Snipe and Purple

The Snipe and Purple spider traditionally known as the Dark Snipe and Purple, is one of the most famous and widely fished of the north country flies. It first comes to prominence in Robert Lakeland’s Teesdale Angler in 1858 and is later taken up by numerous north country anglers including T.E. Pritt who includes the pattern in his 1885 publication Yorkshire Trout Flies republished a year later as North Country Flies. Here, Pritt codifies the dressing of the Dark Snipe and Purple, and stipulates the use of a snipe’s marginal over-covert feather as the hackle.

Snipe and Purple dressed in a sparsely hackled modern style.

Dark Snipe and Purple (Lakeland)

Hook: Size 14
Body: Purple silk
Hackle: Snipe over-covert

This quintessential north country fly however comes in many guises with generations of flytyers adapting this spider pattern to suit their own circumstances or flytying fancy. A classic example of this can be seen in the 1898 manuscript of Wharfedale trout flies left to us by Sylvester Lister, tenant farmer and one of the founders of the Burnsall Angling Club, now known as the Appletreewick, Barden and Burnsall Angling Club. Lister added a head of magpie herl to his Snipe and Purple dressing to make it more effective.

Sylvester Lister’s dressing of the Snipe and Purple, dressed with a traditional fuller hackle style.

No. 17 Dark Snipe (Sylvester Lister)

Hook: Size 16
Wings or Hackle: Speckled feather from outside of snipe’s wing
Head: Magpie herl
Silk for Body: Purple
(Note: A very good general fly. Appears about April 1st)

Later the Snipe and Purple would be adapted by Jim Wynn, river-keeper for the Bradford Waltonians Angling Club. Sadly, though much interest was stirred with the publication of Wynn’s pattern book. The examples of the flies dressed for this publication are simply dreadful and give us no real clue as to what Wynn’s ideas of the flies should be.
Jim Wynn’s use of various tinsels within the dressing of north country flies, is also nothing new, and follows a path set down by many Dales flydressers including Sylvester Lister who used tinsel to form the heads of flies.

Jim Wynn’s dressing of the Snipe and Purple.

Purple Snipe (Jim Wynn)

Hook: Size 14
Hackle: Feather taken from under snipe wing in preference to the outside wing, as used by most Yorkshire tiers.
Body: Ruddy purple silk or mulberry shade of artificial silk dubbed on to purple silk.
(Alternative dressing of purple tinsel body or silver tinsel coated with purple transparent acetate varnish)

For myself, I have moved away from the Snipe and Purple spider somewhat preferring to fish the Spring Black spider throughout most of the trout season. However, when the season is over and the autumn leaves start gather around the bows of the trees, I use my own adaptation of the pattern as a grayling fly in the autumn and winter months. Taking Sylvester Lister’s example, the fly has a herl head, this time substituting magpie herl for the bright glimmer of peacock herl. And to give the fly that extra bit of sparkle so often loved by winter grayling, I include a rib of fine silver wire. Though many could argue that my pattern is too far an adaptation from the original to warrant it being likened to the original North Country Spider, it is nevertheless owes it lineage to  Robert Lakeland’s original Dark Snipe and Purple.

My adaptation of Lister’s dressing as a grayling fly.

Purple Grayling (Robert Smith)

Hook: Size 16 & 18
Body: Dark purple silk ribbed with fine silver wire
Head: Peacock herl
Hackle: Snipe over-covert feather


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