Spiders for Survival - Fred Steynberg

Trout, whether alien in our waters or not, have over the past hundred years become an integrated part of our fresh water systems and millions of rand is poured into our country each year because their attraction to fly fishers. Fly fishing for trout is the cradle of fly fishing and it is surrounded by mysticism and history. It is said that fly fishing is one of the most written about sports or past-times ever and it surely has become the most popular ‘el fresco’ style recreation for a wide range of age groups. Trout is also on the top of the serious fly fishers list of fish to target on fly and rightly so. The reason for this is that one can never fully predict in what way a wild trout will react from one minute to the next, leaving us constantly challenged by them. We will interminably keep improving our skills and equipment to close the gap between us and these amazing creatures.

Trout have many different food sources at their disposal but these are often small and they need to consume a large amount to be able to grow and survive. In our waters they also do not have the luxury of mega hatches such as those found at specific times in other trout inhabited countries, where they gorge themselves on the abundance. Trout in our country have to become opportunistic and feed on a wide variety of terrestrial and aquatic food sources. Spiders, although rare are one of them and as distasteful as it might sound to us as humans, trout only see them as a vulnerable, soft and available morsel. Spiders are not as plentiful as say for example mayflies, midges or caddisflies, but when they are swept away by currents after landing up in the water, will be taken as food.  The stomach contents of trout have revealed signs of sporadic spider catches.

Spider patterns work especially well, if tied and fished correctly to sighted trout in clear mountain streams. These patterns should be fished up steam on floating lines with long, thin leader and tippet configurations. Spiders that fall into the water from streamside vegetation do not swim out of a current, but will usually wait until pushed onto some vegetation before climbing out of the water. Aquatic spiders run across the water in quick, fast concessions. I have found that the best technique to imitate spiders in general is to gently place the imitation a meter or two ahead of the feeding trout. The trout should recognize the imitation as a food source and gently sip it off the surface. I have often been amazed how gently spider patterns are eaten and the reason for this can only be that the trout understand that the spider is in a vulnerable position.

Some species of spiders that live and feed on the surface of the water are quick, extremely buoyant and agile and not as vulnerable as others. Even if incidentally bushed beneath the surface by turbulent water, large rain drops… they always trap an air bubble onto there body that pop’s them back up to the surface. Some even use an underwater swimming action to maneuver themselves into favorable positions.

Spider patterns that float beneath the surface should also produce fish, but the visual aspect of fish a floating spider excites me. This way of presenting a pattern to visual fish will also immediately show whether the fish reacts to the offering or not. If the sighted fish does not move to a well presented spider imitation then the pattern may not have the correct…or the fish is rather tuned into some other food source that is of abundant.

Sighted fish in clear water will however more often be alarmed by bad presentations or long casts that ultimately line the fish.

To build a buoyant spider pattern that will be recognize as a spider by trout I use a soft foam spider body that can be cut from closed sell foam or bought in pre cut shape.

The foam body is tied on a # 16 or 14 thin wire caddis/sedge hook. To ad to the visibility of the fly a white or brightly colored post is tied in. The post can be of any buoyant, high vise material but egg yarn, poly yarn or packaging foam will probably work best. The thorax of the spider is lightly dubbed black or brown CDC dubbing to add to the floatability of the fly and often the CDC traps air bubbles making it look like the real thing. A black or dark dun cock hackle, ‘under hackle’, is firstly tied in around the post. This hackle should be sparse, 2 wraps, and the fibers just longer than the gape of the hook.

 The legs are mottled brown partridge hackle sparsely wrapped around the base of post and it is necessary to have the tips of the hackle pointing down. The legs can be short but I prefer legs that stick out 15 – 20mm from the post. It is a good idea to pre-tread the hackle/legs of the spider pattern with Hydro-stop after the fly is tied as this should keep the fibers from soaking in water for a longer period of time.

Much has been written about the diets of trout, the way that they feed on specific food sources and when they feed on them. Wild trout can be extremely selective and often, during May or Caddis fly hatches, refuse any imitation but the one that fully represents the specific food source in shape, color, size and movement. This can frustrate angler’s immensely but never fails to bring back the angler that wants to present the right fly at the correct time. For many it is about catching the fish and the method is of lesser importance but for others, maybe purists, fly fishing is an art that thrives on patience, persistence and dedication.

This foam body spider pattern is a generic pattern that works amazingly well if presented correctly. For all intentional purposes specific spiders and there scientific names have not been mentioned as the generic pattern would rather simulate a range of different spider species. I find it useful to always have a couple of spider patterns in my fly box for a specific occasion when I do find a large fish looking around for something to eat in clear Mountain streams.