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Tying Spiders

By Mick Huffer

Mick Huffer ties Spiders

Tying the Stewart Black Spider

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    The hook is clamped into the vice (this is a size 12). Tie on the Micro thread just back from the eye.

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    Take the thread down the shank in touching turns. TIP – Most Spider bodies are quite short, don’t be tempted to make them too long.

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    Return the thread up the shank, continuing in touching turns. Stop at a point which equates to one third of the hook shank length from the eye.

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    Pick out a lesser covert from the top of the starling wing.

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    Pluck out the feather. The feather has a good edge (colourful) and a dull edge.

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    We will only use the good edge, so pinch and tease away the fibres on the under edge of the feather. Then tease the fibres up the stem, away from the tip (the tip is the tying-in point).

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    Tie in the tip with 5-6 wraps of thread, the tip of the feather angling forwards, and slightly underneath the shank, the fibres projecting downwards from the feather stem.

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    Snip off the tip of the feather using the very points of the scissors.

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    Grab the tip with hackle pliers and make 3-4 open turns, working up the shank.

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    Catch in the feather just back from the eye, leaving enough room to build a head. TIP – Holding the feather vertical allows you to see exactly where the locking turn is to be made.

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    Snip off the remnants of the hackle, ease back the hackle fibres and make 2-3 turns of thread just in front of the hackle base to persuade the hackle fibres back and hold them slightly backward of vertical.

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    Build a small head, whip-finish and varnish.

Stewart Black Spider
: Wet fly, size 12 to 16.
Tying thread: Waxed brown Micro - 8/0.
Body: Tying thread – two layers only.
Hackle: Cock starling neck feather or marginal or lesser wing covert, depending on hook size.
Of all the Spiders which WC Stewart used, the highly generic Black Spider was ‘the most killing’ of them all. He used it from the middle/end of April onwards when the March Browns started to show and the trout became more willing to move to the fly. On larger rivers sizes 9 (odd sizes in those days!) or 10 were the usual, and on smaller streams 14 or 12. Despite its drab appearance this pattern has appeal throughout the season and all waters. On a modern note, I find a size 14 or 12 makes a first-class general emerger imitation on stillwaters fished on the middle or top dropper when dark buzzers and sedge are around. It can often out-fish a more specific dressing!

Tying the Stewart Black Spider
Like all Spider patterns this is a very easy pattern to tie and if you follow the tying sequence shots you can’t fail. The only difference with this dressing compared to most is the fact that the hackle is tied in further back from the eye and is spiralled forward over the front third of the body to create a wider band of hackling. The body is in fact not black at all, but fine brown silk or waxed tying thread. The hackle is tied in by the tip, using just one side as shown in the photographic sequence. This method allows for good control and distribution of the hackle during winding.

Pattern styles don’t come much more tried and tested than the ubiquitous Spider. Irrespective of where I fish, if I ever had to be restricted to just one pattern style (Heaven forbid!), then this would have to be the one. Now there’s a bold statement from one who carries a fair selection of patterns in a good few boxes when ever I venture out.

Why? Well it doesn’t matter how small or large you tie it, the style works. From minute river patterns to the largest stillwater and beyond – I even have some saltwater patterns which are basically Spider style tied on 1/0 stainless! A very simple style, the Spider has those all important factors – mobility and a profile suggestive of so many living food forms, be it insect or baitfish.

Who actually came up with the style is impossible to say, but it must have been around like the Palmer style - for a very long time. Of course the first Spider dressings are perhaps more associated with the 1800s and the classic tying featured here by WC Stewart is a good example. To be strictly correct the pattern was not his, but given to him by a capable angler and fly tyer by the name of James Baillie of whom Stewart makes mention in his book, The Practical Angler. I wonder how many very good anglers and tyers there were around in those days, who were pioneering methods and patterns, but because they couldn’t read and write had to pass on their knowledge verbally.

8 tips to tying a better Stewart Black Spider
The body should be as fine and slim as possible – use just enough material to cover the hook shank.

The length of the body as a rule of thumb should finish well short of the hook bend.

Spiders can be dressed to fish at differing depths from close to the surface to deeper, so bear this in mind when selecting the weight as well as style of hook. Personally I prefer a ‘sproat’ style hook.

The hackle length when wound should be approximately one and a half to twice the hook gape but longer is always better than shorter.

