There are dry flies, wet flies, emergers, nymphs, terrestrials,
and streamers, and during my years of fly fishing I have fished
them all, but if you want to make this old angler happy as a
clam in mud just put me on a trout stream during a major spinner
By Neil M. Travis, Montana
For the uninitiated, spinners are the final adult stages of
the mayfly life cycle, correctly called imagoes by those with
a more scientific bent, but to anglers they are generally
known as spinners. This name likely originated when anglers
observed the frantic mating flights where the males fly up
and down, and when a female enters the swarm a male quickly
grabs her and they spin downward in a mating spiral.
Large flies or small I love them all, but if given a choice
I will take small spinners, 18 or smaller, every time. In my
angling playbook this is the crème de la crème of fly-fishing
While spinner falls may occur at any time of the day, during
the warm months of summer when some of the heaviest spinner
falls occur, the best fishing usually takes place in the
golden hours between sunset and dark. Back in my younger
days, when fishing until the stars came out was a task
that I could easily accomplish on a regular basis, I would
often be miles from home when the last fish stopped rising.
In late June through mid-July in the northern latitudes it
stays light until nearly 10 o'clock, and in our country it's
not unheard of to drive 100 miles, one way, to spend a day
fishing. If the spinners are falling, and the fish are rising
I am inclined to keep fishing, and on more than one occasion
it has been the wee hours of the morning when I have finally
arrived home. Unfortunately, time has caused me to limit my
excursions to areas closer to home, since I am not quite as
good at dodging elk and buffalo on the road as I was in my
Still I remember those huge spinner falls on the Upper
Yellowstone River deep in the heart of Yellowstone National
Park. From my doorstep to the Upper Yellowstone is approximately
100 miles by road, half of that within the Park itself. The best
spinner falls occur just before dark during the first couple
weeks of August, and most anglers have long since departed
when the action begins.
I recall one remarkable day when I arrived early in the
afternoon, and lazed away the hours before twilight walking
the banks and casting to an occasion riser. I could see the
larger cutthroats holding in the deeper cuts and under the
weed beds, but it was only the smaller fish that were rising
to the occasional insect that floated overhead. I was on the
big flat below Le Hardy Rapids, and as twilight approached
the few remaining anglers packed up and left. Looking upstream
and down I could not see another angler. As the sun struck the
western peaks I looked up into the setting sun to see thousands
of mayfly spinners dancing just above the trees, and in the
gathering twilight I watched them descend toward the water.
Suddenly the previously quiet stream surface was pockmarked
with the noses of feeding cutthroats. The rise was so heavy
that it looked like a rainstorm was passing over. The surface
of the stream was covered with PMD [pale morning duns] spinners,
and every cutthroat in the stream was gorging on this easy meal.
For the hour and a half I was constantly fighting one good
cutthroat after another, and there was not another angler
anywhere around. The action was so intense that I failed to
notice that a car full of tourists had pulled up to watch me
fish. I hooked one especially feisty fish, and I waded to shore
to bring it to net. One of the tourists came down to watch, and
then he asked, "What are you using?"
"A rusty spinner," I replied.
"A rusty spinner?" he replied, "I thought this was flies only water?"
I started to try to explain, but then another good fish rose.
"It's only flies only for the tourists," I said, as I turned
back to the river full of rising fish feeding with abandon
in the gathering dark. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana
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