In Dick Wigrams 1951 book, The Uncertain Trout
there is a whole chapter devoted to this fly, I quote:
"Anglers, on the whole, are a generous crowd. There are
some who may be a little secretive regarding their pet
places, but when they learn something new they are nearly
always all eager to pass on the information to their
brethren. This is as it should be. If, for some instance,
Mr Skues had kept his great knowledge to himself how
much poorer would be the fly tiers and the fly-fishermen
all over the world. Not all anglers are so anxious to
give away some special fly which they find very acceptable
to the trout. I shall always be grateful to the man who
introduced me to the Cocky-Spinner. He told me it was
a good fly in Tasmanian streams. It was his own tying,
beautifully done, and it has been one of the most
killing flies I have ever tied onto the end of a cast.
Tasmanian streams are poor in variety of fly, the hatch
is sometimes enormous but alas, most unreliable. There
seems to be no set time for the hatch which is almost
entirely governed by weather: hot days often produce
a really good show of fly: cold days very little.
This is in direct contrast to the Northern Hemisphere.
The Australian streams have even less Ephemera and the
adventitious insects, represented by beetles,
caterpillars, grasshoppers, and assorted land
moths make up most of the surface food.
To return to the Cocky-Spinner. I had the dressing
and one battered specimen for two years before I tied
it on my cast. For those two years I caught trout well
enough on other patterns, but there were days that
were blank when they should have been productive and
fish that refused when they should (or so it seemed
to me) have taken the offering. Now I think I am too
old a hand to become over-confident with some fly that
has given me a good basket of trout, that has killed
fish well for a whole season, that has tricked some
difficult leviathan or well-known refuser of artificial
flies. Ten years with the Cocky-Spinner has proved its
worth to me. It has killed fish on nearly all the inland
waters of Tasmania, on the Great Lake, Lake Leake, the
Penstock, and on the Shannon River during the moth hatch
(twelve fish in one day). Anyhow here is the dressing,
use it or not as you like. The trout you catch will prove
My own dressing is not quite the same as that of the
very good angler who gave it to me. I do not say that
I have improved it, but as the Andalusian hackles which
go towards the making are almost impossible to obtain I
have substituted another and it seems to make no difference
to its killing power.
The method of tying at first is just the same as
any ordinary hackle fly, but after two hackles are
tied in and the silk is waiting at the back of the
hackles the fly is placed upside down in the vice.
The silk is then made to separate the hackles in
the form of a 'V' by passing it backwards and forwards
from the body to the eye in a figure eight. This
builds up a thorax and by separating the hackle
causes the fly to float on its body when placed
in the water. The tie off is made as usual in
front of the hackle against the eye.
Dick Wigrams Cocky-Spinner
The hook may be size 1,2, or even 3. I find 2 the best.
The tying silk is hot orange, well waxed.
Tail, three strands of Red Cock.
Body, two strands of Red Macaw wound round the shank.
Rib, gold twist.
Wings and Legs a greyish poorly marked barred rock hackle
and a Rhode Island cock hackle mixed one through the other.
A fly tied in this manner is exceptionally strong
and will stand up to any amount of work. Well, there
it is, and as I would just as soon go shooting without
any cartridges as leave my Cocky-Spinner at home when
visiting the streams in this part of the world.
The inventor of this fly, Major B. W. Powlett, has
tied a number of patterns of similar type but this
one is his masterpiece. His patterns were made with
one or two hackles of medium length to represent the
wings of the fly and a very short hackle of suitable
colour for the legs. I find that mixing the hackles
has the same effect. The little thorax built up with
silk is most important, viewed from underneath (and
this is the trouts view) it is a succulent body with
wings spread and legs at the side, which is where
they should be.
My first experience with the fly was on the St. Patrick's
River. A very difficult day. The fish were rising well
but only the small ones would accept the assorted
ammunition fired at them. This consisted of Black
Spinner (showing in thousands), Olive Dun and a
Coch-y-bondhu in case their diet should be beetles.