Keep the hackle sparse two or three turns at most is all you need to create the optimum amount of movement. You might think ‘more hackle more movement’, but the opposite is the case. The more turns you make the more they support one another thus adding a stiffness which is less mobile!

Make sure the turns are open and are made directly one in front of the other. This gives a nice even spread of hackle around the shank.

When varnishing the head with the usual two coats of varnish take care not to get varnish on the hackle. Obvious, I know!

The golden rule with Spiders is that they should look sparse. A very slim body and a couple of turns of hackle, and that’s it! Don’t be tempted to make it look more substantial in the hope that it may be seen as ‘a bigger, better mouthful’. Although it is understandable mistake, it’s also a very common one!

Most Spider patterns require few but specific materials to achieve the desired result. Bodies are always finely dressed, so fine silk and tying thread are a ‘must’. If the dressing calls for a dubbed body you need very fine hair or fur and keep the dubbing to the absolute minimum – just enough to cover the shank is all you will need most of the time. You can’t under-dress a Spider!

The hackles used come from a variety of birds and are usually body or wing feathers. I have included a diagram to show the more common wing-feathers and where you find them on the wing, so that the next time you see a pattern requiring a ‘lesser wing covert’ from a particular bird you will know exactly where to look and what to use.

The illustration also shows a selection of the more commonly used hackles, these include partridge, grouse, woodcock, snipe, starling, coot and French partridge. The latter is perhaps not so common, but I like it because of the super-natural olive colour it provides.

There are, of course, lots of other feathers you can use, but those mentioned will cover a fair few of the standard patterns and any others you might want to develop and trial yourself.

The wings are sold in pairs in packets and are readily available and inexpensive at around a couple of pounds a pair. The only expensive item is a partridge body skin. At around £20, this is a worthwhile investment, especially when compared to buying packets of hackles, half of which are always the wrong size with the other half usually ending up lost on the floor!

Selecting the correct hackle
Finding your way around the wing: most dressings for traditional Spiders feature a hackle which has been specially selected for its length, fineness of fibre, mobility, sheen and coloration. This may come from either the underside or the top of the wing. Thus it is important to know exactly from where on the wing to take the hackle in order to dress the fly correctly.

Special spiders
The patterns I have included here are just an example of the many that have been developed. The whole essence of this article is to show how useful and effective Spider dressings are. Their total simplicity is perhaps their biggest downfall in an age where the pursuit of imitational reality is high on the list. Their often drab and uninteresting looks belie just how good they are and all too often they are dismissed or forgotten.

Fishing Spider patterns
A few brief pointers to serve you well wherever you fish. The first thing to remember when fishing Spiders is that the slightest movement of water or by using the slightest of retrieves is enough to agitate the soft hackle suggesting life and this applies whether you are fishing river or stillwater.

Secondly, having total control of the presentation by fishing as short a line as possible is the most effective. Spiders fished on a long line will catch fish, but these flies are not really designed to be presented in this way.

On rivers, a short and controlled upstream cast allowing the fly/flies to alight first with the minimum amount of fly line on the water will allow them to be presented at their best in terms of lifelike imitation – and that’s the main objective!

On stillwater, concentrate on having maximum control. These delicate imitations don’t require much in the way of movement other than that provided by the natural elements. When fish are moving close to the surface a well measured, controlled short cast that holds the flies up is normally all that is required to get an offer.

Bear these pointers in mind and you won’t go far wrong with the simple but highy effective Spider patterns.

Snipe & Purple
: Wet fly, medium wire, size 14 to 16.
Tying thread: Purple Micro – 8/0.
Body: Tying thread or very fine silk floss.
Hackle: Dark snipe marginal covert feather.
One of the all-time classic Spider patterns that is used extensively on rivers as an Iron Blue nymph, emerger and even dun imitation for both trout and grayling, and very productive it is too. I have experimented with it on stillwaters but in my experience it’s not as effective as on rivers. On stillwater it’s probably a reasonable imitation generally of dark pupa.

