Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Spider and the Fly (Tier)

Bob Mead is well-known within the world of fly-tying for his ultra-realistic renditions of ladybugs, mosquitoes and praying mantises, made with traditional fly-tying materials and techniques. They look so real, people have been known to swat them at fly shows.

Mead’s skill at the vise will have a much larger audience come January. He was commissioned three weeks ago to tie two hook-less black widow spiders for an episode of “Royal Pains,” the USA network TV show about a doctor to the rich and famous in the Hamptons.

The scene with Mead’s creepy spider was filmed Aug. 30, said Ruth DiPasquale, propmaster for the show. “We shot it today, on a stunt person’s back,” she said. “They’re astounding. Who better to make an insect than a fly tier?”

The plot involves a black widow stinging a character and knocking her unconscious when she’s on the verge of winning a golf tournament. Enter handsome young Dr. Hank Lawson, played by Mark Feuerstein. Presumably he saves the day, but we’ll have to wait until the show airs in January to know for sure.

DiPasquale isn’t a fly-fisher, but she had been in a similar situation – needing a fake bumblebee for TV — once before, two years ago. Apparently, it’s not as easy as you might think to find a model bug that looks real enough for the cameras. Someone suggested she seek out a fly-tier, and after many phone calls, she ended up hiring a tier from New England for the bumblebee episode.

“So when this (the black widow episode) came up, I said, ‘Oh, I have to find a fly tier,’” she said. A Google search for a fly tier in New York turned up Fran Betters, the late sage of the West Branch of the Ausable. Betters died last year, but he wouldn’t have been the right guy for the job anyway. His flies caught fish like crazy, but no one ever called them ultra-realistic.

However, Betters had been friends with Mead for years, and when DiPasquale called, Betters’ wife, Jan, who still runs Fran’s fly shop in the Adirondacks, said, “You don’t need us. You need Bob Mead,” and gave her Mead’s phone number.

“I hadn’t tied a spider in nearly two decades, but they are pretty simple, and I said okay, I’d do it,” Mead said. “Then she said she needed two, one as a backup, and that they had to be in her office by Monday the 23rd.”

“I spent the first day and parts of each succeeding day doing a lot of thinking and doodling of just what I would do, what I would use, how I would tie it, sans hook of course, and had a pretty good idea of how it would go before I started,” he said. “As simple a fly as it is, at least a half dozen mini problems presented themselves as I created the spider.”

He even attached a single, all-but-invisible thread teased from a stocking that could be pulled to give the spider a little movement.

DiPasquale marveled at the way the natural materials used in fly-tying help produce such lifelike results. “The legs are made of porcupine quills,” she said. “They’re absolutely gorgeous.”

Mead, who’s retired, may have found a new line of work. “He’s in my book now,” DiPasquale said. “He’s the go-to guy when you need an insect. He was quite a find, and I’m just thrilled to have these two icky, creepy works of art.”

The Daily Gazette, Sept. 2, 2010

Fish at Your Feet

I’ve had a couple of opportunities recently to speak with Loren Williams, the head coach of the U.S. youth fly-fishing team and a veteran member of the men’s team.
Williams, who lives in Westvale, near Syracuse, is generous with his know-how. I highly recommend his website,, for its excellent fly-tying tutorials and fishing advice. Information and inspiration abound.
Williams makes his living as a guide, mainly on the hard-fished Salmon River in Oswego County, helping anglers hook into powerful steelhead, acrobatic coho salmon and big Chinook salmon. So whether it’s in international competition against the best fly-fishers from around the world or out on the river with paying clients and fish that have seen it all, Williams is accustomed to finding ways to catch fish when the pressure’s on.
So I asked him: what is the most common mistake that anglers make?
Do you think he said using flies that don’t look enough like real bugs? No. In fact, Williams feels that to a large extent, imitating nature too closely is a poor strategy, for a simple reason: If your fly looks exactly like, say, a Blue-Winged Olive nymph, then it becomes just another bug in an aquatic environment full of them. It may never even be noticed by a trout.
“ I’m throwing imitation out the window,” he said. “To me, flies are little lures.”
“I want the fish to be attracted to the fly. If I feel like I have to fool the fish into taking my fly, then I’m competing against every other natural fly in the stream and the odds go down. As I grow as an angler, I’m starting to see the benefits of setting my fly apart from everything else, as long as it still looks like some kind of food.”
Keep in mind that Williams was talking about sub-surface nymph fishing. He may take a more orthodox approach to dry-fly fishing. But in any case, using the wrong fly wasn’t even close to his answer to my question. Nor did he say people fished at the wrong time of day, in the wrong weather or with an insufficiently natural drift (although that is another subject where Williams is unconventional.)
No, he said the biggest mistake most anglers make was to not bother fishing water that didn’t look “fishy” enough.
“I wish people would learn how to fish more of the water in front of them,” he said. “I think the tendency I see from recreational anglers and my clients is they want to go comfortable water – the kind of water they’ve fished successfully before. They overlook an awful lot of fish and a lot of great experiences, and they don’t learn any new techniques.”
“Whatever kind of water you look at and the hair stands up on the back of your neck and you want to run away from it, that’s great water to attack. Sometimes there’s a reason it’s not being fished, and it’s not because there are no fish in it. Having the ability to fish frog water or skinny water or heavy, deep water opens up a lot more avenues for you.”
“When you compete, you don’t have your choice of water types, you have the water that’s in front of you,” he added. “You do the best you can in the three hours you have.
This is not to say you should waste your time fishing water where you can see with certainty that there are no fish. But except for very shallow, clear water, there aren’t many places like that. Trout count for their survival on being hard to see.
“The fish are there,”Williams said. “It’s a comment I hear a lot: ‘That’s water I never would have fished, and I’m glad I did.’”

–First published in The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y., Aug. 26, 2010