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Salmonfly.Net Salmon and Steelhead Fly Tying Guide  In Memory of Yuri Shumakov 

Contributing Fly Tyers Series

Sea-Run Cutthroat Flies -
a Letter from Preston Singletary

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Looking over your selection of sea-run cutthroat flies, I was struck by several things. The first was that the Reversed Spider was not represented and the second was that all of the illustrated patterns were attractor patterns. As you may know, sea-run cutthroat, unlike most anadromous salmonids, continue to feed aggressively during their upstream migration and, particularly during the latter part of the season (October and November), are likely to become quite selective on Baetis mayflies. Other periodically abundant insects that can trigger similar fussiness include the Giant October Caddis (Dicosmoecus spp.).

I think that it is generally agreed that the coastal cutthroat, particularly those who have adopted an anadromous lifestyle, are the strongest and hardest fighting of all of the cutthroat subspecies (here in the Pacific Northwest it was said that if sea-run cutthroat grew to the size of steelhead no one would ever land one). Fishing mayfly imitations as small as size 22 on a 4- or 5-weight rod to such strong and selective fish is just about as good as it gets.

The Reversed Spider is an attractor pattern which was developed in the 'seventies by Stillaguamish River guide Mike Kinney and has become the go-to fly for many sea-run cutthroat anglers in Washington and Oregon. It might almost be considered a variant of the Knudsen Spider if the tying technique and the appearance of the fly were not so radically different. Al Knudsen's Spider was tied with the mallard flank hackle (quite full in the original) sloping back over the body and, in fact, almost completely masking it. The example shown on your website is much more sparse than Knudsen's original version.

Kinney's Reversed Spider shares some materials with Knudsen's creation but there the resemblance ends. The hackle is tied in first, immediately behind the hook's eye, by the tip, with the stem curving down. It is wound back along the hook shank, one turn immediately behind the last, for no more than four turns. It helps to stroke the fibers forward to form a tight cone with the tips pointing out over the eye. If enough length was allowed on the tip of the hackle feather, it can be clipped off and tied in as the tail. The body (chenille) is tied in at the middle of the hook shank and wound forward to a point just behind the eye of the hook, covering the butts of the hackle, and then back to the tail where it is hand whip-finished. The over-wrapping of the chenille forces the hackle more firmly into a forward pointing position and provides a little taper for the body.

The fly is more of a style than a pattern. It can be tied with a wide variety of hackles; dyed or natural mallard flank, wood duck flank, or Amherst or golden pheasant tippet. The body is always chenille but almost any color may be used. Some of my favorites include black and Amherst tippet, yellow and golden pheasant tippet, black and dyed yellow mallard and hot orange and wood duck.

The peculiar construction of the fly gives it much more action than the Knudsen pattern. The pressure of the slightest current holds the hackle at about a 90-degree angle to the hook shank; when stripped, it lays back into a streamlined shape and springs out again when the movement stops. It has been the only searching pattern that I've used for sea-run cutthroat for a number of years now and I've almost never felt the need for anything else.

When the fish can be seen actually sipping flies from the surface, of course, it's time to put away the Spider and break out the BWO imitations.

Preston Singletary


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