Woodcock & Green
Hook: Wet fly, medium wire, size 12 to 14.
Thread: Green Micro – 8/0.
Body: Green thread two layers or green seal's fur, very sparsely dubbed.
Rib: Fine gold wire (optional).
Hackle: Woodcock marginal covert feather.
A very good general nymph and emerger pattern for rivers and stillwaters, but is particularly effective when dark-green sedge pupa are around. When you look at the overall coloration it’s not difficult to see why – the green suggests the caddis body and the woodcock fibres are a good representation of the wings. Fish it just on the ripple or using a slow draw. You can also fish it in the surface film when olive buzzers are coming off too.

Fluorescent Partridge & Orange (Thomas Clegg)
Hook: Wet fly, medium wire, size 12 to 16.
Thread: Yellow Micro – 8/0.
Body: Fluorescent orange floss – Glo-Brite No. 6.
Rib: Fine brown silk. Hackle: Grey partridge.
A variation from Thomas Clegg of Gantron Gold Mallard fame. Tom was a master when it came to the effects of fluorescence, and this pattern was one he developed along with many others for fishing in peat-stained or coloured water. On its day it can be more effective even than the standard and not least, the use of fluorescent materials for the body is food for thought for other standard Spider patterns you might want to experiment with.

Grouse & Brown
Hook: Wet fly, medium wire, size 12 to 16.
Tying thread: UTC Rusty Brown 8/0.
Body: Tying thread.
Thorax: Dark ginger seal’s fur dubbed sparse.
Rib: Fine gold wire.
Hackle: Marginal or lesser covert feather.
This is a pattern I’ve had for some time and as a general brown/ginger Spider it takes some beating. You can use it in small or larger size on the river or stillwater throughout the season, but I find it most effective when lighter coloured buzzer and sedge pupa are hatching off. It’s certainly worth having a couple in your fly box.

Snipe & Yellow
Hook: Wet fly, medium wire, size 14 to 16.
Tying thread: Waxed yellow Micro - 8/0.
Body: Tying thread, two layers only.
Hackle: Dark snipe marginal covert feather.
Not as well known as the Snipe & Purple, but a very effective pattern none the less. A good general river pattern for imitating the paler varieties of nymphs and emergers, and, of course, olives. On stillwaters this can be a very effective pattern from May onwards, not surprising when you consider the overall colour, profile and mobility. Holding it in the surface film fishing upstream on a river, or allowing it to drift around on a ripple on stillwater can be a very good way to fish this pattern.

Partridge & Orange
Hook: Wet fly, medium wire, size 12 to 16.
Tying thread: Orange Micro – 8/0.
Body: Tying thread, two layers.
Rib: Fine gold wire (optional).
Hackle: Brown partridge.
One of the best known of all the Spider patterns. A real North Country classic that will take both trout and grayling. It used to be considered as an imitation for small stonefly nymphs (the February Red stonefly is an example), but its appeal seems to be far more general than that and even on rivers which don’t have Plecoptera. A pattern that catches regardless – a river version of the Montana Nymph! I have taken numerous stillwater trout with it too, especially during the summer months when the fishing can be a touch hard. Fish it just in the surface film either dead drift or retrieved very slowly. I wouldn’t be without this one!

Partridge & Phosphor Yellow (Richard Walker)
Hook: Wet fly, size 12 to 14.
Tying thread: Brown micro – 8/0.
Body: DRF phosphor yellow floss (looks lime green) or DF wool.
Hackle: Brown partridge.
This pattern can also be leaded with two or layers of fine wire or flat lead strip under the body. This makes the fly fish hook up. The original body was also tied quite fat, but I prefer it slimmer. Richard Walker developed this pattern for fishing when green algae was about saying that the algae brought about hatches of lime green and brown larva – more than likely Chironomids – and that this pattern was particularly effective at such times – interesting, but the colour of this one (when in the water this material goes slightly darker) certainly makes it one to try in coloured water/low light conditions

French Partridge & Hare’s Ear
Hook: Wet fly, medium wire, size 12 to 16.
Tying thread: Yellow Micro – 8/0.
Body: Dubbed hare’s ear – very sparse and tapered.
Rib: Fine gold wire.
Hackle: French partridge, marginal or lesser covert feather.
This is one of my concoctions and, again, it’s non-specific. A good general nymph and emerger imitation which you can use, depending on the size, throughout the season on river and stillwater. It’s basically a Hare’s Ear with lots of extra movement, and that’s it! It works well. Give it a go. Fish it as a single fly, or as part of a team, either dead-drifted or using a slow retrieve. As ever, experiment all you like with presentation.


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