A Better Spent Spinner

Those swarming, dancing insects are mating mayflies called spinners! This new pattern matches almost all medium to large spinners.

[by Barry Clarke]

IDENTIFYING A MAYFLY SPINNER FALL CAN BE ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING SITUATIONS AN ANGLER CAN EXPERIENCE. It’s all about breaking the code and reading the signs. It is somewhat easier to recognize the spinner fall of larger mayflies, such as green drakes. These insects are so big we can see them at a greater distance floating in a lifeless, crucifix-like posture on the surface of the water. Sometimes there are so many spent green drake spinners they cover the entire surface of the river. Smaller, darker, and sometimes transparent species of mayfly spinners, however, are often more difficult to see, even at close quarters.

Mayflies are known for their short lives, with some species having less than an hour to find a mate and deposit their eggs before dying. After the initial hatch, the first sign of the spinner fall will be high above you in the air. Look for the swarming, dancing, mating mayflies above the treetops.


Hook: Mustad R43, size to match the insect you are imitating.
Thread: Tan or olive 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Mallard flank fibers.
Wing: Drake mallard flank feather.
Abdomen: Stripped peacock quill.
Wing case: Polypropylene yarn.
Thorax: Cul de canard.


After mating, the swarming will become sparser. The male mayflies are drained of energy and fight to stay airborne, but they gradually float down closer to the water, where they will die and lie with wings and tails outstretched on the surface. The females, which hatch later than the males, have a little more energy and often fly upstream to lay their eggs. The current then carries this cargo downstream to be deposited in the same stretch of riverbed where the insects began their lives as nymphs. Finally, the exhausted females fall to the surface of the water and die. The spinner fall is completed.

After examining the surface and seeing no spent spinners, look for steadily rising fish. Smaller fish can become quite wild at the beginning of a spinner fall, making splashy rises and even leaping into the air to grab the spinners as they fall. As day turns into night, the spent spinners will begin to drown and become trapped and slightly sink into the surface film. Now the larger fish will begin feeding on the dying insects. The rise will not be big and splashy, but more of a lazy sip or slow head-andtail riseform. Larger, experienced trout seem to know that there is no escape for these dead and drowning mayflies.

TYING AN ADAPTABLE SPENT SPINNER As with most fly patterns, there are many ways—both simple and more advanced—for tying an imitation of a spent spinner. This pattern represents no specific species, but with just tiny alterations in size and color, you can create a good representation for matching most medium to large mayflies. The most time-consuming part of making this pattern is coating the body with light-activated resin.

The Wally Wing technique I use takes a little time to master, but once you have tried it a few times, it will become smooth sailing! You can use most types of medium-sized waterfowl flank and breast feathers for the wings, but make sure they are of good quality. I normally tie Wally Wings a little larger than needed and then trim them to the correct size when the fly is finished.

Clarke’s Spent Spinner

Barry Clarke, who hails from Norway, creates flies that catch fish around the globe. If you’d like to see more of his terrific patterns, check out his website, www.thefeatherbender.com.