Donald Spratley & The Doc Spratley Pattern

By Richard Raisler,
Vice President, Westside, 2002
Originally published in Covering the Drift, Vol. 7, No. 2, December, 2002

Late in life, Don A Spratley lamented to his two daughters, “I have spent my life perfecting my dental skills, but I will be known for a fishing fly.” The Doc Spratley, one of the most popular, productive, and written about flies in the Pacific Northwest, was named after him. There may have been some regret in his voice, as his dental skill and knowledge was to a dentist, what Atlantic Salmon fly tying is to a fly tier.

The history of the fly’s origin is found in Flies of the Northwest, by the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club, 1998, Frank Amato Publications, Inc.. “This pattern, named after the late Dr. Donald A. Spratley of Mount Vernon, Washington, is one of the most effective wet fly patterns in British Columbia, particularly in waters with good caddisfly hatches. Mrs. Dorothy Prankard Schracht of Mount Vernon said her husband, the late Dick Prankard, originated the pattern about 1949. She said he called the fly Doc Spratley because the doctor came into the store at the time he was tying it and asked Dick what the name was. Dick replied, “I think I’ll call it the Doc Spratley.” Prankard’s wife tied the fly commercially for several years. Dr Spratley used the pattern in British Columbia. It is still a highly popular pattern wherever large caddisflies hatch.”

 

Fred Schacht, the stepson of Mrs. Dorothy Prankard Schacht, has a different and more interesting version of how the fly was named. Dorothy told him that Dick and Don were good friends and Dick was tying the fly in his shop. Don Spratley came in to visit but did so quietly and walked up behind Dick. Don startled Dick and the tying thread broke. Dick said good-naturedly, “Damn you Doc Spratley, just for that I am going to name this fly after you.”

The original recipe calls for a tail of Grizzly, body of black wool, rib of silver tinsel, hackle (throat) of Grizzly, wing of pheasant tail, head of peacock herl, and tied on Mustad 9671, sizes 8 to 10.

The earliest recorded history is found in Roy Patrick’s Pacific Northwest Fly Patterns, 1953 edition. Interestingly the “Dr. Spratley” pattern is listed in the Steelhead section

Dr. Donald Spratley fishing on Janis Lake, B.C. about 1953. Photo by Floyd Hamstrom of Burlington, WA. Floyd and Don were among a group of dentists who fished B.C. lakes each year.
 
of the book, not the British Columbia or General Fly section. It is not until later editions that we find it included in both the British Columbia and Steelhead sections. The recipe calls for tail of barred hackle fibers (8-10), body of black wool, rib of medium embossed silver tinsel, hackle (throat) barred, tied wet, wing of Chinese Ringneck Cock Pheasant tail fibers, long reddish brown, Bunch wing over body, tied on hook sizes #1/0 to #6. The statement included with the recipe reads. “This particular fly has been a producer of Steelhead, both Winter and Summer. Consistently good on the Stillaquamish, taken to other streams and proven as effective.” The 1970 edition states the
 
 
Doc Spratley from
Flies of the Northwest
“Dr. Spratley” is said to be, “A pattern very famous for steelhead fishing, both summer and winter, excellent for lake fishing, best in the afternoon ‘till dusk.”

Right from its 1949 beginning the popularity of the Doc Spratley grew rapidly. Don Spratley and groups of Mount Vernon fly fishing couples frequently traveled to the British Columbia lakes, Hi Hume and Janice. They most likely used this successful pattern and shared it with others. Somehow Roy Patrick became familiar with the pattern and no doubt shared it with his fishing acquaintances, Enos Bradner, Tom Brayshaw, and Alan Pratt. This may explain why it is initially listed as a steelhead fly. Its popularity can also be explained by its ability to “catch fish.” This “attractor pattern” tied in a typical wet fly style does not represent a specific organism but when tied on number 8 or 10 size hooks will attract trout in lakes with large caddis fly hatches. Tied smaller it is fished as a chironomid. Tied larger, size 6, it substitutes for a damsel, dragonfly, or leech. Dave Winters popularized the fly on the Thompson River as an effective steelhead pattern. Steelhead fishers tie the pattern on hook sizes 4 to 5/0. Although not fished much outside of the Northwest the Doc Spratley riffle hitched and presented to Atlantic Salmon on a floating line will generate takes.

If a fly’s popularity is measured by other fly tiers desire to imitate it, the “Doc” excels in this category too. It is tied with a variety of body colors: black, red, green, olive, brown, and orange. Red and orange are successful colors for sea run cutthroat. One change in the original pattern that is popular with British Columbia fly tiers and was recorded in Roy Patrick’s book is substituting guinea hen fibers for the tail and throat. Trey Combs does not mention the Doc Spratley in his two books, but in “Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies” there is a fly plate of steelhead flies dressed by Harry Lamire and one of the flies is the “Doc Spratley.”

The one unique aspect of this typical wet fly pattern is the wing. We can call it a feather wing, but the Chinese Pheasant tail fibers are “bunched” on top of the fly to produce a wing that looks more like a hair wing. If you have every tied a Doc Spratley and tried to place the pheasant tail fibers on the fly in the typical feather wing fashion, you have most likely found that the fibers immediately splay into an irregular “hair wing” like position. This “buggyness” may be one of the reasons why the fly is so effective. There are reports of Don Spratley and his fishing friends chewing on a new fly before fishing with it, but I am sure that story is not true.

Researching the history of Don Spratley and the “Doc Spratlely” fly has been a rewarding experience as I am the successor of Don’s dental practice. I have met the patients he so carefully and generously cared for and witnessed the quality of his dental art. I have fished Hi Hume and Janis Lakes with his fishing partners and always make it a point to fish the Doc Spratley late in the evening. I have experienced the physical connection to Kamloops and Montana trout, Skagit River steelhead, Labrador, Canada Atlantic Salmon through the “Spratley” fly. Tim Marker DDS, fly fisher and dentist, currently owns the dental office shared by Doctor Spratley and myself. The legacy of the fly is sure to be carried on by fly fishers and dentists alike.

Copyright 2002 - 2006 Washington State Council Federation of Fly Fishers