It is a pretty safe bet to say that I am somewhat of an evangelist when it comes to North Country spider patterns. Over the past few years since the publication of my book The North Country Fly, I have had the pleasure of being asked to give numerous presentations and flytying demonstrations throughout the world. And I must admit, it never ceases to me amaze at the number of people who turn up, through their genuine interest in the topic of north country flies.
Recently, I gave a presentation to the Grayling Society at the annual symposium and AGM in County Durham. And was astonished by the number of people present at my presentation, and the number of informed questions I received immediately after my talk. Insightful questions that continued further into the wee small hours, as Grayling Society members congregated in the bar after the day’s events. It is a humbling experience to have your angling peers ask for your opinion. And I, for myself view these questions more in the manner of gifts. As they allow me not only to impart some information, but moreover, to infuse my own enthusiasm for the subject into someone else with the hope that they will take up a similar journey to my own.
Throughout all my presentations, engagements and blog posts, I have studiously avoided any relationship with the term “Expert” regarding the history and tying of the traditional North Country fly patterns. And have rather tried to label myself as nothing more than a “Enthusiast” on a continual hunt for more information and building on the past achievements of earlier author’s works. To quote Isaac Newton “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. And for me this metaphor of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants is quite apt, as it expresses the meaning of discovering a truth by building on previous discoveries. And without the previous works of various North Country anglers, authors, flydressers and river-keepers, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now regarding being asked to speak and give presentations about my own angling passion, and more importantly being offered the opportunity to be listened to!
Last year I was invited to give a couple of presentations and take part in a Featured Tyer slot at the International Fly-Tying Symposium in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And like the Grayling Symposium a year later I was overwhelmed by the curiosity exhibited by the audience, and the hospitality offered to me as I spoke about the history of my native Yorkshire spider patterns. During my “Featured-Tyer” slot, I purposely demonstrated a range of flytying techniques needed to produce a variety of traditional spider patterns. As I feel it is important that when undertaking any form of flytying demonstration, it is the teaching of individual tying techniques that is important, and not the individual fly pattern itself. This distinction is for me important, as if I only showcase the tying of an individual pattern, the audience will only be able to tie that particular pattern. Whereas, if I showcase a technique, the audience will be able to utilise the technique when tying a range of patterns.
Likewise, I feel it is important to showcase not only traditional materials, but also modern alternatives. Which gives the audience a chance to see traditional north country hackles with what are often misquoted alternatives. Giving me an opportunity to expand sections of any tying demo into a thorough explanation of the diverse qualities that numerous north country materials provide.
Of course, this philosophy is somewhat easier to achieve when presenting a flytying demo rather than a visual presentation on the history of the patterns themselves. Where often as a presenter you are constricted by an imposed time limit, and the need to get across a historic narrative is such a short time. With flytying demos, you have the opportunity even though the audience is often large, to nevertheless achieve some form of one-to-one relationship we the audience.