Fly-tying for beginners part 1: The Black & Peacock Spider

If you’ve just started learning to tie flies, take heart, you needn’t be an expert to create really effective fish catchers! In this new mini series of step-by-step fly-tying guides, fishing author Dom Garnett shows us a handful of his favourite “simple but deadly” flies.

Tying your own flies

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The black & peacock spider.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

The world of fly-tying can seem a pretty bewildering place these days. From the starting point of a hook and thread, the possibilities and sheer range of materials are vast. Some anglers can tie incredible works of art or amazingly detailed insect replicas. But there’s nothing wrong with keeping things simple.

If you’re after fly-tying tips for beginners, the patterns in this series should prove nice and easy to tie. That said, there’s no harm in more experienced tyers getting back to basics. I’ll also show you how, with just a little tweak here and there, some really simple, quick flies can be incredibly versatile – and well worth a second look!

What is a spider fly?

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The simple ingredients: you just need a hook, thread, peacock herl and hen feather.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

For those new to fly-tying, spiders are simple, soft-hackled flies with a rich tradition in the UK. They’re not perfect insect replicas (and in spite of the name, they don’t copy actual spiders), but suggestive creations, often with just a thread body and “legs” fashioned from feather fibres. Perhaps this is why they’re so useful?

The Black and Peacock Spider has to be one of the most classic, versatile flies of all time. No other fly has caught me such a huge variety of fish, from wild brown trout to rudd, roach and carp. It’s also lovely and simple to tie. With a bit of practice you can turn one out in less than five minutes. Just as well, because I get through dozens every season.

Here’s what you need:

Hook: Wide gape nymph, grub or buzzer, size 12-16
Thread: Black
Tag (optional): Contrasting tinsel or wool of your choice
Body: Peacock Herl
Hackle: Black hen

How to make the black & peacock spider: step-by-step

making a black and peacock spider fly - Run some black thread onto the hook, leaving a little gap behind the eye. Pinch in place, until a few turns of thread catch in securely.

STEP 1: Run some black thread onto the hook, leaving a little gap behind the eye. Pinch in place, until a few turns of thread catch in securely. Trim the loose end if necessary.

making a black and peacock spider fly - Run the black thread in neat, touching turns down the hook shank. If you want to add a “butt” or “tag” of brighter colour at the rear, now is the time to catch it in. I’ve used red UV tinsel here.

STEP 2: Now run the black thread in neat, touching turns down the hook shank. If you want to add a “butt” or “tag” of brighter colour at the rear, now is the time to catch it in. To keep the body even, use a long strip of material and trap all the way down the back. I’ve used red UV tinsel here.

making a black and peacock spider fly - Pick out a couple of strands of peacock herl. Pick finer pieces for a tiny fly, or go thicker for a bigger, bushier number. Stroke the fibres back with your fingers so they fluff out

STEP 3: Pick out a couple of strands of peacock herl. Pick finer pieces for a tiny fly, or go thicker for a bigger, bushier number. Stroke the fibres back with your fingers so they fluff out, as above.

making a black and peacock spider fly - tie in the peacock herl, clamping down right the way down the back of the hook shank to keep things nice and even.

STEP 4: Now tie in the peacock herl, clamping down right the way down the back of the hook shank to keep things nice and even. If you tie just by the “tips” you get an uneven less secure body, so go right down the hook and bring the thread back to the rear of the fly.

making a black and peacock spider fly - wrap the thread around the peacock strands to trap the peacock in place and make it secure.

STEP 5: Next, we wrap the thread around the peacock strands. You don’t absolutely have to do this, but doing so traps the peacock in place better and makes for a much more secure fly, that won’t unravel after a fish or two.

making a black and peacock spider fly - wrap the thread and peacock from back to front in even turns. Once you’re a short distance from the eye, trap the peacock in place tightly with 2-3 turns of the black thread as shown. Leave a little gap here and don't crowd the head of the fly

STEP 6: Wrap the thread and peacock from back to front in even turns, like this. Once you’re a short distance from the eye, trap the peacock in place tightly with 2-3 turns of the black thread as shown. It’s important to leave a little gap here, because we don’t want to crowd the head of the fly (or it will be difficult to tie onto our leader).

making a black and peacock spider fly- trim off the peacock as tight as you can.

