common snipe’s rump to produce a distinctive and beautiful North Country Spider pattern. On a personal note, I also use a range of Common Snipe shoulder hackles to produce a couple of spider dressings for my local river, which have born some good results over the past couple of seasons.
Dark Snipe & Purple (Robert Lakeland 1858)
Body: Purple silk
Hackle: Feather from the outside of a dark snipe wing
March Brown 8b (Edmonds & Lee 1916)
Hook: 2 or 3
Wings: Hackled with a mottled brown feather from a Snipe’s rump
Body: Orange silk No.6a dubbed with the fur from the nape of a rabbit’s neck which has been lightly tinged red with Crawshaw’s Red Spinner dye and ribbed with gold wire or tinsel
Tail: Two strands from a feather from a Snipe’s rump, same feather as used for the wings.
Head: Orange silk
Cowside Spider (Smith 2015)
Hook; Size 14 Kamasan B525
Body: claret silk ribbed with fine silver wire
Thorax: Peacock herl
Hackle: Common snipe neck feather
For those wishing to dress a range of North Country spider utilising snipe hackles, you will find no better source than contacting Cookshill Fly Tying Materials, or Jim’s Fly Company who both carry an extensive range gamebird wings and skins.
©The Sliding Stream