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

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