Bob Boese, Louisiana

November 10th, 2008

The Spider Fly
By Bob Boese, Louisiana

[Generic flies are simple-to-tie patterns that a novice tyer can accomplish and which requires less than four dressing components.]

Okay, eavesdropping is a bad habit. But there I am with a mouthful of biscuits and gravy when, wafting over the whoosh of the 60s air conditioner, comes a fly fishing conversation. Don't know the speaker, can't say if he knows a sculpin from a BWO, or if his roll cast looks like coils of garden hose, but I listen because he caught fish – which qualifies him as an expert. At least he says he did, and eavesdroppers chronically suspend reality to believe what they hear. So, like one of the fish of his tales, I am hooked.

Sipping water to look inconspicuous, I lean toward him, silently cursing other diners for clanking forks on their plates or having the audacity to hold conversations while I'm trying to overhear Mr. Caughtfish. In suspense filled tones he explains yesterday's wind and weather conditions, which everyone listening already knew, but he's the type that needs plenty of backdrop for his story. Paddle stroke by paddle stroke he drags us through the cypress trees until we reach a small opening between cattails and lily pads where his fly barely touches the water before it is engulfed by a gigantic bluegill. Cast after cast he drags huge panfish from that single hole without ever a missed fish or snagged limb. He describes incredible strikes and vicious attacks on the only fly he used, the greatest pattern since forever, it was a.…

The waitress asks if I need more anything and I jump a foot. She leaves, wondering why all the nuts sit at her tables and why I've allowed crust to form on my cooling gravy.

Still shaken, I actually drink some water, wishing it was something more spirited and I lean even further. Anyone looking would think my back had gone out, but all I care about is that the tale is continuing. He has somehow moved from his honeyhole to another open area where bluegill are dueling each other to jump on his line. His ice chest is bursting full of plate-sized fish, and all of this thanks to a single mystery fly. He regales his tablemates with more and larger fish caught until he finally took a breath and ate his pancakes. And then one of his tablemates starts another story.

"Wait!" I want to yell, "It's not your turn! What fly pattern?" But the next fisherman starts a tale of woe, filled with wasted hours and empty creels, all of which sounds too familiar. He's just using the wrong bait, declares Mr. Caughtfish and I see the waitress approaching. Desperately I wave her off and, as she shrugs and looks to the sky for help that's not coming, and behind me the mystery fly is revealed. I hear the secret in a nervous dither that turns to disbelief. No, it's not possible, I think. Stunned, I take a big drink of tepid water but, yes, it is true. In the two square feet of shelf space that is Wal-Mart's entire inventory of fly fishing equipment, Mr. Caughtfish found a sponge spider. He bought two, yellow with whiterubber legs, but one is so beaten up he's going back to get another. Figures it was about the best buck and a quarter he's ever spent.

The bits of orange pulp in my juice has gathered to the top and my gravy breakfast congealed to something resembling food served in the military. I signal for the check and leave a healthy tip, as if it would explain my insanity. Later, after hours of tying, I still have not produced a spider I am willing to show in public. And so I go to Wal-Mart, where, between dingy fly lines and aged plastic fly boxes, I find a small rack of yellow sponge spiders. I buy one and spend the next hours recreating it. And the more I tie the more I am confused. Panfish, particularly bluegill, have well recognized diets. Aquatic insects, insect larvae and crustaceans are their primary prey. Vegetation, fish eggs, small fish, mollusks, and snails and the occasional beetle or ant fill out the menu. Notice that the list does not include specific reference to spiders. Why?

Terrestrial spiders and water are not a common pair. True, there are water spiders that inhabit certain lakes and ponds, but, the real question is "just how often does a bluegill see a floating spider?" The answer is probably "never" unless a spider is blown out of a tree and has the misfortune to land in the immediate vicinity of a bluegill.

Then why is a sponge spider fly successful? The answer is: because it doesn't look anything like a spider.

