Woodcock Hackles & North Country Spiders

Woodcock Hackles (Scolopax rusticola)

The Woodcock is one of those quintessential North Country spider hackles, that has due to its scarcity become often overlooked by modern flydressers. However, these secretive and elusive birds offer some of the most distinctive soft-hackles suitable for tying spider patterns, and it is no coincidence that Woodcock hackles feature in many old North Country manuscripts and fly lists.

The marginal over-coverts have a distinct barred chestnut and black pattern which is often preferred for the imitation of March Browns. Whilst, the subtler pale buff-brown barred under-coverts and used for patterns such as the Winter Brown.

The first references to the use of Woodcock hackle regarding spider dressings can be found in James Pickard’s manuscript of 1794, where he lists the Winter Brown.

Winter Brown (James Pickard 1794)
Orange silk legged wi feather or neb of wood cock sholder. Harled at head wi peacock.

Later the woodcock’s range of hackles come to be utilised by an expanding list of North Country anglers and flydressers, and patterns such as the Green Tail, Grey Midge and Hackle Duel Cruik come to be developed around the use of the Woodcock’s distinctive plumage.

Green Tail (Jon Pickard 1820)
Ask coulored silk, Feather the inside of a woodcock wing, peacock herl in the head. Hares face for the legs, light green silk the tail.

Hackle Duel Cruik (Tim Thackray)
Body: Yellow and orange silk with the brown fur from a fox’s ear
Hackle: An outside feather from a woodcock’s wing

Except for the Brown Owl (Strix aluco) over-covert, and Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) back feathers, Woodcock over-covert is my favourite soft-hackle for use on North Country Spiders. Its distinct barred chestnut and black pattern enhance any spider pattern and give the fly a lifelike impression. My own dressing the Woodcock Twist, was developed for fishing in rocky streams when egg laying and spinners, of the Large Brook Dun float down through riffles and pocket waters.

Woodcock Twist (Robert Smith)
Hook: Size 12 Daiichi 1480
Silk: Light Olive and Brown silk
Body: Brown silk sparsely dubbed with fox ear fur and wrapped in tandem with the light olive silk to produce segmented look.
Hackle: Woodcock over-covert

For those wishing to dress a range of North Country spider utilising Woodcock feathers, you will find no better source than contacting Cookshill Fly Tying Materials, who carry an extensive range gamebird wings and skins.
©The Sliding Stream

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