Turrall Top Tips: Soft & Deadly Spider Patterns

Turrall Top Tips: Soft & Deadly Spider Patterns

Whether you target trout, grayling or coarse fish, spider style fly patterns are uniquely deadly! Dom Garnett has some tactical advice for various settings along with fresh fly patterns to tie yourself.


Only a handful of materials are needed to tie perfect spiders!

Ever since I started tying my own flies around 20 years ago, I’ve been a huge fan of spider style fly patterns. They are not only easy on the eye, but so beautifully simple. Furthermore, they’re versatile, easy to fish and easy to tie. So, why is it that so few anglers beyond river traditionalists seem to use them? 

Many years after tying my first spider, I am still learning more about these flies, which so often are a meeting point between tradition and new ideas and materials. Fresh applications and patterns keep coming- and there probably isn’t any time of year when I don’t find a good use for classic looking soft hackled flies.

Action all seasons!


Martin King plays a lively fish after presenting a spider on a long leader.

Actually, this includes right now, as we enter the damp, dingy months of the year. On a recent trip to Simpson Valley Fishery in North Devon, just a short haul from Turrall HQ, I was keen to help fledgling fly angler Martin King broaden his array of skills and fly patterns.

Setting up with two flies on a 15ft leader, I just had to start with soft hackles! Indeed, I often use such flies in much the same way as you’d fish a buzzer. While it was wet in patches, we got a perfect “corduroy ripple” on Skylark lake.

The first lesson was not to avoid the wind- and it made perfect sense to fish towards the end nof the lake where the breeze was pushing, letting the flies swing across. And within just a handful of casts he had his first pull and a hooked fish. 

Dark spiders are excellent for stillwater nymphing. You can use them exactly as you would buzzers!

The next take was even more exciting, turning up on “the hang”. It was as if the trout had been trained! I’d just been advising Martin to slow down the end of the retrieve and really take his time with the last few feet when… wallop! Like other small nymphs, spiders work wonderfully on the hang, as they look really attractive when suspended or gently lifted. I also suspect that those lovely soft materials encourage the fish to hang on a split second longer.

While not every fish came to the spiders (we also used standard buzzers on the cast and spent time pulling a damsel), it was the soft hackles that caught the first, last and best fish, with several presentations working.

When conditions changed and we suspected the fish had come up in the water, for instance, a switch of tactics to “New Zealand dropper” worked a treat (i.e. suspending a spider 18” beneath a buoyant dry fly). Although generally thought of as a river tactic, this is a brilliant tactic on small stillwaters on any occasion you suspect the fish are marauding the upper layers.

Very well angled from Martin on a breezy, changeable day! Here were the two spider patterns that worked best for us:


Hook: Turrall Barbless Sproat (12-16)

Thread/ body: Black
Rib: Turrall UV Enhancer
Cheek: Fluorescent orange yarn

Hackle: Black hen

This is basically a buzzer body with a spider hackle. It was intended for rainbow trout, but I would have no hesitation to use it on browns, or indeed rudd. The UV enhancer gives a lovely effect and increasingly I prefer this to traditional tinsels. Go sparingly with the hackle- one and a half turns is plenty!



Hook: Turrall Barbless Sproat (12-16)

Thread: Black
Rib: Turrall UV enhancer
Body: Hemingways Holo Flat Tinsel (green)
Cheek: Jungle Cock

Hackle: Black hen

“Clock” is old English parlance for a beetle- and this was originally intended for brown trout. However, it also seems to be a decent small stillwater pattern- and excellent as a middle or top dropper. Add some varnish to the body for durability.

Back to the river…

We might be past the river trout season by now, but I also wanted to include two running water ties in this article. First up is a slight variation on the Woodcock and Hare’s Lug. Mainly because this is so universally useful and deadly on its day! I’d happily fish this for anything from stream brownies to weed browsing carp.


Hook: Turrall Barbless Sproat 14-16

Thread: Hemingway’s yellow body
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Sparsely dubbed hare’s ear
Thorax: Hemingways UV flash dub (peacock)

Hackle: Brown Hen  

Another pattern to use hen. Why this as a hackle? Well, admittedly, traditional materials like woodcock, snipe and starling are wonderful, but hen is easier to use and much more readily available. Furthermore, Turrall do a perfect “Mrs Simpson” hen pack, which gives you enough feathers for stacks of flies at under a fiver.

You could tie and fish this pattern various ways in all honesty, but key to getting the desired effect you should go sparingly on the dubbing, so that your bright under-thread shows through (Hemingway’s shown here- but you could also go classic Pearsall’s silk). As with all spiders, less is more, and you get a gorgeous buggy, contrasting effect.

When it comes to fishing any smaller river, I find spiders brilliant for difficult conditions- and I would especially reach for them when the water is low and the going is tricky. Sparse traditional patterns are especially good for dropping to the edges of pools when the fish are wary and current is minimal, because you know a spider will “breathe” even in near static water. On the sort of days even the plop of a bead sends them packing, that subtle outline is a winner.

Here’s another lovely pattern to try- useful for those times the fish want a paler, natural looking fly:


Hook: Turrall Barbless Sproat (14-16)

Thread/ Body: Hemingway’s light yellow

Thorax: Peacock

Hackle: Brown hen

You’ll notice I’ve gone with Turrall’s Barbless Sproat pattern for all these spiders. I love this hook: it has good proportions and is sticky-sharp! That said, I also tie quite a few spiders on wide gape nymph and buzzer hooks.

Next spring feels a long way away, I grant you, but these patterns are so simple and satisfying to tie, it’s great fun to try your own experiments- and you can fill a fly box in no time.

Mind you, for those who don’t want to wait till March to hit the rivers, another good use for spiders is on grayling- and very often a good combination is a heavier, beaded point fly with a spider on the dropper above. In fact I’m looking forward to trying these on some hard-fished grayling water shortly- just the ticket where fish have seen too many large, conspicuous patterns! 

Of course, you needn’t follow my instructions to the letter- and one of the joys of spiders is that with minimal outlay and a few very simple materials you have so many possibilities. Some black hen, some brown hen, peacock herl and some different coloured threads and you have all you need to get going.

Most of my biggest rudd, including this PB of 2lbs 10oz, have been tempted on spiders.

The rest is up to you, but I fish these flies with confidence just about everywhere. You know it’s a successful blueprint when the same breed of fly produces rainbows, browns, carp and even specimen rudd. Happy spider-ing! 

For more tips spider patterns, including a selection of classics to find at Turrall fly stockists.

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