Consider the silhouette a real spider presents. First, a spider has eight legs which splay around two oblong (sometimes tapered but not pointed) shapes: (1) the abdomen or belly (also called the opisthosoma) contains the heart, organs, and silk glands and (2) the cephalothorax , the fused head and thorax (also called the prosoma) contains the brain, jaws, eyes, stomach, and leg attachments. Do bluegill count legs? Probably not, which would explain why spider imitations have 4 or 6 legs. Also, a spider's legs are quite long in relation to the torso and have seven segments (of which we usually only notice three). Then why do many sponge spider flies have short straight stubby rubber legs? Dunno. Next, a spider has several pairs of tiny eyes located on top of the cephalothorax. Creators of spider flies with a single pair of large eyes on the sides of the thorax must know something I don't. Finally, a spider has pedipalps which are feelers attached to the front of the thorax that look like stubby legs, which we can only assume the hook eye is supposed to represent, or at this point does it matter?

Terrestrial spiders that have the bad luck to be on the water have a remarkable ability to walk on the surface film. They disturb very little of the surface as they skitter back to something solid. Under the best of circumstances, this is a very difficult action to accomplish with anything heavier than a stiffly hackled dry fly, and certainly not with sponge.

Note that soft hackles or other wet flies called "spider patterns" are intended to represent the water spider (an aquatic species), and certainly would appear to do so with more accuracy than floating varieties.

Which brings us back to the success of the sponge spider. Luck has as much — often more— to do with catching fish as logic. What the facts suggest is that a novice fisherman buying a sponge spider has the good luck to purchase a generic insect fly, that represents nothing in particular, and particularly not a spider. The sponge spider may look like a wasp, or bee, or caterpillar, or beetle, or maybe like nothing in nature at all. Bluegill probably don't consider that something that only sort of looks like something to eat might be something else. It is the same inexplicable attraction that makes spinnerbaits or stimulator flies work. Inexplicable, as in can't be explained.

What we can presume to know is that luck is involved, and such luck has to include something approaching the right size and color. Even a carelessly delivered and retrieved fly that presents a tempting profile can catch fish. Consequently, you would think that if the sponge spider fly will work, so should any other reasonable insect imitation in your fly box. Not so. The spider is so generic it defies bluegill senses to determine if is something they don't want to eat. And, given the choice, bluegill will chose to eat it.


    Hook: standard dry fly hook #8-14.

    Thread: Flat waxed nylon (same color as the foam)

    Body (abdomen and thorax): sheet (fun) foam.

    Legs: round rubber.

    1. Lay a layer of thread along the entire hook shank. This serves to help gluing and to color the shank to match the fly.

    2. (Optional for 8 legged version) Lay two round rubber legs along the hook shank with about ½ in. extending past both the hook eye and over the bend. Use a figure 8 pattern to tie down the legs and give them a "V" shape.

    3. Gently wrap over the shank the shank is completely covered with thread making a smooth finish of thread.

    4. Bring the thread to ¼ distance down the shank from the hook eye.

    5. Cut a small strip of fun foam (about 3/8") shaped like a .22 long rifle bullet .

    6. Put a light coating of Super Glue on the thread covered shank.

    7. Lay the foam on the hook shank with the end of the taper just past the bend.

    8. Tie down the foam letting it bend slightly around the hook shank. (You have now segmented the foam and the tapered end will be the spider's abdomen.)

    9. Take the thread straight under the foam to the eye of the hook and tie down the foam at that point, making a round shape between the first tie down and the eye of the hook.

    10. Trim off excess foam.

    11. Move the thread (again under the foam) back to the first tie-down location and using "X" technique tie in a leg on either side of the foam.

    12. Move the thread (under the foam) back to the eye and whip finish and coat with Hard As Nails.


    Hook: 2X nymph hook #12-16.

    Thread: Flat waxed nylon (black or brown).

    Bead: colored to match thread

    Legs: soft hackle to match thread

    1. Put the bead on the hook and work to the eye.

    2. Wrap the hook shank with thread in 3-4 layers until a smooth thread body has been created.

    3. Tie in a soft hackle and wrap 3 times.

    4. Whip finish behind bead. ~ Bob

About Bob:

Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health, has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518 or call 337.856.7890 or email

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