STEP 7: Trim off the peacock as tight as you can. If you’re new to fly-tying I can’t over-emphasise the need for a quality, sharp pair of scissors here! Don’t be a skinflint, because fine-tipped scissors are a fly-tyer’s best friend and make the job much easier.

making a black and peacock spider fly - Now take a black hen feather. Fibres that are 2-3 times the width of the hook gape look about right. Gently tease out the feather fibres and strip a little at the front with your thumb nail, so it’s easy to tie in

STEP 8: Now take a black hen feather. A small pack of feathers should tie several flies without breaking the bank. Choose a feather where the fibres or “spikes” are in proportion to the hook size. Fibres that are 2-3 times the width of the hook gape (the gap between the hook point and the shank above) look about right. Prepare it by gently teasing out the feather fibres and stripping a little at the front with your thumb nail, so it’s easy to tie in, as above.

making a black and peacock spider fly- tie in place as shown , with two or three nice tight turns of thread, just behind the eye.

STEP 9: Tie in place as shown, with two or three nice tight turns of thread, just behind the eye.

making a black and peacock spider fly - Holding the end of the feather, wrap it around in two neat, tight turns, so that the feather fibres splay out like the spokes of an umbrella. Hackle pliers make the job easier. Just make two wraps and trap the feather in place with another 2-3 turns of thread. Trim off the excess.

STEP 10: Now for the slightly trickier part. Holding the end of the feather, wrap it around in two neat, tight turns, so that the feather fibres splay out like the spokes of an umbrella. Hackle pliers (a tool which keep the feather pinched in place) can make the job easier if you’re struggling.
It’s tempting to make loads of wraps, but just make two before carefully trapping the feather in place with another 2-3 turns of thread! So often in fly tying, less is more because sparser materials move better and won’t crowd the fly. Once you’re happy, you can trim off the excess.

Easy_Flies_Black_&_Peacock_FINISHED_FLY

STEP 11: All that’s left to do is finish the fly. A whip finish tool is the tidiest way to do this – it’s not easily explained in words, so take a look at one an online tutorial, such as this one by Peter Gathercole. If you’re struggling, or don’t have the right tool, you could always just varnish, leave to dry and then carefully trim off with scissors (the fish won’t mind and we won’t tell anyone).

There we have it, job done! One of the easiest flies to tie for beginners, but also one that experienced anglers still swear by.

Further ideas and useful variations

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Three useful variations.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

So, hopefully with a bit of practice, you’ll be tying these simple flies quickly and your efforts will get tidier. Don’t worry if your first few attempts are a bit messy – the fish don’t mind a great deal as this isn’t a super “fussy” or accurate fly. Whether you fish it gently, just letting it swing round in the breeze, or pull it like a loch style fly, it’s a great pattern.

Once you’ve cracked the basic tying, you might like to experiment with some simple variations. Try different models and sizes of hook. Small, fine hooks and sparse dressings can be useful for low, clear water and finicky feeders. Bigger brutes, on the other hand, are great for blustery days and aggressive fish. Of course, different weights and sizes of hook will also give you very different sink rates.

My favourite twists are:

  • Add a small bead (above left) for a faster sinking fly.
  • Tie a little sparser with a red tinsel rib and lighter hook (above middle), which works excellently for trout feeding in the upper layers.
  • Tie more boldly, with a red tag and perhaps a thicker body (above right) which is great for loch style fishing.

Above all, have fun and, I repeat, don’t worry if your early efforts are a bit unkempt. I guarantee you’ll still catch fish! Happy tying and keep an eye out for more patterns this summer. Next time, I’ll show you a simple but brilliant dry fly to tie yourself.

Read more from Dom Garnett

Regular Fishtec blogger Dom Garnett can also be caught every week in the Angling Times, while you can also find more on his site www.dgfishing.co.uk and the Angling Trust’s Lines on the Water blog.