9 Deadly Spiders: Top fly patterns and fishing tips

Traditional, understated and so often underused, spider patterns are a must for any fly box. Turrall’s Dom Garnett provides a host of traditional and modern favourites and tips for river and stillwater fly fishing.


There are so many reasons to recommend spider patterns. They are simple to tie, yet so effective for various species. Thanks to their subtlety and excellent movement, they also work in tricky conditions and so even if I don’t start fishing with one, there are always a few ready in my box.

A small water rainbow is hooked on a spider fished just inches deep.

So what exactly is a spider? Traditionally, it is a fly consisting of little more than a thread body and a sparse, mobile hackle. In fact the Americans simply call them “soft hackles”. Flies that date back to the earliest fly fishing.

They are fished wet and tend to work well with very little retrieve. There is such natural movement in the “legs” made of hen, pheasant, starling or any various soft feathers, that they often need little manipulation from the angler. In fact they are a godsend in flat calm conditions, or where there is little movement in the current. I like them for days when the streams are running low and clear, and also for stillwater fishing when there is little wind.

Classic spider patterns

Traditional Spider fly patterns Turrall

For the ultimate in simplicity and traditional good looks, we should start with some of the basics. The Black and Peacock, Greenwell’s Spider and Black Spider (above) are three to have in any fly box. The Black and Peacock is probably my most used fly of all time, not just for wild trout for me, but large rudd, roach and even carp.

The Black Spider is another classic and about as simple as it gets: A black thread body, a hen hackle and that’s it! It remains an extremely versatile fly though. Fished in the top foot or two of water, it’s a great little fly during a buzzer hatch on lake or river.

Moving on to other spiders, some traditional patterns are more colourful and less realistic, such as the Partridge and Yellow (above L). These flies are useful in stained water or to ring the changes when drab flies won’t work.

Along with the traditionals, we also have some newer flies in the mix at Turrall, to target different species. Chris Ogborne’s Moorland Spider (above middle) is ideal for smaller streams, while my own Dace Ace is a tiny bead head to try for coarse species.

Spider fishing tips

River fly fishing Devon

-You don’t need to impart a lot of action into a spider. The movement is already there, so try fishing these flies with minimal retrieve. Fish at dead drift on the river, or as you’d fish a buzzer on stillwaters.

-Besides being fished wet, small spiders are also excellent fished in the surface film. Try applying some floatant and present a small dark spider on a fine leader; this can be a real frustration saver when fish are rising to tiny insects and bushy dry flies don’t work.

-You can fish them singly, but spiders also work well as part of a team. Try two or even three in different colours to see what the fish want. Because they are so light and sparse, they are not always suitable as a point fly.

– Don’t expect every take to be a line wrencher. Spiders are incredibly easy for fish to inhale and you may get quite subtle bites. Be ready to strike at anything suspicious.


Spiders are among the best patterns of all to try for different species. I love small dark spiders for roach, rudd and dace. That said, brighter colours are also great fly patterns for bluegills, crappies and other US “panfish”!

 

 

Three spiders to tie and try yourself…

Because they are so easy to tie, spiders are also fantastic to make and fill your fly boxes without spending weeks at the vice. That simplicity also makes the style of dressing hugely versatile, whether you tie large or small flies, or want to add your own twist. Here are three I’ve had great success with recently.


(
Three spiders to tie yourself. L to R: Spider sedge, JC Midge & Beaded Black and Peacock)

Spider Sedge

This is my ultimate wet fly for chub. Not what was originally intended though, because Spider Sedges are a very old pattern, originally tied in larger sizes and winged to be fished wet or just sub surface.

Hook: Nymph 10-12
Thread: Brown
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Olive Alpaca Dubbing
Thorax: Peacock
Wing: Woodcock slips
Hackle: Grizzle Hen

JC Midge

Adding a sparse hackle to your favourite buzzer patterns is a great trick for stillwater trout and this is a good fly when rainbows are feeding in the upper layers. Be sparing though; you just want a hint of legs so just one turn of hackle is usually more than enough. For coarse species or hatches of tiny midges, you can also try these right down in size 16 or 18.

