How many times have you been asked to consider the question ‘What is your favourite fly?’ An impossible one to answer because it depends on so many factors. My favourite fly is the one that best matches the fish’s food type at the specific time; obviously the one that will catch the fish. That’s a cheating answer though I suppose. However, there is another way to look at the posed question. ‘Which fly would you least want to be without?’ " />


The Foundations of Tying Spiders by Dave Wiltshire

Articles, Fly Patterns, Step-by-Step Tutorials — By on May 14, 2009 10:47 am

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How many times have you been asked to consider the question ‘What is your favourite fly?’ An impossible one to answer because it depends on so many factors. My favourite fly is the one that best matches the fish’s food type at the specific time; obviously the one that will catch the fish. That’s a cheating answer though I suppose. However, there is another way to look at the posed question. ‘Which fly would you least want to be without?’

Consider your answer. Can it imitate a range of food-types? Does it give the illusion of life? Will it take a nymphing fish? Could it be used as a dry fly? Is it quick and easy to tie? If there is one fly that matches all of these demands, then it must surely be the spider (soft-hackle). Fish it wet, at depth, in the top few inches or even greased and in the surface film: it is a highly versatile pattern. However, what makes this fly so significant is that it can be tied using the minimum of materials with the minimum of fuss. You can develop it as much as you like with dubbed bodies and ribs, but the foundations of tying the fly remain the same. An effective, all-round fishing fly tied with just silk and a hackle feather. It’s easy to see why these patterns have stood the test of time and now carry so much history.

So here’s a basic sequence to tying a neat, soft-hackled fly. Foundations upon which a great many pattern can be tied:

Hook: Grip 12003 #12
Thread: Pearsall’s Silk, waxed
Hackle: Hen
Dubbing: Optional

1. Catch in the Silk just behind the eye of the hook

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2. Strip the soft, downy fibres from the stem of the hackle feather and catch in the hackle feather with its front facing downwards

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3. Wind the thread down the shank, carefully trapping the original silk tag and the stem of the feather

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4. Now wind the silk backup the body in even turns to form a rib. You can dub this thread first if you wish.

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5. Keeping the silk behind the hackle, wind two turns of hackle. Folding the fibres backwards as you wind will help keep all the fibres sweeping backwards over the fly. When you have the required hackle, bring the thread through the hackle at a steep angle (450) to behind the eye. Make one turn of silk over the hackle stem to secure it.

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6. Whip finish and varnish

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So, whether tied in its simplest form or with a more detailed approach, simple tying can be the foundation of elegant, adaptable and very effective flies.

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Dave keeps a regular update of his fishing and tying on his blog: http://davewiltshireflytying.blogspot.com/

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The Foundations of Tying Spiders by Dave Wiltshire, 9.5 out of 10 based on 4 ratings

21 Comments

  1. peter says:

    You use the word spider and soft-hackle interchangeably. Doesn’t spider more commonly refer to a dry version with long stiff hackles?

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  2. I catch more fish over more situations with soft hackle flies than with any other type. They are deadly for everything from cutthroats to rainbows to steelhead.

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  3. Robin says:

    Spiders are so simple and beautiful. That they also catch fish makes it all the better!

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  4. Serge Q says:

    Soft hackle and all their variant have been around long before the `dry`was born, but to some anglers they are not fly and are look down. To me they are 95% of the time tied to my leader the rest of the time you will find a streamer attach

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  5. duane a dunham says:

    My picture in the current Flyfisher is of me fighting a 27″ trout, taken sight fishing with a #14 Grouse and Olive, while author Joe Warren flung his huge streamers and caught smaller fish. Try the March Brown Spider as excellent searching fly.

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  6. dwiltshire says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone. It’s great to read that the spider / soft-hackles are still such widely used and favourite patterns.

    Peter, the term ‘spider’ is meant here as wet fly tied with a soft game or hen hackle. The traditional ‘North Country Spiders’ are still firm favourites and are steeped in angling history. Many of these are usually simple patterns tied with a just a hackle, Pearsall’s silk and sparse (if any) dubbing. I have used ‘soft hackle’ to encompass all flies using game or hen hackles, including flymphs and a wide range of wet flies that may have a variety of dubbing, tails, wings etc.

    My intention was to highlight the versatility, but also the simplicity, of these patterns. I hope you agree that they are hugely productive flies.

    DW.

