Fly Tying The Footwing Spinner

Fly Tying The Footwing Spinner

I was a guest tier at a small regional fly-tying show, and I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the guest of honor, Sylvester Nemes. His book Spinners (Stackpole Books, 2006) had just been published, and I hoped he would sign my copy.

Spinners was the first book devoted solely to the spinner stage of the mayfly life cycle, and it also illustrated numerous effective patterns.

I had always been a big fan of Nemes's books and was an avid tier of his highly effective soft-hackle patterns.

At the show, I was busy tying my mayfly emerger pattern and answeringquestions regarding the best methods for tying and fishing it. An older gentleman watching me noticed my copy of Spinners, and asked what I thought about it.

I told him it was well done, long overdue, and that I was waiting for the author to show up so he might sign it. The gentleman smiled, asked my name, then signed the book and put it back on the table.

I felt like an idiot — I had been reading Nemes's books for years and had no idea what he looked like.

Tying Better Spinners

Over the next few years, I incorporated Nemes's spinner patterns into my fly boxes, and they always fooled trout. But since they used only hackle or hen wing feathers for the wings, they were not durable, and didn't float well after getting slimed by a fish.

My early fly-tying mentor was Del Mazza. Mazza is the finest contemporary fly tier and instructor I know. He believes that the best flies are created for situations, not imitations. A good question to ask yourself is, "How can I change the design of a fly to solve a specific problem or fishing situation?"

With that in mind, here was my predicament: I needed a natural spinner wing material that floated high, lasted long, reanimated with desiccants, and was supple enough not to spin and twist a light leader. As with many things in life, the answer was years in the making, and appeared when it was least expected.


The Usual is one of my favorite flies. To the chagrin of many of my classic match-the-hatch friends, I use this disheveled, hair-wing fly regularly, and do well with it. During one preseason spell, I was tying a batch in various colors and sizes, lauding snowshoe hair as an exceptional material for emerger and dun patterns. Then it hit me: The magic material I had been seeking for my spinners was right here the entire time.

Snowshoe foot hair is a perfect material for spinner wings. The hair is extremely durable, floats high, has a supple footprint, and is easily restored with desiccant. In addition, its iridescent sheen is greater than most feathers, and it is available in numerous colors. I prefer natural and light dun for my spinner patterns.

The Footwing Spinner is easily adjustable in size, body materials, and colors to imitate any mayfly spinner. The recipe here is for an egg-laying female Hendrickson.

In the East, most Hendrickson spinner falls occur on warm spring evenings, as well as from morning until noon as temperatures rise. Try the Footwing Spinner for its durability, floatability, and fishability. It provides more fishing time per fly, and you might even catch a fish or two.

Harold McMillan owns Housatonic River Outfitters, Inc., in Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut.

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