Hook: Turrall Barbless Grub 12-16
Thread: Black
Rib: UV Multiflash
Body: Partially stripped peacock herl, fine.
Cheeks: Jungle cock
Hackle: Black cock (one turn only)

Beaded UV Black & Peacock

I just love this fly for coarse fish. Large rudd and roach are usually the target. The usual spiders also work, but for windy days, or when the bigger fish hold a little deeper and you have to get down to them, this is the daddy. It’s also the pattern responsible for my 2lbs 3oz PB rudd, caught this summer.

Hook: Turrall barbless grub
Bead: Metallic Red 2mm
Thread: Black
Tag: UV multiflash (pearl or red)
Body: 2 strands peacock herl
Hackle: Black hen (two turns max).


Spiders are fantastic for rudd; this canal fish took a beaded spider.

Fly tying tips for spider patterns

– Less is always more with spiders. This is especially the case with hackles. The old masters of river flies recommended two to two and a half turns of hackle, but modern feathers are so dense, one turn might be enough.

-Standard nymph hooks are ideal for spiders, but they also look great on short shank hooks- or even a curved pattern such as grub hook.

-A few basic feathers will set you in good stead. Whole capes are brilliant for getting a wide variety of fly sizes, but a few smaller packs of feathers makes a cheaper starting point. Hen is perhaps the easiest to find and use, closely followed by partridge. Traditional materials like woodcock and starling are also excellent and cheap if you can find them.

-The same is true with body materials. Keep dubbings sparse, so as not to lose that slim spider profile. That said, you can also add some special effects with just a hint of embellishment. A fine UV rib works well, while it’s no coincidence so many classic spiders have a touch of peacock.

– If you like to secure your materials with plenty of turns, a lighter thread is excellent for smaller spider patterns. It’s especially important to avoid bulk and not clog up the hook.

-To some extent, proportions are subject to taste. But spiders tend to have slightly short bodies (finish above hook point or barb), but if anything hackles tend to be slightly long.

– Try to tie your hackle feather so that the fibres point out at a lively angle, splayed out, like the spokes of an umbrella. Tied like this, they’ll really breathe, so avoid pinning them back or trapping with thread.

Further Reading

For anyone interested in tying the huge range of traditional patterns, or indeed the history of these classic flies, some other books are well worth a read:

A Guide to North Country Flies and How To Tie Them: 140 Flies with Step by Step Photographs (Mike Harding)

The North Country Fly: Yorkshire’s Soft Hackle Tradition
(Robert L. Smith)

Be sure to keep an eye on the Turrall Flies Facebook page for our latest news, tips and the latest fly patterns.

 

 

Grayling Fly Fishing Tips and Tactics

As the trout season draws to an end, river fly anglers turn their eyes to the Grayling. Chris Ogborne offers some top tips on how to tackle this enigmatic and beautiful fish.
*******

“Grayling were probably designed to keep fanatical anglers like me sane in the winter months.  The trout season seems a fading memory as we head for winter, but with winter fly fishing for grayling available all over the UK there’s absolutely no need to put the river gear into mothballs just yet.

Grayling fin detail close upGrayling add a dash of beauty to the ugliest winter day.

Contrary to popular belief, the prolific grayling is also far from being confined to the aristocratic chalk-streams of Hampshire and Wiltshire. They abound in rivers as diverse as the Tamar in Cornwall, the Welsh Dee, and as far away as the most Northerly waters of Yorkshire and over the border into Scotland.  It’s also far from being expensive and it’s easy to find a days fishing at a good less than you’d pay for a bank ticket on many stillwaters.

So let’s dispel some more of the myth and mystique.  Here are my top tips on how to get started and for getting the best out of winter Grayling:

******

1. Don’t write off dry flies

Start with dry flies for grayling, simply for the pleasure of it!  Grayling will respond to the sparsest of hatches and are always looking ‘up’ for their food.  They will rise even in appalling conditions and there are a host of stories of them coming up for snowflakes in mid winter.  If nothing is showing, try a bit of general prospecting with a Black Gnat, Red Tag or any dark up-wing pattern, but otherwise it’s a case of match the hatch with your nearest imitation.

Kilinkhamer Grayling fishing turrall

2. Try the deadly suspended nymph

This method is an absolute banker.  Use a big dry fly almost as a float, and suspend your nymph beneath it.  The leader length obviously depends on the depth of water you’re fishing, but  this method works even in very deep runs and holes. Crucially, it sharpens up your reaction time and turns plucks into takes!