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  7. Jan Johansen says:

    Nice Pattern but not really a spider fly, to many turns of the hackle and spider traditional flies do not have tails. I am not knocking the tier please look at snipe and purple waterhen bloa partrige and orange traditional north country spider patterns, deadly on Brooks and rivers even still waters. thanks Jan johansen

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  8. dwiltshire says:

    Hi Jan,

    The step by step is there to show the basics for the traditional spider. You’ll notice there is no tail and just 2 turns of hackle. As you read it, you’ll hopefully notice that the point in my writing is to suggest the more elaborate flymphs and soft hackle (tails, more hackle etc) are all offspring of the simplest design and form of the traditional spider.

    You are certaibnly correct that these flies are excellent on all types of water.

    ~DW

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  9. Uncle Barry says:

    Good morning.
    Another simple yet beautiful Spider fly.
    Just beautiful and yet so simple, why do people build complex flies that cannot perform as well as a simple and deadly Spider, when will fly tiers ever learn ?

    Thank you for helping expose to the World the Spider.
    Kind regards,
    UB

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  10. Bob Mansel says:

    How do you fish these spiders when the fish are holding on the bottom
    in fast riffels four feet deep.

    Thanks bob

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  11. Dave Wiltshire says:

    UB, I’m really pleased you like the spiders and soft hackles.

    Bob: I fish these in a variety of ways. Sometimes across the surface – down and across. Other times, upstream and dead -drift.

    You could fish them with another, heavier fly on the leader too, to give you the required ballast and depth. A sacrificial nymph perhaps.

    Keep experimenting,
    DW.

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  12. Jan Henrickson says:

    Really great article. I really love soft-hackles, so versitile!
    Great flies!

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  13. Ed Mayes says:

    As I am new to both flyfishing & tying, I was excited when I found your website. I am from USA (Indiana)and fish for panfish. I now will be tying your simple version in the future. Thanks & have a great day. ED

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  14. Marc says:

    Could you describe in detail your leader design: material, lenght, dropper length and spacing etc. for fishing spiders? And how you change/adapt for differing conditions? Thanks, Marc

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  15. upstate tj. says:

    so many different soft hackle,wet’s,flymph’s,spider’s. all from one little soft hackle spider, awesome. i fish soft hackle’s everywhere for everything. if interested in new and old info on soft hackle’s, i find “allen mcgee’s, tying and fishing soft hackles” to be an excellent book. also contains some great patterns including spider’s.

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  16. upstate tj. says:

    so many different soft hackle,wet’s,flymph’s,spider’s. all from one little soft hackle spider, awesome. i fish soft hackle’s everywhere for everything. if interested in new and old info on soft hackle’s, i find “allen mcgee’s, tying and fishing soft hackles” to be an excellent book. also contains some great patterns including spider’s. p.s. nice article and tutorial, thanks dave.

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  17. CM_Stewart says:

    Very nice article and step-by-step instruction. The movement of the soft hackle is really very effective at giving the impression of life. It is interesting that in the Italian Alps and in the mountains of Japan, anglers independently developed soft hackle flies with the hackle sloping forwards, over the hook eye rather than backwards towards the hook bend. When the flies are twitched, the hackles pulse open and closed rather than streaming straight back.

    As you say, elegant, adaptable and very effective.

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  18. TGHORAN says:

    In answer to Peter above. Yes, there is a ‘dry’ spider. It was the first fly I ever saw tied at a Sportsman’s show over 50 years ago…next day I was off buying material.
    It was tied on a 4x or 5x short shank hook,
    (Mustad 9459) Using a spade hackle from the neck…something you dont find on modern necks because they trim them off (to make a neater looking package ?).
    Anyways…no tail, just a spade hackle wrapped on the hook about 10 or 12 times, convex side forward or some tied it with 2 hackles…the back hackle was tied convex side back, the front hackle convex side forward.
    When looked at from the front the fly was about the size of a half dollar. Most I saw were either tied of brown or furnace hackle.

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  19. Bill H says:

    (To TGHORAN)…Actually, Hewitt tied his original Spiders with the rear-most hackle’s concave side forward and the forward hackle with the concave side towards the rear ( ) so that the fly sat on the tips of the hackles. Stored properly, ( in a shallow fly box with the eye down in some soft open-cell foam) when the lid of the box closes it actually pushes the hook bend straight down and causes no damage to the hackle. Hewitt often moistened the tips of the hackle with fly cement and formed them into points kind of like today’s gelled Mohawk hair styles.

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  20. Thanks for all the comments. Really pleased to read of peolpe’s interest.

    Marc: Another article will be on its way about fishing these flies with descriptions of leaders and droppers etc.

    ~Dave

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  21. Tom Gibbons says:

    Hello Mr.Wiltshire, Your flys are an inspiration, would you please tell me from where on the hen those “very sutle dun colored hackle feathers”come, for the “Shrouded March Brown”? This article on Spiders,is compelling and the many replys bear it out. Thanks,Tom.

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