Weary of refusals I searched for something that would
interest the better fish and so by chance put up the
Cocky-Spinner. As a result I spent the remaining hours
on the pool and caught the limit of keepable trout
besides returning a number of smaller ones.
This was alright, but it didn't prove anything. It
suited the fish that day, but would it kill as well
another time, or on another stream. That night I
made a dozen, and a day or so later stole an afternoon
and took myself to the Meander, it being only ten miles
away and holding some decent trout that knew a thing
or two. It was a warm day, but wind developed as I
drove out and I was not too confident of finding
fish on which to try the new fly. The first pool
was blank, and so was the ripple above it: not
I wandered up and at last in a sheltered corner
spotted a ring. He was tucked well under the bank
with some awkward grass hanging over him. My cast
was a bit wide of the mark but I left the fly on
the water and let it ride down some two feet from
the bank. The fish moved out and took it at once,
but alas, I was too eager; pricked hard he lashed
the water once and was gone. After that there was
another half hour without a sign. The wind died
away and a fish put up beside a dense bed of weed
and rubbish. He took the fly at once, and led into
safe water was duly netted out; 2 lb. 4 ozs. And
then the fish rose quickly everywhere but they would
not take the Cocky-Spinner. I felt sure they were
taking Ceanis, as after many refusals I changed to
a .00 Pale Watery and caught two undersized fish.
An hour later the Olives came down, thinly at first,
but very soon a fair sprinkling. You could almost see
the switch over, it was a different kind of rise, more
eager, no longer the soft sip that trout make to a
small fly that is almost in the skin of the water.
My change to the Cocky-Spinner was made as quickly
as possible as the light soon goes in this part of
the world and already the sun had buried itself behind
the hills. There was plenty of choice but the fish
looked mostly small: I wanted to test the fly on better
than a ten-inch trout. Something heavier rose in a narrow
stickle between the weeds. He took at the first offer
and dived for cover to jerk and burrow until he came
unstuck. Across under the far bank a trout was sucking
down the fly with that cheerful gulp that is such music
to the anglers ear. He also took the fly and was
eventually knocked on the head; two more followed
quickly and another was pricked before it was over.
The water took on the cold, deserted look of an empty
street. I packed up. I felt rather jubilant.
There was a trout in the Liffey that had refused my
offers for two seasons. He was a very big fish, pale
in colour, extremely cunning, and rose only at long
intervals. I called him George (being at the time
unaware of his sex) and also other names not so polite.
On most of my visits I would try this fish; never with
much confidence, but always in the hope that he might
be in a receptive mood. It was an early morning in April
when I wandered down to discuss business with George.
The usual ritual was to sit down if the grass was dry,
or stand if it was wet, and wait until something happened:
if after fifteen minutes nothing took place in the very
small enclosed pool that was his home, one wandered away
and left him. I had found that to cast blindly was no good
at all, there had to be some show of feeding before George
would even bother to come up and inspect the artificial fly.
I had time to observe that the willows were rapidly
shedding their yellowed leaves and to sigh a little
because I knew the end of the season was near. My
attention wandered from the pool and I ALMOST missed
the very small dimple that indicated the epicure at
his morning meal. The cast was easy enough providing
one kept low to the ground. The Cocky-Spinner dropped
above the dimple and from the depths George appeared
like a genii from the mists. The usual inspection took
place as he fell back with the fly balanced on his nose
and then, all of a sudden, his head was down and the
Cocky-Spinner wasn't there any more. The shock was
almost too much for me, but perhaps it was as well
I delayed the strike because the hook was well fixed
when we started the battle. Like most big fish George
fought slowly and stubbornly. The hazards were on the
bottom of the pool and for the first five minutes George
was vertical in the stream: smash went the tail against
the cast, the tremor came up the line along the rod and
into my hand, smash again with that heavy wriggle and
thrust towards the bottom. After this came a leisurely
cruise up-stream still deep in the water, this was the
worst part of the struggle because there were weeds and
a deep undercut bank. Somehow the gods that watch over
fishermen steered the cast away from the dreadful clawing
things that reached out to clasp it. Somehow George rolled
up to the top and sat down in the net. We looked at one
another, both panting on the grass, and it was then I
knew George should have been christened Georgette. She
was in fine condition-4 lb. To the ounce.