3. Watch the water

It goes without saying that if you want to suss out how to catch grayling consistently, watercraft is as vital as with any fish. But it also pays to be aware of how and where they feed.  Grayling are shoal fish, so where you find one you’ll almost certainly find another  Walk the banks with caution and ALWAYS have your eyes on the water.  Polarising glasses are essential

wales_river_irfon Ben Garnett fishes the River Irfon, one of the UK’s best grayling waters.

4. Pecking order

Within the pools and runs you can usually find the bigger fish at the front of the shoal, at which point  they have first choice on food items brought down in the flow.  There’s a very obvious pecking order!  So make sure you have a good look in the pool rather than just casting blind, as this could give you a shot at a specimen fish

5. Weighted nymphs

Grayling will often hold in deep water so you’ll need some heavyweight nymphs to reach them.  In basic terms, you need to get the fly down to the fish so plenty of upstream ‘forward lead’ is called for.  A good tip to remember is that in clear water the fish are almost ALWAYS deeper than they look. If you’re struggling it can often pay to change the depth rather than changing your flies.

Beads, hooks graylingFor keen tyers, our range of brass and tungsten beads provide critical mass at great value.

6. Leader materials.

I use fluorocarbon for 90% of my grayling fishing. On occasion you may need to go fine if they’re being fussy, but for most of the time I’m happy on 5X for dries and most light nymph work, and maybe 4X for deep nymphs. In many of our smaller West Country rivers, you would struggle to work with much more than 10 feet of leader. On larger waters, however, French leaders are well worth trying in order to achieve greater depths and finer presentations.

7. Downstream spiders

For some strange reason, spider fishing seems to have gone out of fashion these days (although we have an exclusive blog on tying and fishing these classic flies on the way in the coming weeks!). This is a shame because it’s a fascinating and absorbing method.

Spiders for Grayling fishing

Downstream spider fishing is delicate, non-intrusive, and can help you reach pools that are unavailable with a more conventional cast.  Don’t be afraid to fish a team of spiders; it’s not uncommon for me to use three or even four on a cast, with the heaviest fly on point.

8. Wading is a must

As a general rule, I like to wade when I’m grayling fishing.  This avoids any skylining, because while not always the case they can be the ultimate in spooky fish on some days. But the real essence is that it puts you right down in the angling environment with them.

9. Don’t be a drag

Talking of wading, it can be hugely advantageous to position yourself so that flies track true and fairly straight between angler and fish. By this, we mean giving the flies a natural drift in the current, with plenty of time to sink to the optimum depth. The more awkward the cast and the more the flies are inclined to drag across the flow, the more reluctant the grayling will be to take.

10. Never fear the cold

Don’t let the weather put you off! Some of the best grayling fishing I’ve had has been on days when most sensible anglers have stayed at home!  They don’t mind the cold, they can positively relish rainy days, and I’ve taken loads of them when the snow has been lying on the ground.

River Itchen GraylingFortune favours the cold! This River Itchen fish took in spite of bitter easterly winds

*******

Turrall have a superb range of flies for all the methods outlined above, whether you pick and choose individual flies or go for a superb FlyPod or boxed collection of grayling specials (find them at quality fly stockists or order from one of our recommended online retailers)

bam02_grayling_selection

One last thing I’d stress is to take care of your catch, because grayling deserve respect. Crimping down your barbs and going barbless if at all possible makes total sense, as you’ll be releasing all the fish you catch.  Do also release them carefully, especially where they have fought hard. Support them in the water and be patient if they need a few seconds to recover and swim off. Do also note that while they provide great sport right through the winter, the grayling fishing season ends on March 16 in most areas; should you accidentally catch a fish in the spring when trout fishing, do release it quickly and carefully because it could be quite close to spawning.

For anyone who misses river fishing in the cooler months though, these fish are a godsend. If you haven’t yet been tempted to try the grayling, make a resolution to have a go this year.  Once you’ve caught one of theses lovely fish I guarantee that you’ll be hooked and it will re-define your thinking on what constitutes the closed season!”

Chris Ogborne
October 2016

(Additional images: Dominic Garnett)