It's no secret that I like pretty flies. I'm well aware that ugly flies catch fish too, but a fly that oozes elegance just seems to build confidence for me, and it seems each year I turn into more and more of a classy fly snob.
Chris Schrantz's Platte River Spider may just be the prettiest modern trout fly out there, which is no small feat these days. Schrantz is an avid steelheader and a master carpenter, both characteristics that shine through in his patterns. Schrantz has coupled a Gartside-esque soft-hackle streamer with the classic Platte River Special to create a beautiful, easy-to-cast, breathing, flowing, trout-catching work of art.
One of the most compelling aspects of the Platte River Spider is its lack of a traditional body of any sort on the hook shank. The marabou collar forms the body of the fly, yet the hook shank remains bare.
On the 3X long Tiemco 200R, the hook bend rides near the back of the marabou, waiting to reach out and grab any lip that gets near it, while allowing the fly to undulate and breathe unlike anything tied to a rigid shank.
Mixing a warm yellow marabou feather with dark brown creates a striated profile that rises and falls with each pulse of the line, while the paired yellow and furnace neck hackle wing completes the silhouette and helps the fly track straight on the swing and retrieve.
I am generally not a fan of unweighted streamer patterns, and when I questioned Schrantz as to why this fly is tied with no additional weight he explained that he likes to fish it on a long sinking tip, or full-sinking line, sometimes on a two-hander or switch rod, to better enjoy the casting aspect of a day on the water. I have to admit, he's got a point. My right shoulder can attest to the workout you get from throwing heavily weighted flies for several hours, especially when the fishing is hot and fish-greed creeps in.
Schrantz often fishes the large and meandering North Platte River, where his sinking-tip techniques really shine. I have found that a lightly weighted fly is hard to keep down in the water column, however,
particularly when pounding banks on faster moving rivers where a sinking-tip line doesn't have time to affect the fly. In this case I pair the Spider with a heavier weighted fly in tandem — most often a lead-eye Motor Oil Bugger — with the Spider on an 18" 0X dropper. I tie my streamers together eye to eye, to keep the hook bend free of the dropper line, and let each fly wiggle and dance independently of the other.
This weighted/unweighted combination has been particularly effective for me along shelved banks. Dropping the light Spider tight to the bank, and the heavier fly just on the edge of the deeper shelf lets me cover both ambush points, and keeps me from hanging the heavier fly up in the sticks and rocks along the edges. I've often had fish come out of the deep to chase the bigger, darker pattern only to wallop the Spider as soon as it appears.
If there is one undesirable trait in Schrantz's pattern it is that fish will sometimes suck it straight down their pipe, leaving only the hook eye showing in their throat. For this reason I debarb these flies at the vise and in some cases, I even tie them with a large tungsten bead hidden behind the marabou collar. My theory is that this fly presents a large silhouette to the fish but it is really very light and collapsible. The lightly dressed fly is simply much smaller than anticipated, and gets sucked down much easier than a larger fly. Adding the tungsten bead adds just enough weight to keep the fish from dangerously inhaling it, but not so much as to kill the action of the pattern.
My streamer box is overflowing with large, dark, heavy, and articulated patterns that all have their time and place these days, but the Platte River Spider, in its austere glory, has earned a well-deserved spot in my stash, one that is filled by no other pattern, it seems.
This uniquely beautiful and fun-to-tie pattern has often made me rethink my approach to streamer fishing, and while I will never give up the traditional box of nastiness I cart around in the boat, my Platte River Spiders will always have a home.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie's Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of Charlie's Fly Box (Stackpole Books, 2011). He is also the featured tier in the iPhone app FlyBench, available in the iTunes store.
Tying The Platte River Spider
Hook: #4 Tiemco 200R.
Thread: Black 70-denier UTC
Tail: Fluorescent red pheasant tail fibers.
Body: Yellow and brown marabou.
Collar: Mallard flank feather.
Flash: Root Beer Krystal Flash.
Wing: Two furnace (brown with
dark center) and two yellow
Chinese neck feathers.
Photos: Charlie Craven
Attach the tying thread behind the hook eye and wrap a thread base back a quarter of a shank length. Clip four to six fibers from a red pheasant tail, and measure them to a shank length long. Tie them in so they extend a quarter of a shank length beyond the bend of the hook. Clip the butt ends.
Select one brown and one yellow marabou feather with fibers about one and a half hook shanks long. Choose feathers with thin, pliable center quills. Strip the excess fibers from the bases of the stems and place the feathers one on top of the other, lying inside to outside. Preen the tip sections of the feathers into a single bunch by wetting your fingers slightly and stroking the fibers together toward the tip.
Tie the feathers in by the tips. Place the feather butts in hackle pliers and while lifting, fold the marabou fibers to the backside of the quill as you would for a wet-fly hackle. I wet my fingers to get a better grip on the fibers. Try to position the folded fibers parallel to the hook shank. Move the tying thread forward to about two eye lengths back from the hook eye.
Wrap both marabou quills forward at the same time in tight concentric turns. Tie them off about two eye lengths back from the hook eye. With good planning, you should be tying off over bare stem, as there should be no fibers left on the stems at this point. Clip the feather butts flush against the shank.
Prepare a mallard flank feather by stripping the fibers from the inside edge of the stem. Tie the mallard in by the tip as you did with the marabou. Pull up on the feather butt and stroke the fibers back and apart. Clip the tip of the feather flush against the hook.
Grab the butt of the mallard feather in your hackle pliers and wrap it one or two turns forward and then tie it off. Clip the butt end of the feather. Tie in two long strands of Root Beer Krystal Flash along each side of the hook, sweeping them back along the marabou.
Select two yellow Chinese neck feathers that are about as wide as the hook gap, and trim the butts so the feathers are about one and a half times as long as the hook shank. Pair these two feathers so they are cupped inside to inside, and set them aside.
Select and prepare two furnace feathers and put one on each side of the paired yellow feathers, sandwiching the yellows in the middle. Tie the completed wing assembly in at the front of the hook, making sure all the feathers stay upright and vertical atop the shank. Clip the stubs, build a smooth head, whip-finish, and coat with glossy head cement.