Here again we have no proof that the fly itself was
responsible; Georgette may have been hungry or very
careless. I doubt it. Trout do not become careless
as they grow older, they become more cunning. There
was something about the Cocky-Spinner that made it
look real and attractive-there must have been.
The trout that frequent the Shannon Lagoon and feed
in the river when the Snowflake Caddis comes up in
its millions are notoriously difficult. They are gut
shy and fly shy. The water is very clear and not
very deep: the drag occasioned by cross currents
is hard to combat and the wind is often too strong
to allow accurate casting. These trout are also
amazingly changeable in their likes and dislikes,
on one day they will eat nothing but moth, next
they may be picking out spinners or black caddis.
Sometimes one fish is taking spinners and another
eating moth. In the morning they may rise readily
to a Iron Blue Dun and in the afternoon will refuse
it and take a Hare's Ear or Greenwell's Glory. One
hears the old, old cry from the angler, "If only I
could find the fly they are taking." I have uttered
the same cry on most of my twenty visits to witness
the extraordinary phenomenon known as the Shannon Rise.
The answer is still as far distant as ever, in fact,
when one sees some of the horrible and badly tied
abortions to which the fish fall victim one wonders
if there is an answer. One year I took a number of
trout from this river on enormous Wickham's Fancies.
Another season it was a fly known as the Peveril o'the
Peak tied on size 4 or 5 that produced a rise from
those SO-CALLED discriminating fish as soon as it
hit the water. I remember one evening, and it is in
the evening here that the trout are most difficult,
when an angler using a very big white moth was
successful in killing half a dozen fish when no
other rod could get so much as a rise.
It is, of course, a lot of fun besides being a source
of inspiration to fly tiers. If there is an answer
then it has yet to be found. During the 1945 rise
the Cocky-Spinner accounted for a dozen fish on one
day but on the next day and the day after that the
trout took little notice of it. There was, I feel
sure, an explanation for this, for it was a hot day
and a fly known locally as the Shannon Spinner was
on the water in fair quantity. The fish must have
aken the Cocky-Spinner for this fly. The next two
days were cold and I saw no Shannon Spinner and caught
only two trout on the Cocky-Spinner.
On the Penstock Lagoon this fly was responsible for
a heavy bag and was taken no doubt, for the mayfly
genus Attalophlebia which hatches there
in large quantities. At Lake Leake it was deadly on
a calm day when the Red Spinner was present on the water.
All this seems a lot of talk about one fly. I feel it
is worth the space. All through the past trout have
found adequate means of defence against each new form
of attack and against each new type of artificial lure:
how else could they survive. They may find a means of
detecting the difference between the Cocky-Spinner and
the natural fly: until they do I shall continue to use it.
Cocky-Spinner (Major B. W. Powlett)
Hook: #12 up-eye dry fly hook.
Method: Normal wingless tying, but after placing
the hackles, a "V" section clear of fibres is formed
in the hackles on the bottom side of the hook by using
figure "8" turns with the tying silk. It is recommended
that the fly be turned upside-down for this procedure.
Finish with a well formed black head. ~ Alan Shepherd
Tying silk: Hot orange well waxed.
Tail: Three or a few more natural red cock hackles.
Ribbing: Oval gold tinsel.
Body: Two strands of Red Macaw tail feather
or suitable substitute such as dyed goose.
Hackles: One each of natural red and greyish,
poorly marked grizzle hackles tied in together.